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Do you eat lunch?

According to the Australia Institute, 3.8 million people in Australia regularly skip lunch, the most common reason cited being that they’re too busy to stop and eat, and for those who do < 96% consume their food while sitting at our desk. 

The term “Al Desko” coined by Carl Honore reflects the growing trend for many of us to fail to take a proper lunch break. 

But it wasn’t always so.

There was a time Oh Dearly Beloved, (and not so long ago) that there was in existence a ritual called the lunch break that took place in meeting halls called the Canteen or Staff Kitchen where people would come together on a daily basis and undertake the sharing of bread and other victuals.

Some were even known to partake of a more highly specialised ritual in a more fancy meeting hall known as the Long Lunch or the Liquid Lunch down at the local pub, often accompanied the joint decision of the participants to curtail any useful work activity thereafter.

Today, the issue is less of yearning for time out for a fancy lunch, but stopping to take any sort of meal break.

What’s going on that we feel so compelled to keep working?
It’s not that we aren’t allowed to stop – we make that decision ourselves.

There have been a number of occasions after presenting a seminar on “Bringing your best self to work” when I’ve been asked in hushed conspiratorial tones about what can be done to persuade Trudy/Simon/Alex or Belinda to leave their desk to take a break during the day.

It matters because poor eating and non-eating habits are costing us dearly.

According to the ILO report Food At Work, poor nutrition is causing up to 20% in lost productivity globally through malnutrition and obesity.

Mindless Eating is Bad for Brains

While missing an occasional meal or making one trip to the fast-food joint won’t hurt, it’s when this becomes the norm that it becomes an issue.

Failing to stop for a proper break leads to mindless eating.

Can you remember what you had for lunch yesterday or the day before?

When we’re in a rush, or eating on the go, we end up consuming more kilojoules. 

You may think you’re saving time eating your purchased wrap while driving to your next appointment, but the risk (other than ending up with mayo, or worse still vinaigrette because it’s such a pain to get the oily stain out from your shirt front) is that you don’t notice what you’ve eaten, or how much. 

As one advert famously boasts “Once you pop, you just can’t stop!” Yes, I too find that once that chip packet has been opened, it’s as if an alien hand keeps going back to grab another handful.

It’s no secret that snacking on junk food is contributing to our rapidly expanding waistlines and obesity is a risk factor for cognitive decline.

In regards to better brain health the message is clear. Our choice of food provides those essential nutrients to fuel our brain for a more positive mood, better memory and thinking.

Brains Do Better On Real Food

One reason the human brain evolved to be the magnificent organ it is is because a few thousand years ago we began cooking our food, leading to the more effective release of nutrients and reducing the amount of time we would have to otherwise spend foraging for raw food.

The best foods for brain health have been shown to include those as found in the Mediterranean Style Diet that is based primarily on plants (yes Mum was right to tell us to eat our greens), some lean protein, seeds and nuts, fruits and berries, whole grains and plenty to water. 
We don’t have to make it any more complicated than that.

Providing your brain with nutrition that supports best brain health and function is a must to provide the energy required to effectively navigate our long and busy days.

Running on empty reduces thinking capacity, leads to poorer decision-making and slow processing of information.

Worse still your low blood sugar can lead to an emotional disturbance called being “Hangry.” Being somewhat prone to this myself, my husband has learnt over the years to avoid this predicament by ensuring that if elements of Hanger start to appear he will quickly proffer sustenance in the form of a snack of hummus and vegetable sticks or a piece of cheese, depending what he can find at short notice lurking in the fridge.

Providing your brain with a nice steady supply of nutrients by eating every 3-4 hours through three meals and a couple of snacks is ideal to keep blood sugar levels even and your thinking intact.

It’s Not Just About Food

But there’s something else at play here too.

It’s not just about the food.

Taking a break provides your brain with a breather so you can:

  • Re-fuel on essential nutrients to keep your brain healthy and performing better.
  • Re-energise a tired brain that’s been working hard all morning.
  • Re-connect with our friends and colleagues to share a bit of banter, chat about life and boost our emotional and social think tanks.

Invest in Your Brain

Choosing to take a proper lunch break every day is about making healthy nutrition a non-negotiable in the same way as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and managing our stress.

It doesn’t have to be hard, or expensive, but it does require a decision.

And practice. 

Because being creatures of habit, good intentions quickly get re-routed to the old way of doing, especially when we’re under pressure, tired and stressed.

Making ONE SMALL CHANGE is all it takes. 

What can you do to ensure your brain stays well nourished?
How can you plan your working week to provide you the time and space to make healthier choices?

Creating a Healthy Eating Culture

Real change always starts from the top. To use corporate speak this is about investing in your existing human capital (with apologies to Gabrielle Dolan)
i.e. people. What this shows is two things.

One. You care.

Two. You understand the value of having a happy, healthy, well-nourished workforce in relation to productivity and performance.

‘Breaking bread’ together was one of the earliest ways we learnt as humans to create meaningful and trusting relationships.

What’s the level of trust like in your organisation, and how often does everyone get together for lunch?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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