Give yourself a break and take the time to eat a proper lunch. Your body will thank you.

Share story

On Nutrition

When did taking a lunch break become a bad thing? If I had a nickel for every patient who doesn’t take a proper lunch break, I’d be able to take myself out to lunch. I’m not just talking about people who work outside the home — I have many retirees, telecommuters or stay-at-home parents who don’t grant themselves the time to sit down midday and eat something resembling an actual meal. The reasons vary, but the outcomes are similar — and those outcomes may not be good.

I frequently see three less-than-ideal lunch behaviors. One is skipping lunch altogether. The second is hastily wolfing down lunch while working or engaged in another activity. The third is halfheartedly grabbing some sort of snack — possibly even scavenged from the break room or a desk drawer — instead of an actual meal.

There are many reasons this happens:

• Taking a midday break may be challenging in some occupations, such as retail or restaurant jobs.

• Work meetings are scheduled during the lunch hour.

• The boss frowns on people being gone from their desks for more than five minutes (unless they’re in a meeting).

• Employees treat co-workers like slackers if they take a lunch break.

• You have self-imposed notions that working through lunch is a badge of honor, or that you don’t deserve to take a measly half-hour for yourself (never mind a full lunch hour).

• The fear that if you take a lunch break, your job will be outsourced.

I have tech and aerospace employees who only have time to eat while walking from a meeting in one building to another meeting in another building. I have government employees who would get the stink eye if they left the office to eat their lunch. I have teachers and lawyers who skip both breakfast and lunch because they “don’t have time.” I have retirees, stay-at-home parents and telecommuters who don’t stop what they’re doing in order to eat lunch, then wonder why they’re raiding the kitchen at 3 p.m.

This problem starts early. According to a 2015 report by the University of Washington Nutritional Sciences Program and the Seattle Public School District Nutrition Task Force, elementary-school students in Seattle Public Schools spend about 13 minutes eating lunch, resulting in a lot of food waste (especially of fruits and vegetables, which take longer to eat). This sets up unhealthful habits that can persist for life.

Skipping — or scrimping on — meals can lead to overeating later on when steadily growing hunger reaches primal levels. Regularly neglecting the very real physiological need to eat something midday can make it very difficult to recognize “normal” hunger cues, and can even kill off those signals over time. When I have patients with dead hunger signals, it’s almost always due to a long-standing habit of skipping lunch (and sometimes breakfast). Why should your body keep telling you it’s hungry if you never listen?

I say it’s time to take back lunch. Instead of stoically working through the lunch hour, eat your lunch (away from your desk, ideally), then go for a short walk, meditate, people watch, run an errand or start learning a new language (there are apps for that). If you are an employer or manager who cultivates a work culture that discourages taking time for a proper lunch, you’re doing your business a disservice. Employees who take lunch breaks are happier, healthier — and more productive. Just some food for thought.