Many people think that if they “work through lunch” and eat at their desk, they’re saving time so they can get more done and finish their day at a reasonable hour.
But is working at your desk through lunch really the best lifestyle and career decision?
Two experts weighed in on whether eating at your desk during a busy workday is really the best way to fuel up and maintain productivity for the rest of the day.
Here’s what you may not realize about the implications of not taking a real lunch break.
What’s behind the work-through-lunch trend?
The ezCater 2023 Lunch Report, which surveyed 5,000 workers across the U.S., found that nearly 48% of people are skipping an actual lunch break at least once a week.
The factors involved in their decision to work through lunch are varied.
The report revealed that 23% of the people said they did so in order to finish their work on time, 22% feared that they wouldn’t have enough time to get their work done if they didn’t work through lunch, and 20% said they had too many meetings to take a break.
“This data suggests that employees are thinking about the short-term impact on productivity, and are losing sight of the big picture,” Diane Swint, spokesperson with ezCater in Boston, told Fox News Digital.
“In the long-term, not pausing to refuel leads to burnout, stress and less mental clarity,” said Swint, who works with companies, universities and organizations who want to use food to improve culture, productivity and overall job satisfaction.
On that point, 48% of workers said they are less burned out when they take a break, the Lunch Report showed.
“While workers might feel that skipping midday breaks saves time, the reality is that this habit decreases focus and lowers productivity,” said Swint.
Why taking a defined lunch break is so vital
The benefits of taking a lunch break showed up in the Lunch Report, as 53% of workers revealed they had more mental clarity when they stopped for lunch.
“And 78% of workers say taking a lunch break improves their job performance,” Swint told Fox News Digital.
In today’s fast-paced work culture, many individuals find themselves caught up in the common practice of working through lunch, believing it’s a time-saving strategy to ensure an early or on-time departure from the office.
“However, this choice has significant implications not only for productivity but also for physical and mental well-being,” said Sarah Heckler, MS, RD, a licensed dietitian with Anne Till Nutrition Group in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Another noteworthy benefit of taking a real lunch break? It can boost your work-life balance goals, she said.
“Taking a break during lunch supports a healthier work-life balance,” Heckler said.
“It temporarily allows individuals to step out of the professional mindset, fostering a sense of separation between work and personal life. This boundary is essential for preventing work-related stress from permeating into other aspects of one’s life,” she said.
Also, the defined lunch break fosters a much-needed cognitive recharge during the workday.
“Stepping away from the desk provides a mental reset, allowing individuals to return to work with increased focus and clarity,” Heckler told Fox News Digital.
What are the nutritional implications of working through lunch?
When you eat at your desk, you’re probably multitasking while scarfing down your lunch.
Here are some other downsides to eating through lunch in your office or cubicle, according to Heckler.
Higher chance of mindless eating. When individuals work through lunch, they often resort to mindless eating, said Heckler.
“This means they’re consuming food quickly and with little thought, leading to poor chewing and digestion,” Heckler continued. “Rushed eating may result in larger food particles reaching the stomach, making it harder for the digestive system to break down and absorb nutrients efficiently.”
Decreased nutrient absorption. A rushed lunch may consist of processed or fast food, lacking essential nutrients.
“Nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, contribute to overall health and sustained energy,” Heckler told Fox News Digital.
When individuals neglect these food groups, they may experience deficiencies, impacting their ability to stay focused and energized throughout the day.
Lowered energy levels. Skipping lunch or opting for foods high in refined sugars and fats can contribute to a mid-afternoon energy slump, said Heckler.
“These foods provide a quick energy boost but are often followed by a rapid decline in energy levels,” she continued.
“This can negatively affect productivity and concentration, making it more challenging to tackle tasks effectively.”
Poor food choices may also reduce cognitive function, she also said.
So what should you do instead?
If at all possible, leave your desk and eat lunch in the break room.
Step outside if possible — or even dine off-site if you have time.
Whether you brown-bag your lunch, eat take-out or stop into a restaurant, the key is to create a healthy eating plan — not only for nutrition but for overall well-being.
“Choosing a well-balanced lunch that includes a mix of macronutrients — carbohydrates, proteins, and fats — helps maintain steady blood sugar levels,” Heckler said.
“This, in turn, supports sustained energy throughout the afternoon, preventing the need for excessive caffeine consumption or unhealthy snacks to stay alert.”