Through a very scientific poll conducted via my Instagram, I discovered that only 63 percent of people in my network take a regular lunch break. What’s up with the other 37 percent? Aren’t they hungry?
However, in truth, I was more surprised that almost two-thirds of my followers do break for lunch—that’s much higher than what I’ve witnessed in my workplaces over the years.
The next question I posed: What exactly constitutes a lunch break? Soon, I was inundated with DMs stating the same sad phrase: “I eat at my desk.”
You guys. Boundaries start now. Death to the desk lunch!
Desk lunches need to end, if for nothing else, our overstrained eyes need a screen break; our stiff leggys need a stretch beyond the ten steps to our office fridge and back; our bodies need proper fuel to get through the remaining five to six hours left on the clock. Not to mention, our mind could use a little reset, too.
Look, the desk salad is nothing new. I’ve spent the last six years in media taking cues from colleagues that lunch breaks are for the weak. Everyone from interns to managers to founding members of the executive team seems to follow the same pattern: Reheat leftovers or order from an overpriced delivery service and consume it desk-side while still chipping away at the day’s to-do list.
What’s worse? When 3 or 4 p.m. hits and someone exclaims, “Oh my god I forgot to eat lunch today!”
If you’re immune to bouts of hangry-ness and audible tummy growls, then color me impressed. But the premise that we’re all too busy to pause and have a handful of roasted almonds to tide us over until we can properly take the desk-bound break most of us are legally entitled to is just depressing. And while I know meeting culture can creep into our sacred lunchtime, we really can’t just sit back and just accept that that’s the way it is.
Suggest meeting-free hours from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. so everyone can make room for mealtime and eat in peace. If that’s not possible, propose a proper lunch meeting and take it to a local restaurant instead of the nearest conference room.
Either way, take advantage of your lunch break and find ways to get the most out of it. When I started at Girlboss last summer, I made sure to establish a pattern of taking time to myself around lunch. After spending years either dodging food-shaming coworkers with my non-salad desk lunches or feeling guilty for taking my packed lunch across the street to a nearby park, I vowed that lunchtime would be mine again. And I’m pleased to report it has been.
Aside from the fact that sacrificing your lunch break isn’t fun, it’s also not exactly healthy.
Nutrition therapist Heidi Schauster warns of the possible negative effects eating at your desk might have. “Of course we are all busy humans and sometimes I eat lunch while I check my email, too. But, as I tell my clients, whenever I do that, I inevitably find myself foraging around for snacks not long after, looking for the sensory break that I really didn’t give myself at lunchtime. Our bodies and minds deserve and need a break in our work days.”
“Furthermore, we are more likely to take better care of ourselves with food—listening to our hunger and fullness cues and eating the parts of our meals that feel the most nourishing in that moment—when we are present with the eating experience,” Schauster adds.
“Sometimes we have to munch during carpool or eat at the computer while we are on a deadline. It’s better to feed ourselves well on the run than to not eat and end up nutritionally depleted,” she says. “That said, the more embodied we can be in the experience of choosing and eating food, the more we get what we need from the care-taking experience of eating. This helps to create a more balanced, connected relationship with our food, body, and self.”
In addition to the very necessary food part, lest we forget that lunch breaks can also be used as a time to catch up on the new novel you’re reading, to get in some steps with a brisk walk around the block, or to tick off small errands you might be able to squeeze into 30 minutes. Yay, morale!
So now that you’re sold on actually taking a lunch break, what steps should you take to implement that much-needed mental and physical break into your day? We spoke with Amanda Augustine, a certified career coach for TopResume, for her actionable advice on how to reclaim lunch today.
Augustine says the first step for those who regularly skip lunch is to ask themselves why that’s happening and discover what’s motivating their behavior.
“Is anybody telling me I’m not allowed? That I’m not performing up to a certain standard? Or that I’m not meeting my goals? No,” Augustine says. “It’s really just in my head.” It might even stem from copied or learned behavior. “You see it around [coworkers also skipping lunch] and you don’t necessarily question it. Soon, you realize that you’re no longer taking any breaks on a regular basis.”
Another consideration is the company culture. “Does your workplace have a culture that embraces lunch and work-life balance?” Augustine asked. “Do they actually have an area for people to eat lunch? Is the space conducive to people who want to take the time?”
“If you are not accustomed to ever taking a dedicated break during the day, it’s going to force you to reevaluate your schedule,” Augustine said. “Why do you feel like you can’t take that break? Is it really ’cause everyone else is not taking one? Or is it because you’re not really organizing and prioritizing your day and the tasks at hand in the most productive way?”
The start of a new year is an excellent time to reevaluate how you’re doing your work. Is there a meeting that should really be a Slack update or an email? Once you cut out unnecessary meetings and non-important tasks, you’ll be able to fit in a lunch break with less guilt.
Augustine also brings up the point that many of us are overachievers, plain and simple. “The economy has gone through a lot of ups and downs over the past few years and there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as loyalty between employee and company anymore. So there is a concern of, ‘Am I showing my employer that I’m doing everything I can? If it means skipping lunch to get my work done to show that I’m dedicated, I’d rather do that than not have a job.’”
Lastly, it’s worth noting that we’re a culture of multi-taskers. Augustine says, “It’s so rare that you’re ever doing one task and one task alone. So isn’t it just natural that if you’re trying to get multiple things done at once, you’ll order something in [to your desk]?”
“This culture of multitasking has led to the dissolution of the lunch hour,” Augustine says. And the outcome stinks.
Nearly 90 percent of North American employees report that they feel more refreshed and ready to get back to work after a lunch break, according to a Tork survey cited on Forbes. If numerous studies are telling us we’ll be more productive after stepping away from our computers and taking a break, why aren’t we all seizing this opportunity?
“It’s going to recharge your batteries,” Augustine says. “That’s also a benefit to the organization. Taking that little bit of me-time is truly important.” Think of the correlation between not taking a vacation and how that can lead to burnout. Augustine urges workers to consider lunch as a daily mini-vacation. “I think you’re definitely going to be less stressed if you can walk away.”
If regular lunch breaks aren’t a part of your routine at work, a gradual way to build it into your schedule is to block off time on your calendar. Start small by doing it once or twice a week—whatever feels comfortable to you.
“Once you start treating it as though it were a work appointment, you’re more likely to actually commit to doing it,” Augustine says. “You’ll also be training the people around you.”
Spread the cultural change around the office by inviting others to join you for a lunch outing. “You can make it a valuable experience, even if say twice a month you and a couple colleagues go have lunch and turn it into a brainstorm session,” Augustine says.
“We always talk about how if you miss out on enough after-hours work events like happy hours, you’re actually going to start missing out on projects because the brainstorm sessions are happening when you’re outside the office.” Once people start taking note of you leaving the office, they might want to join in organically.
“I think oftentimes, we assume lunch breaks are frowned upon just because we’re observing the people around us,” Augustine says. “But don’t make assumptions, don’t assume your boss is anti-lunch break just because they tend to work at their desk. Everybody’s different. It would probably be healthier for them to make a change, but that’s them, this is you.” In other words, be the lunch-taker you wish to see in the office.
If you’re feeling shy about asking coworkers to join you, encourage your company to implement tools like Donut, a Slack bot that randomly pairs employees up for coffee or lunch dates.
How can you make your lunch break it into something that replenishes you on multiple levels?
“If possible, avoid playing on your phone at all. Most of us are sitting in front of a computer screen for the bulk of our day, so you actually need that screen-time break,” says Augustine.
“Could you take a walk? You can get people to join in here. You can also try meditating—that can be done in a short period of time with zero equipment. Or use the time to touch base with people in other areas of the organization or in your broader network so that you keep a pulse on what’s going on.”
If winter weather is putting a damper on your lunch plans, Augustine suggests booking a conference room for a break if your office space allows for that.
“The physical act of getting up from your desk is a big deal. Depending on the size of your office, it could even be taking a lap around the office. That alone has an impact on your productivity because you just need to rest your eyes and walk away from the screen.”
Bottom line, a whole world of lunchtime possibilities exists outside of the desk salad, so go on and find ’em.