We get it…. You’re busy, you’ve got a deadline to meet and there never seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. Who, you may ask, has the luxury of a lunch break? Yet, we all need to eat, and so lunch is often taken at the desk, with eyes on the computer and one hand on the mouse, while the other operates the fork.
However, don’t think eating at your desk is advisable, and here are just some of the reasons why:
Did you know that the average desk harbours more than 10 million bacteria? That’s 400 times more than you’d find on a standard toilet seat. (1) Bacteria are transferred from hands to doorknobs, stair handrails, lift buttons, fridge and microwave door handles and kitchen taps and from there they travel with you to your desk. If you eat there, crumbs and splashes – even microscopic ones – attract even more bacteria. When scientists swabbed desks in office buildings, they found the highest bacterial count on computer keyboards, computer mice, and phone handsets, and strangely most of them in cubicles.
Lesson 1 from this is: Wipe down your desk and the things you frequently touch a couple of times a week.
Lesson 2: Don’t forget to wash your hands after using the toilet and before you eat. It’s not necessary or even desirable to use antibacterial gels all the time, just regular soap will do.
Lesson 3: Don’t eat at your desk! (2).
Let’s be honest, when you’re eating at your desk because you think you can’t unchain yourself from it as there’s so much work to do, how efficient are you at doing either? Can you do meaningful work with just one hand? And will you chew properly when you have one eye on your emails?
Chewing may be the most underrated digestive activity there is, and yet it is our last chance to actively influence how well we break down our food and absorb its nutrients.
Chewing not only allows us to swallow our food, it increases the surface area we give our digestive enzymes to work on, and that improves digestion. Moreover, our taste buds detect what we’re eating and send that information to the brain, which in turn informs the pancreas, which enzymes will soon be required. Magic!
Chewing also stimulates the production of stomach acid, needed not only to break down proteins, activate vitamin B12 and access minerals from food. Stomach acid levels also determine how much of the further digestive juices – digestive enzymes and bile – there will be.
These digestive processes take time, and if your food barely touches the sides when you wolf it down at your desk (or while walking or driving or watching TV), there just isn’t enough time. The consequences may be indigestion and bloating in the short term but can become overgrowth of undesirable microbes in the long term, causing a whole other set of digestive complaints.
Eating also triggers a hormonal cascade that regulates appetite and satiety, but you need to give this the time to work by eating slowly and deliberately. Otherwise, you might miss the signal that you are full.
Nurture your relationship with your co-workers
People working in the same organisation – especially when they also work in the same building – enjoy the same environment, yet the performance of teams can vary widely.
There are many possible reasons for this, pay gaps or management come to mind, but one surprising one was found by behaviour analyst Ben Warber in research he conducted in 2010: Higher performing teams would enjoy lunch in groups of 12, while the less successful teams ate in groups of four. Who would have thought?
According to Warber, eating lunch with someone makes us a lot more likely to talk to them in other contexts, and more communication is often linked to higher performance. That makes sense: if you know who does what in your company, what those people look like and having a personal connection means that you will have a better understanding of how your organisation works and will be able to get help and support from the right people when you need it (3).
Employers were hoping to achieve this effect by creating open-plan offices, but recent research has shown that that plan did not work so well. Employees ‘forced’ to spend their workday surrounded by colleagues ended up seeking solitude more often and resorting to emailing when they could just have walked up to their co-worker and talked to them (4).
We are all spending too much time indoors.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin, which – if it was discovered today – would probably be classed as a hormone. It’s that important.
Vitamin D is involved in immune function, energy metabolism, bone strength, mood, heart health, and wound healing, to name but a few. It is also the only vitamin that we do not need to take in with food but that our body can create. Vitamin D is made in the skin under the influence of sunlight. Alas, here in the UK we are not getting very much of that and when we do, we block the sunrays by using sunscreen, or much of our skin is covered in formal office attire. Darker skin pigmentation reduces the skin’s ability to form vitamin D even further. Although vitamin D does occur in some foods, there aren’t many: oily fish, egg yolks, mushrooms – the only plant source of vitamin D – and foods that have been fortified with vitamin D. We still need to top it up with sunlight whenever we get the opportunity, and lunchtime is one such opportunity. For five months of the year, the lunch hour is actually THE ONLY opportunity for office workers to catch any sun rays at all!
Although we are now approaching the time of year that doesn’t offer much sunshine, there are still sunny days here and there, and we should make the most of them by getting out more. How much time we need to spend outdoors to make sufficient vitamin D is not yet known, not least because it depends on factors such as latitude, time of year, time of day, and skin type, but every little helps!
Want to learn more? Our Mindful Eating Workshop is a perfect way to learn more about eating slowly and improving your digestion. Call us now on 07966 478974 for more information.
- The Independent, 2 March 2018: Average desk contains 400 times more germs than a toilet seat, new research reveal – http://bit.ly/2lx6Cub
- Arbogast JW, Moore-Schiltz L, Jarvis WR et al (2016): Impact of a Comprehensive Workplace Hand Hygiene Program on Employer Health Care Insurance Claims and Costs, Absenteeism, and Employee Perceptions and Practices. J Occup Environ Med. Jun; 58(6): e231–e240.
Scientific American, 17 August 2019. http://bit.ly/31ZmWUD
- Bernstein ES, Turban S (2018): The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. Aug 19; 373(1753):20170239.
- Bernstein ES, Turban S (2018): The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018 Aug 19; 373(1753): 20170239.
- NHS: How to get vitamin D from sunlight. http://bit.ly/2kfQg9e
- Medical News Today, 20 June 2018: Are you getting enough vitamin D? http://bit.ly/2lzIVRS