Skipping lunch to get ahead at work? It’ll likely set you back

Experts say skipping your lunch break may be doing you more harm than good. Here’s why you need to take it.

Australians have a worse work-life balance than workers in many other countries, and a third of us feel under chronic time stress.

Now a new YouFoodz study of 1000 Australian full-time employees shows over 75 per cent of participants skip their lunch breaks, with nearly half saying they do this because they have too much work to complete.

But experts say slaving away at your desk all day may harm your wellbeing.

Here are four reasons why you should take time out for a midday break.

Skipping your lunch break is false productivity

Sacrificing your lunch break in an effort to get more work done may boost your productivity in the short term, but in the long run it can increase your stress levels and lead to faster burnout.

Studies show burnout results in poor performance and poor physical health, blocks creativity and is linked to depression.

Skipping your lunch break keeps you sedentary

Prolonged sitting can weaken the large muscles in your legs and buttocks, shorten your hip flexors and cause problems with your back.

According to University of Leicester research, people who spend much of their day seated may also have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, but doing even moderate physical activity every day may reduce the risks associated with sitting.

“The underlying principle is that there are health benefits in being active,” UprightCare founder and principal physiotherapist Dr Larry Cohen says.

“These benefits can encompass both physiological and musculoskeletal systems in the body.”

Skipping your lunch break may contribute to poor posture

Spending hours hunched over a keyboard and staring at a screen may, in some people, result in “text neck”.

“Text neck is a term that is often used to describe a forward-leaning head posture,” Dr Cohen, of Sydney, says.

“The belief, which is consistent with biomechanical principles, is that forward head postures increase load on the neck muscles by a magnitude of three to five times when compared to upright positions and, therefore, may cause neck and shoulder pain.”

If you must keep working, keep a neutral head position and stay aware of ergonomics.

“This is particularly relevant in work-from-home environments when workers may be using their laptops for prolonged periods,” Dr Cohen says.

He suggests using a secondary or raised screen, as well as an external mouse and external keyboard, “to limit adverse external load on the muscles and joints of the neck and shoulders”.

Skipping your lunch break may make you skip meals

Feeling overwhelmed by a long to-do list may push you to skip meals, but it’s really important to nourish your body and mind when you’re working hard, Nutrition Australia ACT lead dietitian Leanne Elliston says.

“Skipping meals, especially during the day, depletes energy reserves that can affect concentration and productivity,” Leanne says.

“It also risks setting yourself up to getting over-hungry later in the day and, consequently, consuming excess kilojoules at your next meal or reaching for convenient and, commonly, unhealthy snacks to get you through the afternoon.”

Leanne says including a combination of protein, veggies and quality carbohydrates during the day will sustain your energy levels and help you meet your daily nutrient needs.

Four healthy ways to use your lunch break:

Move your body

Dr Cohen says any activity is better than no activity.

“There has been some very interesting work done by NASA on minimising the negative effect of sedentary activities on health … (and) recommendations suggest frequent episodes of short-duration movement may be more beneficial than less frequent, longer bouts of activity,” he says.

“Going for a walk is a great idea, especially in the open air as this has physiological, musculoskeletal and psychosocial benefits.”

You don’t have to go far – walking for just 30 minutes five times a week can boost your mood, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, and help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Practise mindful eating

Instead of mindlessly shovelling in food while you keep working, allow yourself the time to eat slowly, savouring every bite.

“Mindful eating means acknowledging how you’re feeling before, during and after eating, and using all your senses while eating,” Leanne says.

“It helps you to enjoy your meals more and moderate your food intake, reducing your risk of overeating.”

Enjoy the outdoors

Rather than remain cooped up in a cubicle, labouring in artificial light, why not step outside?

Daylight exposure can have a positive effect on your wellbeing, while spending time in nature – including urban green space – helps to alleviate mental fatigue, improve attention span and reduce anxiety.

Rest your eyes

Long periods staring closely at a screen may lead to a type of eye strain known as computer vision syndrome – symptoms include headaches, dry eyes, blurry vision and light sensitivity.

Instead of staying at your desk to check your emails, use your lunch break to give your eyes a proper rest.

If you experience any of the above ill effects, seek help from a health professional.

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Written by Monique Gill.