But a new study suggests that can not only pack on the pounds. It also can hurt your mood and productivity. The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, only interviewed physicians, a small segment of the work force, but the lunchtime patterns of these doctors reflect what employees experience in many industries. The study asked doctors about their barriers to eating regular, healthy lunches and how not eating well affected them.
The physicians all felt that skipping lunch caused emotional symptoms like irritability, frustration, decreased patience and feeling emotionally drained.
Many also said they sometimes had difficulty concentrating, felt a lack of focus or were slower to make decisions when they were hungry. After the participants went through an intervention in which they were provided with nutritious food and drink at regular times, many reported performing better and improved moods.
Some other findings:
- If you don't have time for lunch, graze. Like many busy employees today, doctors stated that they were too busy to stop and eat. But the study found that small grazing breaks throughout the day can be just as effective. Make sure you pack a nutrition bar, piece of fruit, trail mix or other snacks to tide you over until you can stop and eat.
- Find a few healthy choices on local menus. Usually, the most convenient choices are the least healthy. Try to find a few healthy options in nearby restaurants and stick with those when you're hungry (there's a tendency to default to high-fat choices when we're starving, so try not to wait until you're famished to eat). Pack a small soft cooler with healthy snacks like fruit, hummus, a sandwich or yogurts if you work in a fast-food joint zone.
- Don't forget to eat breakfast. Filling up before you get to work can carry you through to a late lunch, especially if you eat a piece of fruit in between.
- Let go of the guilt. Many physicians reported that they felt guilty taking time away from their work, i.e, their patients, to eat. But when they realized, through participating in the study, that skipping meals negatively affected their productivity and their attitudes, some physicians began to prioritize eating.