Productivity Superstar: Is Your Brain Starving For a Lunch Break?

Out to LunchThe past few months, it seems I’ve spent countless lunch hours hovering over my desk while shoving food from the deli next door down my throat. Between telephone interviews, Twitter postings and tough economic times, I often don’t make the effort to do more than choke down a salad or sandwich and call it lunch. In between forkfuls of romaine, my mind wanders to the good old days when I leisurely ate steamed dumplings from the dim sum restaurant down the street, or pomme frites from the French-style sidewalk café overlooking the bay. All this midday-meal mayhem has left me longingly wondering, “What has happened to the lunch hour?”

According to one new study from DiGiorno, 45 percent of the country’s workers say they’re taking shorter and/or fewer lunch breaks than they did a year ago. More than a third say they pass on their lunch break, thanks to an increasing workload.

So what impact does this meal skipping have on productivity? Plenty, according to Dr. Rallie McAllister, author of Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom’s Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.”

“Skipping any meal is detrimental,” says McAllister.  “The brain is what most workers rely on and it does not have storage tanks for energy.” McAllister says instead the brain relies on consumption of available blood sugar and that after just a few hours of not eating, blood sugar can drop to sub-normal levels and the brain can’t function optimally. “In short, skipping meals leads to poor cognitive functioning, including loss of memory, concentration, the ability to learn, hand-eye coordination and catching mistakes,” says McAllister.

Eventually, however, we all get stark-raving hungry — what McAllister calls our “hunger threshold.” At that point, we throw caution to the wind and end up eating whatever foods are closest at hand — be it a high-fat burrito from the vending machine or a donut served at the afternoon sales meeting.

So what’s a well-meaning web worker to do when faced with ten projects all pressing down on one’s head and lunchtime looming large? Well, for one, plan for your hunger by standing up to the tyranny of your to-do list and giving yourself some lunch hour love. Here’re five ways to take a lunch break and mean it.

  • Ditch your desk: Wolfing down a cereal bar with one hand while emailing a colleague with the other does not qualify as a lunch break. Even if you only have a few minutes and can’t leave the building or your home office, walk away from your work area or go into your kitchen to grab a bite.
  • Schedule your salad: Want to make sure you get a real lunch break? Make a date to take yourself out to lunch, and write it into your calendar.
  • Co-opt a colleague: Make an arrangement with a co-worker, vendor, colleague or pal to have a working lunch outside the office. You’re more likely to keep the appointment when another person is involved.
  • Manage your meeting times: A customer wants to make a telephone appointment for 12:45. Suggest 11:45 instead. By avoiding meetings, conference calls and deadlines that occur within an hour of your designated lunch break, you run less risk of digestive distress from skipping the midday meal.
  • Store a stash: Just in case the raging river of work crises proves too much, and you have to work over a lunch period, don’t go without feeding your brain the food it needs to keep you sharp and focused. Plan for these lost-lunch-break emergencies by keeping a healthy stash of snacks on hand in your desk drawer. Most nutritionists recommend a combo of protein, fats and carbohydrates to keep your energy up and your brain on track. A few easy-to-keep combinations include dried fruit and nuts, cheese and whole grain crackers, fruit and cheese and protein bars.

So over the next few weeks, get out of your house, step out of your office, take a walk, spend some time in the sunshine (or at the very least, leave your desk) and commit to taking a lunch break three times a week for the next few weeks. I predict you’ll not only feel calmer, but your productivity will improve with each tuna sandwich consumed.

How do you make sure you get a proper lunch break?

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