The stress and fast pace of the modern workday can make it feel impossible to eat at all on the job, much less eat well. However, healthy meals and mindful snacks aren’t work-a-day luxuries. Food is essential to success and productivity—so much so that employees with unhealthy food habits can be more likely to experience a loss in productivity than those workers with healthier habits.
Sure, movies and TV shows portray people leaving their food untouched or working all hours without so much as a sip or a snack. In real life though, going hungry or eating junk aren’t signs of how devoted you are to your job. If anything, hunger and junk food can distract you from tasks, decrease your performance, and make you less—not more—productive.
Luckily, mindful eating can be incorporated into anyone’s workday. Here are some tips to help you eat healthy meals and snacks that can boost your success—saving room for well-deserved indulgences.
For starters, you have to eat well to work hard.
Hunger distracts us and can lead to irritability. Focusing on a task becomes difficult, because you just wind up paying attention to how hungry you feel. That distraction makes it too hard to get work done—or you wind up working more, because you missed things or had to go back and fix preventable mistakes.
Instead of going hungry, you can boost your energy and productivity by eating well—and eating regularly.
Yes, when your day is stacked with meetings, deadlines, or urgent tasks, it can be hard to work in a meal or a snack. Yet it’s even more essential that you do.
At the bare minimum, make sure you take time for lunch. And no, that doesn’t mean scrolling your mouse in one hand and holding a sandwich in the other. It means stepping away from work, at least long enough to eat. Consider these options:
Junk food bogs you down
Making time to eat is a good start, but what you eat matters just as much. A lunch full of heavy proteins and simple carbs may give you a quick boost, but can just as easily bring on a quicker—and potentially longer-lasting—crash. You know that food coma feeling you get after a big meal? That low-energy, nap-the-afternoon-away fatigue isn’t a good way to spend the rest of your work day.
Instead of feeling irritable, stressed, and distracted, mindful meals and healthy snacks can boost your afternoon energy, sharpen your mental focus, and help you perform tasks with a clearer head and more positive attitude.
A balanced lunch should be tasty and filling, while also providing a long-lasting mix of vitamins, minerals, proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Employees who regularly eat healthy meals typically demonstrate higher productivity, improved concentration, and more even energy levels instead of short ups and deeper downs from unhealthy foods.
Here are a few tips to help you gain more control over your meals and snacks:
Dehydration dries up energy
Water, 100% juice, smoothies, coconut water, green tea, and coffee not only hydrate the body, they can boost your productivity too. And no, coffee is not here by mistake: Recent research shows coffee can help hydrate, not dehydrate, and moderate caffeine intake can also boost memory.
Dehydration sucks the moisture from your body, drains your focus just as much as hunger, and alters your attitude for the worse. Dehydration can bring on headaches, fatigue, and distraction, which makes it much harder to get anything done, let alone feel capable of doing a good job.
There’s no hard and fast rule about hydration (and commonly known ones, such as drinking eight glasses of water a day, have no scientific basis). Good rules of thumb include minimizing soda or most energy or “performance drinks. Instead, drink enough to keep from feeling thirsty. Stick to mostly water, but feel free to mix in other beverages that you like (just be wary of sugar).
Deprivation drives overindulging
So, let’s recap. Is it important to eat healthy all the time? No.
It’s okay to indulge in a brownie, burger, or fun coffee drink. But if you balance those indulgences with overall healthy eating habits, you can still come out ahead both in how you feel and perform at work.
In fact, unless you have doctor’s orders not to indulge, some treats can help prevent a full-on binge because you’ve been depriving yourself of certain foods.
Just as you can be mindful about meal planning, you can also be mindful about working in some less-healthy favorites too. Instead of swinging by the drive-through every day, maybe make it a Monday or Friday treat. Plan an over-the-hump, 3 p.m. sweet treat break. Have an occasional indulgent lunch or coffee break with a colleague.
The key is occasional: Not every day and certainly not never. But now and again. When you know indulgences are less prominent but still present in your diet, you’re less likely to overdo it when you indulge.
Eat smart for a better work day
No matter what, each day has its own stresses, last-minute changes, and urgent deadlines. Sure, there may be days where you push lunch later than you’d prefer or you overdo it on heavy food or sweets, but that’s life—and that’s okay. A few snack and meal slip-ups aren’t going to ruin your career. It’s all about balance. Shifting to healthier habits can help you get more done at work and feel better throughout the day.