Are lunch breaks a luxury?

The real cost to your health when eating at your desk.

It’s been a morning of back to back meetings, there’s a stack of unread emails in your inbox, and an afternoon deadline looming.  Eating lunch at your desk and ticking a few things off your list may seem like the best way to manage your time, but in the long term it could actually be doing your health more harm than good.

So why can eating at your desk frequently be bad for your health?

1. Stress and burnout 

Not making time for a proper break during the day can put you at greater risk of becoming stressed and lead to burnout at work. Taking your lunch outside or to a quiet spot in the office can provide the relaxation needed to boost productivity and focus later in the afternoon. This type of downtime is something that is far more difficult to get when eating lunch at your desk.

2. Too much sitting time

Eating at your desk means you are likely to be more sedentary and move less during the day – which can impact on your weight and your risk of developing other lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes. We are genetically designed to move and be active, which can be difficult in a desk bound job. Your lunch break is a time where you get the chance to be more active, and to make the most of this opportunity it is important to move away from your desk when you eat lunch, and if possible step outside!

3. Bacteria, and not the good kind

Your desk may look pretty clean but this is often not the case.  As far as bacteria go, your desk is likely to have more germs than a toilet seat. When was the last time you wiped down your desktop, phone and keyboard? Experts say a good cleaning of these areas once a week should be sufficient for a healthy space. 

Sometimes eating at your desk is inevitable. It may be a workplace culture where management or other colleagues all eat at their desk, making it difficult to be ‘different’ and take a proper lunch break. But it may be worth asking your boss if they mind you going for a lunch time walk – they may even join you!

If you are having lunch at your desk, consider the following tips:

1. Mentally and physically set aside time for the meal

Being distracted whilst eating a meal at your desk can be a recipe for mindless eating, eating too much,  constant and unnecessary grazing and snacking throughout the day.

2. Look for more ways to move during the day

  • If you drive to work, try parking the car further away from the office
  • Stand while taking telephone calls
  • Make an effort to communicate with colleagues face-to-face rather than via email or phone from your desk 
  • Wear a pedometer and track the number of steps taken to help you decide whether you should make an effort to take a stroll outside during your lunch break 
  • Use this as an opportunity to bring a packed lunch from home and store it safely in the office fridge. Bringing leftovers to work or packing a salad sandwich is a much cheaper and healthier alternative to purchasing lunch. It allows you greater control over what you are eating, how that food is prepared and the portion size that is appropriate for the amount of activity you are doing.

So what might a healthy lunch look like?

  • Base your meals and snacks around a variety of vegetables 
  • Include some type of slow energy release carbohydrate source such as grainy bread, brown rice, couscous or quinoa. This will provide sustained energy to boost concentration and help avoid an afternoon energy slump 
  • Lean protein is a ‘must’ as it provides a feeling of fullness and satisfaction from eating a meal and can help raise your level of alertness. Try tinned tuna, legumes, lean chicken, beef or boiled eggs  
  • For more lunch ideas visit and balance blog's nutrition page.
NAQ Nutrition

NAQ Nutrition is a not-for-profit, non-government organisation. We aim to shape the health and wellbeing of our community through informed food choices. Food is life. Food is you. 

Healthy Food Healthy Planet is NAQ Nutrition’s community meal planner and recipe website. It aims to provide people with simple, healthy recipes that are tasty and won’t break the bank.