Is Working Through Lunch Is Killing You?

It’s 1PM, and you’re still at your desk. You had planned to take a break at noon, but then there was that phone call, and then the follow-up to the phone call, and then the work you needed to do to prep for the next phone call. If it’s ever going to happen, it’s now or never, and yet…there’s still so much to do.

life after lunch
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image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

If thoughts like these keep you chained to your desk mulling over a limp sandwich, you’re not alone. With more demands than ever placed on us in the workplace, it’s easy to fall into a work through lunch mentality. Many managers and colleagues don’t help the situation, as time in the office is often seen as a job better done.


But countless studies have demonstrated that we work better in 45 to 90-minute sprints, not marathon days, and that taking a break in the middle of the day refreshes and resets the brain, so that you’re much more efficient, productive and creative upon your return. What’s more, simply sitting for such long periods can greatly increase your risks of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even deep vein thrombosis.


Motivated? Good. Let’s take a look at a few different ways you could be spending that lunch break, to the benefit of all.

1. Move

Getting that heart pumping is good for your body and for your brain. Head to the gym for a quick spin class. Drop in for a yoga session. Arrange a power walk around the office park with a colleague. Or, simply walk to lunch, making sure to take the long route and the stairs. Just pumping that heart will increase the blood flow to areas of the body you’re probably keeping too still during countless hours at the desk, which can lead directly muscle fatigue and pain. It will also give your metabolism a jump start and release endorphins, meaning you’re sure to feel great by the time you head back to that desk.

2. Read a Book

Escape not only your desk but the real world as well by heading to a quiet space in a coffee shop or the library for a good read. Reading will get you away from screens in a way watching TV or a movie by design cannot, and it will stimulate your mind in new, interesting, and possibly cathartic ways. In fact, just by focusing on something else and forgetting all thought of deadlines and outcomes, you may just gain insight into the issues you’re trying to solve at work as well. And even if you don’t, who cares? Consuming another great book can never be a bad thing.


3. Have Lunch With a Non-Work Friend

Work friends are great because you share a set of common experiences, and sometimes, there’s nothing more fun than a good round of office gossip. But if you’ve got a non-work friend nearby, make it a habit to meet up with them instead for a fresh perspective on things, or simply to focus on something other than work. This will get you out of everyday office politics, and you may even find yourself looking back at your own work through a new and creative lens, just by taking on a new perspective. In fact, it often takes a mind from a different discipline to unlock insights in your own, as we tend to zoom down so closely into our own work that we become blind to what’s sitting right there. Share lunch with an interesting friend, and return to work inspired.

4. Work on a Creative Project

At Google, employees get what’s called “20% Time” to work on a passion project that need not have anything to do with their everyday work. The idea here is that the best employees are those who are engaged in their workplace, and who feel like their minds and personal lives are given freedom and respect. Plus, you never know when something developed on 20% time will turn into something profitable; several of Google’s most famous products Gmail, Google News and AdSense were brainstormed in just that way.

Think of your lunch break like your “20%” time. Work on that book you always wanted to write. Ask your boss if you can start a garden outside of the office. Or, choose a new project for every month. Just keep it fun, and keep it fresh, and you’ll feel much more rewarded when you’re eating at your desk later in the day.

image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
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image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

5. Reward Yourself

Once a week, take the opportunity to turn lunch into a special treat. Maybe it’s a trip to the nail salon across the street, or perhaps it’s just a bar of chocolate. Whatever it is, rewarding yourself with something special will go a long way towards preventing burnout.

The Takeaway

Working through lunch is terrible for both your body and your brain. Do yourself a favor and let go of the workhorse mentality at least for half an hour in the middle of every day. You’ll find you do a much better job when you return, and you’ll feel a little bit more like you.

Leah Kaminsky is a blogger and the founder of Just Start Storytelling, a company that helps college and graduate school applicants and individuals tell their authentic stories online. You can follow her at @JustStartApps.

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