Failure to lunch

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

King-sized Snickers or a Cobb salad? If you've only got a few minutes for a lunch break, the choice may not be too difficult. According to a recent survey from OfficeTeam, many people are shortening or forgoing their lunch breaks at work. Sometimes it's necessary, but there are risks, too.

In OfficeTeam's survey of 150 top executives across the country, their average lunch break was 35 minutes, compared with 42 minutes in 2003. Survey respondents said, on average, they worked through lunch three days a week. And if the top execs are doing it, no doubt their staffs are, too.

"They are likely following the lead of the management," said Jeremy Florea, branch manager of OfficeTeam in Columbus. "We're all doing more with less resources today. Our lunches get affected."

There are some advantages to working through lunch, Florea said. For one thing, you're always there - you never miss phone calls or e-mails, and you develop a reputation for being reliable and dependable.

But those same benefits could end up making you feel trapped. Co-workers might rely on you to always be able to cover for them. If you do take a lunch break all of the sudden, "people could be let down because you're unavailable," Florea said.

Also, skipping lunch means you don't get a mental break, which could cause lower productivity later in the day, said registered dietician Julie Jones, president of the Ohio Dietetic Association.

"You need to get your mind free. You never get that time to sit back and enjoy the food that you're taking in," Jones said.

The experts say we should try to take back the shrinking lunch break. Sometimes, it just comes down to planning. Set deadlines for things later in the morning so you're able to relax, Florea recommended. Schedule your lunch in your Outlook calendar if you have to.

"Everyone is stressed. Make [lunch] something to look forward to," Florea said.

If you do have to forgo leaving the office, be smart about what you eat. Try to include items from at least three of the food groups, Jones suggested.

And never plan to eat a big dinner to compensate for skipping lunch to attend a meeting. Instead, bring small, quick at-work meals centered on peanut butter, low-fat cheese or yogurt - something with protein and calories.

"You'll always do better if you can provide a few small meals," Jones said. "You want to make sure you eat sort of consistently throughout the day."

Don't fall into the trap of snacking as an alternative to a full meal. If you keep a bag of chips in your desk drawer, and you skip meals, you might be tempted to overindulge.

"The grazing habit can be prevalent when you're multitasking," Jones said. "Your brain feels fullness after 20 minutes, but when you're multitasking, it's easy to overeat."

Instead, keep appropriate snack foods in your desk drawer, like bags of carrots or sourdough pretzels, so you're not tempted to go to the vending machine.