Why Nutrition & Mental Health Experts Want You To Actually Take Your Lunch Break
Be honest: When was the last time you took a lengthy, leisurely lunch break? If you're like many of us, it's been a while.
According to one 2022 survey, 40% of people only occasionally, rarely, or never take breaks during the workday. It's a situation that's not hard to understand. With more and more folks working from home or on a less-structured schedule (thanks, pandemic), the midday meal can tend to fall by the wayside. It's just so easy to shovel something in while responding to emails, writing up reports, or participating in a camera-off Zoom call.
But eating lunch away from the pressures of work has some surprising benefits for both mental and physical health. We've got six compelling reasons to make time for a daily meal away from your desk:
Taking a lunch break could improve your digestion
Been feeling bloated or crampy? A lower-stress lunch might be one key to smoother, more efficient digestion. "Any sort of stress can impair digestion," explains registered dietitian Kim Kulp, RDN. (Yes, eating in front of your computer counts as stress.)
"The parasympathetic nervous system is activated when we're calm and is known as the 'rest and digest' system. This allows gastric juices and digestive enzymes to be released so they can help with better absorption of nutrients," Kulp explains. "If you don't take a calming break for lunch, you may not digest your meal well, which could lead to stomach pain or bloating."
So step away from those client needs and let your digestive system do its thing, unimpaired by work stress. (And if you need a little extra help chilling out on your lunch break, you can always try a calming supplement with lunch.)
It could prevent afternoon fatigue
The afternoon slump is a legit phenomenon—your circadian rhythm1 naturally slows you down around midafternoon. Granted, taking a lunch break won’t alter your internal sleep-wake cycle, but Kulp says it could keep energy levels steadier in the latter half of the day.
"Taking time in the middle of a busy day to eat a relaxing meal can improve the communication between the gut and the brain," she says. "During digestion, the gut releases neurotransmitters that talk to the brain and can affect mood. Having a more relaxing lunch can lead to feeling happier and more energized."
For a lasting dose of afternoon oomph, Kulp recommends a meal that combines fiber-rich carbohydrates with protein. Try a salad with chicken, a sandwich with meat and veggies, or a bean wrap.
It promotes productivity
It's a strange but true paradox: Take time away from work and you're likely to get more work done. But according to Harvard Business Review, North American employees who take a daily lunch break report higher engagement with their work, including greater job satisfaction, productivity, and likelihood of recommending their workplace to others.
"After about 90 minutes of productivity, our focus tends to dwindle a bit, so it makes sense to take a break and give yourself a reset before it's time to start a new cycle of productive work," says therapist Paige Rechtman, LMHC. "Clearing your head midday can help you return to work with a fresh perspective."
It might make you a more mindful eater
You can't exactly eat mindfully with your eyes glued to a screen or doing 65 on the freeway between work meetings. By its very definition, mindful eating requires slowing down and focusing on the food in front of you. A lunch break is an opportunity to tap into this unplugged, more pleasurable form of dining.
Whereas distracted eating is associated with anxiety, overeating, and weight gain2, mindful eating has been linked to reduced disordered eating behaviors, better diet quality, and even weight loss. (And hey, eating at an actual table means you won't have to wipe ketchup spills off your laptop, either.)
It's an opportunity for physical activity
All work and no play… well, you know the rest. Consider using your time out of work mode to enjoy some physical activity after your meal. It'll add to your daily movement goal and stabilize your blood sugar post-lunch. Research shows3 that just 15 minutes of walking after eating improved blood sugar control.
It could bring down your overall stress levels
It seems like our collective stress levels just keep rising higher—and staying tethered to work all day doesn't help. Pausing for lunch is a step in the direction of a less harried, hectic lifestyle.
"Taking time out of your day for a lunch break is a wonderful self-care practice that can expand into other areas of your life," Rechtman says. "If you can practice making time for yourself at work, you may find it easier to do so in your personal life as well—especially when you see how much it helps you."
Offering yourself a midday reset not only fuels your physical body—it refreshes your mind and spirit. It could even make you more productive! So consider this your sign to block off your calendar and enjoy a hearty, satisfying lunch today.
Sarah Garone, NDTR is a licensed nutritionist and freelance health and wellness writer in Mesa, AZ whose work has appeared in numerous publications. After a first career as a college German teacher, health problems led her to pivot her work to the way food impacts wellness. In addition to her writing, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and three teenage kids, cooking, running, volunteering at a certified pro-women's healthcare center, and singing in a concert choir.