I get a lot of requests from my readers for strategies for healthy living. On this guest post my dear friend Ellen Jaworski from Triple Peak Paleo gives us actionable strategies to live a healthier life while being productive during one of the most important times during the workday, lunch!
Have you ever worked through your lunch break? Or skipped lunch entirely?
You’re not alone. According to NPR, 80% of professionals are too busy to take a lunch break.
Unfortunately, these bad habits that have become accepted - even expected - in the stressed-out, time-strapped American workforce. And it’s hurting your health.
When you’ve got a crucial deadline looming, a boss demanding more, an inbox of unread emails approaching the thousands, and that suffocating feeling in your chest that you’ll never get it all done, lunch seems like the most expendable item on your schedule. Instead of stepping out of the office for a sit down meal or joining your co-workers in the breakroom with your brown bag, you remain chained to your desk, frantically racing through your to do list while scarfing down some food.
This seems like an efficient strategy, right? But the truth is, even if you’re eating the healthiest lunch of local, organic veggies and grass fed meat, when you eat under stressful conditions such as these, you’re not doing your body any favors. You’re diminishing your metabolism, impairing your ability to make energy, and causing your body to store fat.
"It's better to eat the wrong food with the right attitude than the right food with the wrong attitude." -Chinese Proverb
When it comes to your health, how you eat is just as important as what you’re eatingThe good news is that you don’t need that full hour to make the most of your lunch. With these simple strategies, you can hack your office lunch to effectively nourish your body and supercharge your brain, setting you up to crush your workload and your health goals!
But first, let’s talk about why that lunch you’re currently inhaling between emails is setting you back…
WHY YOUR MULTI-TASKING WORK LUNCH ISN’T WORKING FOR YOU
If you’re choosing to work through your lunch break, chances are high that you’re stressed to the max, which is a bad news for your digestive system. Remember the “fight or flight” response? It’s the defense mechanism our bodies turn on when we’re under attack. Unfortunately for us, “under attack” encompasses everything from fighting for our lives to simply being stressed out. Our bodies haven’t yet evolved to differentiate between I’m-being-chased-by-a-lion-running-for-my-life stress and I’m-stuck-in-traffic-and-going-to-be-late stress. Though one is life threatening and the other is merely inconvenient, our bodies still initiate the same, physiological response.
So what does this have to do with your lunch?
When you’re sitting at your desk, panicking about blowing that deadline, this “fight or flight” response (also known as your sympathetic nervous system) is in full force, rerouting blood flow from non-essential biological functions like the digestive and reproductive systems to far more important parts of your body like your arms, legs, and brain - parts that, back in the days of being chased by a sabertooth tiger, would give you the best shot of survival. But today, most of us aren’t having to navigate an office full of sabertooth tigers…
According to the Health Coach Institute, in this state, “blood flow to the small intestines decreases as much as fourfold, which translates into decreased assimilation of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients,” meaning that when you’re shoving lunch down your throat - even that perfectly paleo lunch - your body and mind isn’t getting much out of it.
Side effects of drastically reduced digestion are:
- An impaired ability to breakdown food and convert it into energy
- An inability to assimilate essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients
- Constipation (which hinders your body’s detoxification process)
- A weakened immune system
- Fat storage
If you’ve ever felt like your lunch is sitting like a rock in your stomach or if you’re still hungry even after eating, that’s a strong indication that your “fight or flight” response is switched on… and your digestion is effectively switched off.
Where you want to be is in the “rest and digest” response (also known as the parasympathetic nervous system), which is the optimal state for digestion. In this relaxation state your metabolic fire is roaring, empowering you to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from, supercharge your energy, and build muscle rather than store fat.
So how can you eat your lunch, nourish your body, and get all your work done?
3 WAYS TO TURN STRESS OFF & MAXIMIZE YOUR DIGESTIVE POWER
At this point, you may feel as if you’re doomed to remain a slave to the never ending stress of work and consequently, impaired digestion, but fear not, there are a few tricks you can use to get the most out of your work lunch.
Yes, stress is inevitable, but with these 3 simple strategies you can actually take control of your stress response and switch your body from “fight or flight” mode to a “rest and digest” state, setting you up for optimal digestion, nutrition assimilation, and long-lasting energy, all of which will give you the productivity you need to finish your workday on a high note!
1. DEVELOP YOUR STRESS INTUITION
One of the most effective strategies for managing your stress response is simply learning to recognize it. It sounds too simple, I know, but as a society we’ve become so desensitized and disconnected from our body’s signals. We often fail to recognize when we’re full, thirsty, or even when we’re self-medicating with food instead of nourishing ourselves emotionally or spiritually. Having an awareness of stress signals in our bodies and minds is no exception.
It’s pretty easy to recognize stress when we’re completely overwhelmed and on the verge of a panic attack, but if you think of stress on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a nervous breakdown, do you know what your 2 feels like? Or your 5?
Start filling in this scale in your mind or even on paper. Each time you notice you’re stressed ask yourself, what physical sensations am I feeling? Pressure in my head? Tightness in my chest? And what thoughts run through my head at these different levels? Concern? Hopelessness? Start to listen to your body and recognize the signs.
As you become more aware of your stress levels, do a stress check in before you each lunch. Before eating, ask yourself, where am I on my stress scale right now? By developing this emotional and physical intuition, you’ll become better able to recognize stress and take the appropriate actions to ease into relaxation mode and prime your digestion for optimal performance at any meal.
2. USE THE 5-5-7 BREATHING TECHNIQUE
Having a moment of relaxation before you begin your meal can have a big impact on your digestion. As discussed before, we live in a stressful environment, and we rarely leave the "fight or flight" zone.
Did you know you can trick your central nervous system into the “rest and digest” state? With the 5-5-7 breathing technique, you can take your mind and body from high alert to relaxation in less than 3 minutes!
Simply inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, and exhale for 7 seconds, repeating this pattern 10 times. By taking deep, rhythmic breaths, your body believes that you’re calm and relaxed, turning off your sympathetic nervous system and activating your parasympathetic nervous system, putting you in that desired relaxation mode.
5-5-7 breathing is a convenient, fast, easy, and free technique you can use anytime you feel your stress response threatening to take over. Practice this breathing technique before lunch to get the most out of your mealtime - both physically and mentally!
3. TAKE A 20 MINUTE MEAL
I know you may not believe me when you read this, but in most professions, the world will not end if you close your computer and turn off your phone for 20 minutes to eat lunch.
Sit with that for a minute. What’s the worst that would happen if you disconnected for 20 minutes during your lunch hour?
Then ask yourself, what could you gain if you took 20 minutes of uninterrupted “you time” to eat lunch?
Not only would you set yourself up with the right conditions to eat in a relaxation state - no emails pinging, no text messages blowing up your phone, no one demanding something - but maybe, just maybe, this short break from the stress might inspire more creativity, more happiness, and more productivity to get more done in less time!
In addition to giving you a few minutes to mentally recharge, 20 minutes is also an ideal meal time. By stretching your meal over this window of time, not only are you giving your body the opportunity to slow down, relax, and use its full metabolic power to digest, but you also give the hormone that signals satiety and fullness (leptin) a chance to catch up with you! That’s right, it takes about 20 minutes for your body to signal that it’s full so if you’re woofing down your burrito in 2 minutes flat, it’s no surprise that your stomach may still be growling, prompting you to eat way more than you need, and shortly after, feel like crap!
20 minutes will likely seem like an eternity the first time you try it, so work up to it. Next time you’re eating a typical work lunch at your desk, time yourself. If your meal currently takes 2 minutes, double that time the following day to make your lunch 4 minutes long. Continue doubling your meal time until you’ve worked your way up to 20 minutes.
The world isn’t going to end if you take 20 minutes to eat your lunch. And the boost you’ll experience in energy, satiety, and mental calm will likely supercharge your afternoon so you can take control of your work and then get out the door to go live your life!
TO SUM IT UP
It’s time to revolutionize the time-crunched office lunch culture. It’s tempting to think you’re getting more done by sacrificing your mealtime to hustle through that stack of work, but the reality is that you’re actually setting your workload - and your health - back. Your body is your number one asset in business and life and when you nurture it with not just what you eat, but how you eat, you’ll be firing on all cylinders, giving you the energy to not just get it all done, but feel good while you’re doing it!
Ellen Jaworski is a globetrotting health coach on a mission to make healthy living easier for busy people. As a former Hollywood art director working 12+ hour days, she felt mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted until she took control of her health. Using a holistic, real food approach Ellen doubled her energy, transformed her body, and changed her life. Now through her coaching practice and blog, Triple Peak Paleo, Ellen shares her unique approach as she travels the world, inspiring others with tips and tricks to being the healthiest version of you, wherever busy takes you!