Food & Drink

Why Taking a Lunch Break Is So Damn Important

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With one in five members of the workforce skipping their daily meal break altogether, the American lunch has all but faded off into obscurity. We’re working harder than ever (suck it, baby boomers), but it's come at a cost to our physical health and mental well-being. And while we all theoretically understand that not taking lunch is bad for us, we toil still. 

To find out exactly what the benefits of a lunch break are, so that maybe, maybe, you'll be inspired to reverse the trend, we talked to a few experts in the field. But be warned: their arguments for preserving (and even extending!) your lunch break might piss off your boss and his/her big dumb bald face. Unless you're your own boss, in which case, congratulations! I’m sure you made plenty of time for lunch breaks during the course of your illustrious and bountiful career.

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If you don't eat lunch, your body and brain will crash midday

"Overall, it's really important to not skip meals," said Jacqueline Aizen, a New York-based nutritionist. "When you skip meals your blood sugar tends to drop, when your blood sugar drops you'll experience fatigue, you'll feel sluggish... your brain needs glucose sugar to function well. When that doesn't happen, and your blood sugar dips, it drains your energy.

"Your brain is like a baby, if you don't feed it, if you don't nourish it, it's going to start crying."

I know she doesn't mean that literally, but I can't help but shed a few tears whenever I go a few hours without eating.
 

Eating lunch will help you stay slim

"Eating a good, nutritious lunch is important to keep your body and mind focused and able to perform at a high level during the day, so it's very important. And, eating lunch can also lead to you having a smaller dinner, if you are properly fed earlier in the day. Eating too late at night, especially before bed, can lead to a bevy of digestive and weight problems, which is never good," 

She also stressed the importance of consistency when it comes to meal times, and recommended keeping a steady schedule of meal breaks, and even consuming a small snack every three to four hours to keep your body pumping out that sweet glucose.

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So long as it's not something like a cheeseburger

"No, your brain might be telling you that you want something with sugar, or something that may not be the most nutritious thing for you. But you want to eat something without sugar or refined carbs. You might get a temporary boost from these things, but after that you'll crash harder than you would if you didn't eat at all," Jacqueline said, crushing my dreams, even though I'm sure she is right. 
 

What if you just can't get a full meal in?

"Like I said, snacking every few hours is important, too -- especially if you can't fit in a full meal," Jaqcueline said. "Something high in protein, maybe a yogurt or some nuts... guacamole, hummus, whole-grain crackers, eggs... anything but candy bars, right?"

I guess.

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Mental breaks (lunch breaks, in particular) are a catalyst for creativity

Being a human being is hard. You have to worry about work, flossing, and reading books while you try to drive your motorcycle (is that just me?). Sometimes a full stomach, quick walk, and change of scenery can stoke a tepid imagination, or calm a crowded mind.
 
“We know that creativity and innovation happen when people change their environment, and especially when they expose themselves to a nature-like environment, to a natural environment, so staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to creative thinking,” said Professor Kimberly Elsbach of UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

Elsbach affirms that workers who take lunch breaks will be more productive. Thus, becoming more valuable employees.
 

And getting out of the office can have a smorgasbord of positive effects

Studies have shown that exercise -- even if it's a 10- to 20-minute walk, is integral to your mental and physical health. "If you combine a good meal with some exercise, you can really give your body a boost," said Jacqueline.
 

But don't successful people skip lunch... and just work, work, work?

Elsbach asserts that lunch-skipping is more common for white-collar workers and “... the higher up you are, the more that you’re in a managerial position, the less likely you are to take a break at all.”

Weird... because the kids who skipped lunch in high school usually worked at the movie theater and drove around in a van listening to Radiohead (I should know, it was my van).

This type of burning the candle without a sandwich, though, can lead to some serious burnout. Working strenuous hours can decrease your life by nearly 20% -- which, for most people, is about 15-20 years. Just think: this way, you can eat lunch every day, and live to the age where it’s totally kosher to wear a bathrobe to the supermarket.

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A lunch break is good even if it doesn't include lunch

If you don’t work at Google or 1-800-Mattress, you probably don’t get much chance to take a quick nap on the job. But I personally talked to a doctor and sleep specialist, and he assured me that a 15- to 20-minute nap during the workday can increase cognitive function and productivity.

Jacqueline agrees, and alluded to the Spanish model of midday siesta. “They eat and then they nap. It’s not a bad set-up. It can give you energy to finish the day, along with the food.”
 

Here's your playbook for tomorrow at the office:

  • Print this out and try to get it signed by your doctor or legal guardian
  • Present the notarized article to your boss
  • Find a consistent time every day to leave your workspace, and take a walk
  • Eat a nutritious meal while you are out
  • Come back and lock yourself in a bathroom stall and pass out for a little bit

Overall, it's easy to see that we need our lunch back. It provides much-needed nourishment for the body, the mind, and... well, that’s it, actually. But those are two damn important things.

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. You should probably check your blood sugar after reading this. Follow him: @wilfulton.