BEING at work can be bad for your diet and by virtue of that, bad for you. Any workplace is a minefield of temptation because no matter how disciplined you are, there are people around you who aren’t quite so much – or not even at all.
But it is a proven fact that eating the right things at the right can time give you energy, concentration, and focus. And it doesn’t have to be all kale smoothies and kimchi either. Here are our top tips for eating smarter to work better.
Start the day right
There’s a reason why they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s because it is an important meal of the day.
After eight hours of sleep, your body has high levels of the stress hormone cortisol because it has been without food for so long. Once those hormones are coursing through your body they don’t subside until you refuel, and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets.
Skipping breakfast because you aren’t hungry, or more likely don’t have time, is tantamount to ordering yourself a bad day. If your brain fails to get the right kick-start, you inevitably start craving the kinds of food that will raise your blood glucose and brain glucose quickly. By 10am the stress is acute and that’s why we have an irrational desire to cram anything available into our mouths, no matter how unhealthy. Biscuits, crisps or sweets may stem the craving but too much sugar can leave you overstimulated and prone to slowing down later in the day.
Porridge with fruit, nuts or seeds, wholemeal toast or even a smoothie is ridiculously quick to prepare and just as speedy to eat but it will leave your body nourished and armed for the day ahead.
No matter how well you’ve eaten first thing, that long hour before lunch is a nightmare if you are hungry. This is the worst time for snackers who can’t wait until midday to start eating. It is even more harrowing if you have brought your own lunch in. You can hear it calling to you as soon as the first pangs appear. “Eat me, eat me,” it coos temptingly from its Tupperware boudoir. Before you know it, you’ve torn off the lid and you’ve given in to temptation. And it is still only 11.25.
Try having fruit or nuts handy, they will fill you up and boost your energy level. Nuts in particular provide protein, fibre, vitamins and helpful elements such as magnesium, phosphorus and copper. They are also loaded with antioxidants, such as polyphenols, which can curb free radicals — unstable molecules that could cause cell damage and increase disease risk.
They can also lower cholesterol and combat heart disease.
Break the habit
There are certain routines we unconsciously follow that involve unhealthy eating. Is there a biscuit tin next to the kettle or coffee machine? Do you reach inside as you wait for it to boil or brew without even thinking? Be aware of these muscle memory acts and guard against them.
Water, water, everywhere
You can become dehydrated without even realising what is happening to us and when you do, your blood sugar drops, your performance dips and you lose concentration. Nutritionists recommend we drink two litres a day to maintain blood pressure, lubricate joints, improve kidney function and digestion, flush out waste and keep skin healthy. Drinking a glass of water can also combat hunger pangs at work and lessen your need to head towards the biscuit tin.
Little and often
It is better to eat small, healthy snacks like fruit and nuts or toast and honey than fast all morning and stuff yourself into a food coma with a gargantuan lunchtime blowout. The body’s natural reaction to being full is to shut down so that it can process it all. That’s not what you need when you have a 2 pm client meeting. Space out your eating and you won’t be, er, spaced out.
Nourish your soul as well as your tummy. Don’t eat at your desk, take your lunch somewhere and enjoy the walk. It is so easy to tell yourself that you don’t have time to stop but, trust us, it’ll all still be there when you get back and you will be twice as capable of dealing with it. And munching a solitary sandwich, picking the crumbs out of your keyboard as you go, can be a miserable, soulless experience that is as unrewarding as it is unappetising.
Heywood House has so many wonderful spots to enjoy your midday meal, plus exercise and food are the perfect combination for invigorating the brain for the afternoon ahead. Tenants have often told us that after a wander around the grounds, many a problem has solved itself. Eat slowly and savour your food – lunch break should be something to enjoy, not a rapid refuelling exercise.
Don’t be a creature of habit
Mix up your lunchtimes, don’t bring your own lunch every day. Go out for something to eat and change of scenery. Try and meet up with a friend or a contact or arrange a client meeting over a bite to eat. It’s equally important for your mental health to have some human contact and chat about something other than work. At the conservatory café at Heywood House, you can be stimulated by the buzz of conversation or the tranquillity of the view.
None of this is to say that you should live your work life like a monk and never stray off the path of healthiness. Food should equal joy and it ought to be a bond that connects us. Don’t be afraid of the unexpected birthday cake, holiday biscuit or Friday doughnut – give yourself up to it and enjoy it. That’s what food is all about.