Working through lunch: Is it really saving time?

Eating lunch while working at your desk does not save on time, and could have more downsides than imagined.

Are you short on time at work? Do you like to work through lunch instead of taking a break to get out early? Sounds like a good idea, right? Wrong. A survey by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) showed that 78 percent of Americans eat lunch while working at their desks at least two or three times a week. That same survey showed that more than 50 percent of the workers ended up working more than eight hour days, with 14 percent saying a 10 hour day isn’t unusual. The verdict is in: Working through lunch is not a time-saver!

An article in Safety and Health Magazine reported on a different study from AND that most people do not clean their desks and workspaces, resulting in desktops housing 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. So, not only is eating lunch at your desk while working not going to save you time, it also exposes you to more bacteria than you probably want to think about. Gross! Remember to disinfect your space and wash your hands before you eat if you have to eat at your desk even just once or twice a month.

Meals eaten at your desk tend to be less healthy than those eaten out or in a cafeteria. People who choose to eat at their desk do so most often to save time, so convenience foods are usually selected. This, overtime, could lead to an intake of more calories, fat and sugar. This can lead to weight gain and become a risk factor for many diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

Gale Business Insights Global reported that those who are distracted while eating (like working) tend to eat more than those who take a break and only focus on working. Again, leading to more calories, fat and sugar than we typically want in our diets. Researchers from Bristol University found in a study that those who work through their lunches and don’t focus on what they are eating not only eat more for that meal, they eat more later on in the day. The reason is cognition, memory and attention. These researchers demonstrated that appetite is greatly affected by whether or not we focus on eating while we eat, or if we are multi-tasking. Looks like taking 15-20 minutes away from our desks to focus on eating could save us extra calories, fat, time and from consuming some un-wanted germs.

Meals at your desk may seem like a good idea, but studies have shown that these meals are not only not saving you time, they expose you to many germs and bacteria and take away from the exercise gained from walking to a cafeteria or your car.

Michigan State University Extension has resources on workplace wellness, health and nutrition. For more information, visit

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