• Working through lunch is stressful and can mess up your health
  • Lunch breaks are crucial for recharging, being more social and managing stress
  • Find ways to work smarter and use lunch for downtime, not working
"Dammit, I’m gonna have to work through lunch today."

"I'll grab something quick and eat at my desk."

When you're neck deep in a project, it can feel like a huge step backwards to take a break from it. Getting it done ASAP is the only solution, right?

When things get busy at work, everyone puts in more hours. You’re scrambling to get your shit done and constantly putting out fires at work and that inevitably means working through lunch.

Not just once or twice either. Sometimes, you’ll work through your lunch break for an entire week or two.

If you’re lucky, you’ll grab something to eat at your desk while you work.

Or maybe you’re “required” to join a lunch meeting.

Technically, free food is provided so you’re not skipping eating with this one. But since you’re still working through lunch, your mental energy levels get wiped out by mid-afternoon.

Other times when it’s really bad, you don’t even get a chance to eat and that’s the worst situation.

This is when you get “hangry” (hungry + angry), cranky and irritable. You’re just not you when you’re hangry. Nobody is.

VIDEO: Snickers Commercial
LENGTH: 00:30
You wish it wasn’t like this but working through lunch is just how things are sometimes in the workplace. The culture is to “work hard”, even if that means pushing through lunch or staying late whenever it’s expected.

With this kind of unspoken peer pressure, you feel like you can’t take a real lunch break away from your desk, especially when everyone else is eating at their desks too.

But working through or skipping lunch isn’t going to supercharge your career. It’s much more likely to do the opposite.

This is because over-working, especially through lunch, doesn’t do much for your health or quality of work.

When you’re not taking regular breaks, you’re not getting an opportunity to de-stress and recharge. And that can have some negative effects on your work quality, health and wellbeing.

But here’s the real kicker.

You’re no more productive if you stay chained to your desk. In fact, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get less done later on.

Reclaiming your lunch break is one of the smartest things you can do to manage work stress and improve the quality of your work. It’s also highly underrated for social benefits and making work a happier place to be.

Why You’re Probably Working Through Lunch

Sacrificing your lunch break happens for a few reasons.

First, you’re probably taking on way more than you can handle.

If you fall into this bucket, you’re most likely someone that has trouble setting boundaries and saying no to others. This results in a never-ending to-do list that can feel overwhelming. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to make progress so you work through lunch or work late to catch up.

Here’s the thing though.

When you say yes to every single request, you will never get on top of everything - ever. There will always be things to do, no matter what. This is when a “can’t do” attitude can help you focus only on the stuff that really matters and preserve your mid-day break for some mental downtime.

Second, you may not be prioritizing your work and tasks.

Everyone wants their request to be top priority on your to-do list. Everyone wants their shit done yesterday. Everyone needs it ASAP. And so, you scramble and try to get it all done.

Guess what?

Everything can’t be number one folks, sorry.

When you don’t set priorities, it’s your personal time and mental health that gets sacrificed. And a lot of times that means working through lunch or late into the evening after work.

Third, it’s also possible that procrastination has gotten you in trouble and you’ve fallen behind at work.

Everyone slacks off and cyberloafs at work every once in a while. But, when it’s happening frequently, you’ll put yourself behind the 8-ball and then have to make up for it by doing a mad dash to the finish line.

Fourth, it could be a company culture thing.

A “work your ass off” company culture often glorifies overwork and results in everyone having to put in more time and make greater personal sacrifices.

It’s probably one of the big reasons why some of your co-workers don’t take lunch breaks away from their desks. They feel obliged to do it since it’s expected. Like you, they’re worried they’ll be judged as slackers or weak if they decide to take a lunch break.

We all fall into one or a combination of these reasons. And, when this kind of behavior becomes a consistent pattern instead of a once in a while thing, we put ourselves in an unhealthy situation. 

The Negative Effects of Working Through Lunch

Lunch isn't just for eating. It’s also the perfect chance to get away from all the bullshit, clear your head and refresh your energy.

If you’re not stepping away for a lunch break, it's not just your work that can suffer. Your wellbeing can take a hit too. Here are some of the things that can happen when you keep powering through lunch all the time. 

1) Stress And Burnout 

When you’re overwhelmed, it seriously affects your motivation and productivity.

Working through lunch only adds to this feeling. You’ve got no reprieve from the stress. Keep doing this every day and burnout is inevitable.

To be in top form, you need time to step away from the office, release stress and give your brain something else to think about besides work.

Your lunch break is perfect for this. It’s your secret weapon for keeping stress in check and avoiding burnout. 

2) Work Quality Declines

Working all day won't make your work better. It's like trying to run a marathon at full speed. You run out of steam pretty quickly and then you hit the wall.

When your motivation and focus is shot, it's counterproductive to push through anyway. Shifting your focus on something other than work for even a short period of time can recharge your enthusiasm you need to get shit done.

Skipping your break also makes it harder to be creative. There’s only so much your brain can take before something has to give. When your cognitive capacity is dwindling, creativity is hard to come by.

However, your creative juices get fired up when your brain can relax and not actively think about work. It's why you get seemingly random “aha!” shower moments.

Your brain comes up with ideas and solutions when you're in the middle of doing something else. You’re allowing your mind to subconsciously work through stuff in the background.

You can use this same logic during your lunch break to swing momentum in your favor. Coming back to your work after a relaxing break means you can look at it through fresh eyes. 

3) Weight Gain From Inactivity

Sitting down all day is a major health hazard. There’s been a lot of research into the effects of being sedentary and it isn’t pretty reading. This is why a mid-day break is so important.

Being physically inactive can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer. When you’re sitting, you’re only burning a fraction of the calories you might otherwise and this extra weight can put you at greater risk of serious health problems.

This study shows how quickly and easily you can store up problems.

A group of healthy young people were asked to drop down from 10,000 steps per day to just 1,500.

After only 2 weeks, major changes started to occur. Their muscle mass went down and body fat went up, especially around the middle. Their fitness levels started to suffer dramatically.

If this can happen in a matter of weeks, imagine how much trouble you could be bringing on yourself by being sedentary most of the time.

Your lunch break is a great time to get an easy low-sweat workout in and counteract the negative effects of sitting at your desk so much.

4) Tense Muscles & Sore Joints

Tense muscles and joints are another problem. The more time you spend at your desk, the bigger the impact.

Doing a lot of sitting can also weaken the muscles in your hips and core, which can lead to other effects for the rest of your body. Tight hip flexors and hamstrings can affect your posture and balance. Back and knee pain are very common complaints that stem from this.

Pain isn't the only issue here.

Here's the thing about muscles and joints. If you don't use them, you start to lose them.

A lunch break is very important for getting your body moving, changing your body position and easing the stress on your muscles and joints. You can even do yoga at your desk without looking weird.

5) Messes Up Metabolism

Not eating lunch at all is bad news for your metabolism and weight too.

Skipping lunch sends your blood sugar crashing. Your body produces more insulin to try to get your blood sugar stable. When this happens regularly, extra glucose is stored as fat. It’s one of the reasons why sitting all day leads to weight gain.

Skipping meals also encourages cortisol production. This makes it even harder to lose weight, despite your lack of calories.

Your metabolism also grinds to a halt when you keep ditching lunch. Your body thinks it’s in starvation mode so it slows down your metabolism and makes it harder to burn calories. You get really good at storing fat.

Throw in the fact that next time you eat, you’re more likely to snack on the leftover donuts at work or some other junk food. This bulks up the bad calories since you’re so hungry and it leads to weight gain. There are other healthier snack options.

Even if you’re grabbing lunch at your desk rather than skipping lunch, there’s still a very strong link to weight gain. In this study, sitting for longer made obesity more likely. It’s all about the changes that occur in your body when you stay sitting down.

It’s easy to see why sitting down all day makes it near impossible to lose weight or even stick at the same weight. You’ll just keep piling on the pounds, unless you get moving, of course. 

6) Less Social Bonding With Coworkers

Your lunch break is a great chance to bond with your coworkers. If everyone works through lunch, this doesn’t happen.

Spending so many hours at work each week can leave little time for social interaction in your free time. And, when you don’t have any social interaction, this can be a big problem, especially for your social health.

This study published in Perspectives of Psychological Science sums it up.

Being socially isolated can increase your risk of premature death.

Scary stuff, right?

But the opposite is true too. Having more social connections has a positive effect on wellbeing.

This study from the University of Queensland highlights one of the big benefits for getting social in your lunch break. Meeting up with other people at lunch can be really relaxing and fun.

A study from Cornell University found that teams that are together performed better than those who didn't. And by hanging out with your co-workers, lunch is just one more opportunity to strengthen those social bonds.

7) Less Energy In The Afternoon

When you don't take a lunch break, your energy levels take a nosedive during the afternoon.

The most common time for this is around 3pm. And if you’ve worked through lunch, it's guaranteed that your mental energy will be tapped out before the end of the day.

Here's why.

You need a break to recharge. You’ve only got so much energy and if it’s not topped up, it literally crashes. You’re good for nothing in the afternoon.

It’s like when you forget to fill up with gas and you’re driving on an empty tank. You need to get to a gas station to fill up again and it’s exactly the same for your mind.

Lunchtime recharging is the mental equivalent of keeping your fuel tank topped off.

Think of your lunch break as a recovery period. It's your opportunity to keep your energy levels high and avoid the mid-afternoon slump. 

How To Protect Your Lunch Break From Work Sabotage

Setting boundaries is key for keeping your lunch break for you. If people know you're stepping out of the office and you'll be back at a certain time, it's much easier to leave your desk and claim your lunch break.

And it might even encourage a shift in culture for not skipping lunch.

Here's how to take back control and make your lunch break a daily personal commitment. 

1) Prioritize Work Tasks 

No matter how crazy it gets, some tasks will always be more urgent than others.

Start by listing down everything you have to do that day. Once you've got your list, grade each task according to urgency and how much effort it'll take.

This isn’t about tackling the most time-consuming tasks first. It’s about doing what is most important. This prioritization process is the secret to managing your workload.

All of the less urgent tasks can be put off until tomorrow or later in the week. This will allow you to take a midday break without causing major slips or delays in your overall workflow. 

2) Ask For More Time 

Rushing to get work done is one of the biggest reasons why lunch gets skipped.

Maybe you completely underestimated how long it’d take to get that report done. Or maybe the deadline you were given was ambitious or plain impossible to meet. You’re drowning in work and you need more time to do a good job.

Ask for more time on the task or project. Chances are pretty good that there is some flexibility on the deadline. A realistic extension will allow you to do your best work. 

3) Schedule Lunch Like A Meeting 

You schedule and accept meetings and conference calls all the time, right?

And, you stick to them as commitments during the day.

So, why not do the same with your lunch hour?

There’s nothing worse than seeing a stupid useless meeting invitation that encroaches into your lunch hour. You’ve seen it. It’s the meeting that goes from 11:30am to 12:30pm or the 12:30pm to 1:30pm. These meetings only just overlap your lunch hour so that they don’t have to provide food.

This is total bullshit. It’s time to protect your lunch hour.

Make your lunch hour a recurring “meeting” every day during the week in your calendar so that it has less of a chance of being sabotaged by a coworker.

In fact, make it a daily lunch meeting with your work BFF and the both of you can catch up, laugh, gossip and chat over some yummy bites.

4) Make Lunch Time Self-Care Time 

Your lunch break is crucial for self-care. Using it wisely can help you feel less stressed and more productive at work.

Using your lunch break to do something for you is super smart. It can help you manage work stress and make your lunch break even more beneficial.

Hopefully by now, you’ll recognize how important it is to get moving during your lunch break — both from a physical and emotional perspective.

Taking a lunchtime walk can keep you physically healthy but there’s a lot to be said for the mental benefits too.

And talking about mental benefits, you should also try meditating during lunch. If you haven’t done this before, check out our newbie’s guide to meditation and it’ll open your eyes on how good this is for you.

Whatever self-care thing you decide to do, it’s a great way to refocus your attention on relaxation so you can come back to the office refreshed and ready to pick up where you left off. 

5) Run Personal Errands 

Life can be busy and jammed packed with so much shit to deal with and take care of. And with weekend time being so precious, you want to maximize your weekend as much as possible for fun and relaxation.

So, use your lunch break to run simple personal errands so you don’t have to do them over the weekend. Don’t take on complex stuff because that’ll just stress you out. Keep it simple.

This can be gassing up the car, going to the bank, dropping something off at the post office, going through the car wash, returning something, etc.

Hell, maybe you’d even want to do a few simple side-hustle microjob tasks for a bit of extra pocket money.

Whatever option you choose, just don’t jampack your lunch hour with wall-to-wall tasks. If you do, you’ll just be swapping one form of stress for another and you still won’t be recharged after your break. 

6) Break Up Your Lunch Hour

If you really can't take your lunch break some days, break it up into two shorter breaks during the day.

Taking a 30 minute break in the morning and another in the afternoon can help to recharge your batteries, relieve digital eye strain, boost your motivation and give you that all important change of focus.

Plus, it's a couple more opportunities to get your ass up and out of that chair, away from your desk and get some fresh air. You need to get outside and move around. 

A Lunch Break Makes You Happier, Healthier And More Productive

When you've got a lot on your plate, working through lunch to get things done can feel like the smartest choice.

But it's not the best solution.

Your lunch break is the perfect chance to get away from all the madness, relax a bit, recharge and boost your productivity for the remainder of the afternoon.

Doing so will up the chances of getting in the zone after lunch and finish the day strong.

It's about working smarter, not longer or harder.

And by not being stuck at your desk all day long, you'll be doing your health a favor too. Getting out of the office makes it even easier to be productive and stay healthy.

So, don’t ditch lunch.

Grab a coworker, your BFF or head out solo for your mid-day break.

Whatever you do, just don’t stay at your desk and work through lunch. Get out of the damn office. You work hard enough as it is.

You deserve a break.

Feel Better,

more on cubicle life