Protecting Your Lunch Break

(Or…Trying to Practice What I Preach!)

Profile PicBy Alison Chrystal

Specialist Weight Management Dietitian, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Initially when I was asked to write about protecting your lunch break I wondered how to start. Then I realised that there’s a lot I could say on this subject, and writing about it might make me better at it!

I work full time as a specialist dietitian at the Glasgow & Clyde Weight Management Service. A large part of my work involves delivering a structured programme to our clients providing support on diet, physical activity and behavioural change. Every day we talk with clients about establishing a regular pattern of eating and a structured routine.  We also explore what the barriers to implementing this can be, for example busy lifestyles, working hours, family and mood amongst others.

Lunch…Trying to be healthy!

However, there are times when I’m not great at putting these things into practice for myself and I can imagine I’m not the only one. Lunch time (eaten at work five days out of seven) is where I’m most likely to fall down. I don’t tend to skip meals but unfortunately I can think of too many occasions where I have eaten lunch at my desk or in my car on a quick dash to a clinic, gulping it down in about 5 minutes. Obviously it would be lovely to always come away from your desk, sit with colleagues, have a chat and eat a healthy lunch at a leisurely pace; but we all know that life isn’t always like that – meetings over-run, we double book ourselves, and protecting our lunch slips to the bottom of the list.

Last year (January 2015) The Telegraph published an article that included some findings from a Bupa study conducted on 2000 full time workers. They found that;

“some 30% of workers said skipping lunch makes them physically ill in the afternoon, 40% said it dampens their productivity and 52% claimed it puts them in a bad mood.”

Thinking back to the last time I had an express lunch, gulped down before going to a clinic, I realise it certainly does affect how you feel later that day whilst trying to fight a mid-afternoon energy slump.

Another area that came to mind, and an area that has increasingly been brought to my attention at work, is the practice of Mindfulness.  I work alongside a brilliant team of Clinical Psychologists who have provided our dietitians with training on Mindfulness, particularly mindful eating.

John Kabat Zinn (one of the key names behind Mindfulness) describes it as; “…paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally…”

Our psychologists are often encouraging clients to adopt more mindful eating practices such as; eating slowly, taking small mouthfuls and chewing thoroughly, putting your cutlery down more frequently and minimising distractions while eating. All sounds simple enough – but could you guarantee that you eat every meal in that way? At our mindfulness training we went a step further and tried it out, eating a square of dark chocolate mindfully, and yes, it was as difficult as it sounds.

As a bit of a conclusion I tried to think of how I could summarise what writing this has made me think about and areas that I, and maybe others, could work on:

The Environment
The environment… temptation is never far away!

The BDA’s Work Ready programme (2016) recognises that we are largely influenced by our environment (eg. workplace). We’re lucky enough at my work to have a room where we can meet for lunch and catch-up. Sometimes the conversation can be a source of hilarity and real debate, which really does help see you through the afternoon. I certainly think leaving your desk for lunch is a must – join other colleagues (if you have them), even if sometimes you only have 10-15 minutes, it’s a start.

The Work Ready programme also advises that studies that look at workplace health talk about weight loss or healthy weight. I think it’s important to consider what you eat at lunch, as much as having it in the first place. Obviously this is not new ground for AHPs but we have all reached for that 3pm bit of chocolate for an energy hit when sometimes a balanced, slow energy release lunch, eaten at a relaxed pace might have prevented this (on really stressful days this might be more difficult!).

Can you get out for a quick walk at lunchtime?

Try to incorporate some physical activity whenever you get the chance. Sometimes, if the sun is out (what, in Scotland?!) a few colleagues and I might squeeze in a short walk at lunch time, which proves it is achievable even in a 30 minute lunch break.

And a last one is the involvement of management and good leadership to help create the right environment and ethos. Is there anything your managers can assist with to allow everyone in the team to protect their lunch time? Remember, this has the potential to lead to a happier and more productive team so it really is worthwhile!

I’m going to do my best to practice what I preach, but for now it’s back to work!

Dietitians Shaping the Future of Scotland’s health

If you’d like another opportunity to hear more about the work of dietitians why not come along to our innovation event ‘Dietitians shaping the future of Scotland’s health’. The event will be held on Wednesday 14th September in Dunfermline. Booking is now open with early bird rates for the first 50 BDA Members. Registration starts from £45. Follow the link for more information and booking:


1 Comment

  1. Very interesting read and I agree whole heartedly but life in the NHS doesn’t always allow this. My husband is a paramedic who works 12 hour shifts and regulary does not even get to stop for a break until 4 or 5 in the afternoon after starting at 7 am. This seriously needs to be looked at.

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