Whether I make my own lunch or order a quick bite, eating at my desk while ploughing through my to-do list has always been my lunchtime routine — even though I know in the back of my mind that’s not in my best interest. 

A recent survey suggests I’m far from alone. Thirty-seven percent of millennials feel they can’t take a lunch break without facing stigma from their teammates, and 25 percent worry their managers will see them as less hard-working if they do. Skipping out on a lunch break is actually doing a disservice to our minds as well as our bodies. A growing body of research suggests that when we practice mindful eating, not only do we consume fewer calories, but we also feel fuller for longer, and are less susceptible to unhealthy cravings than when we eat while distracted. 

Beyond the nutritional benefits, though, lunchtime is a natural pause point in the workday where we can catch our breath, collect our thoughts, let ideas marinate, release stress, and be fully present. If you can’t remember the last time you stepped away from your computer screen for lunch, try these small steps to incorporate mindful eating into even your most hectic workdays. 

Define your own “lunch hour” and block it off on your calendar

With so much of our work in today’s knowledge economy taking place on screens at all hours of the day, it’s not always clear when lunchtime should be. If your workday doesn’t have a designated window for lunch, define your own. Pick a time frame that feels right for your own particular work cadence, and schedule it on your calendar like you would any other meeting. “Once you start treating it as though it were a work appointment, you’re more likely to actually commit to doing it,” Amanda Augustine, a certified career coach for TopResume, suggests. This will help reframe your lunchtime as intentional, rather than optional, and provide a positive example for your colleagues as well. 

Eat lunch away from your workstation

A 2018 survey of office workers in the U.K. found that nearly 70 percent report lower productivity when they aren’t able to step away from their desks for a meal, yet 56 percent say there’s nowhere else to eat their lunch at work. If there’s no dedicated table or eating space where you’re working from, settle into one of your favorite spots, be it by a window or a plant. “Workplace satisfaction is so much higher if you eat with your colleagues. You like your job more — and you like your colleagues better,” Brian Wansick, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, told The New York Times Magazine. Wherever you choose, the key is to set work aside and let yourself relax. In fact, a 2013 study published in Organizational Dynamics found that employees who carried on with work-related activities through their lunch breaks reported more negative moods later on in the day. 

Head outside for a quick walk

It’s common knowledge that no one works well when hungry, but we’re now learning that we don’t work at our optimal performance by staying put all day, either. “Staying inside in the same location is really detrimental to creative thinking. It’s also detrimental to doing that rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an ‘aha’ moment,” Kimberly Elsbach, Ph.D., a professor of management at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, says. One simple practice to help unblock your thinking is to go for an intentional walk, even if you’ve already eaten or brown-bagged your lunch. You don’t need to buy anything to take advantage of a quick dose of fresh air to refresh your creative juices and problem-solving savvy.

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