Work-eat balance: how do you manage to eat a balanced diet in your hectic working life?

Work-eat balance

We run from one meeting to the next, grab a quick lunchbreak at our desks, we’re on the road a lot: it’s entirely understandable that we love to grab a sandwich from the supermarket on working days, or head to one of the numerous fast-food stalls and feed ourselves on chips and burgers, or whatever the to-go offer of the day is. But wouldn’t a more balanced, more aware diet also be possible? Yes! Our tips and information will help you to improve your work-eat balance.

How the working day affects our eating habits

Firstly, let’s take a mental step backwards: why do we eat at all, what do we eat, and how? In many places, the working day is characterised by stress and follows the rhythm determined by work. Both of these, work-related stress and working rhythm, can have a huge influence on our health-related behaviour and consequently also on our diets. This will almost certainly sound familiar to you: when time is short, we wolf down our meals or even skip them entirely. Yet eating healthily and mindfully is important, as without it we will not remain productive throughout the working day. Furthermore, our bodies may be exposed to additional stress due to poor and qualitatively low-value food.

However, time pressure at work affects not just when we eat, but also what we choose to eat. So it’s no surprise that food companies set their sights on precisely the foods that allow us to get a quick meal, particularly focusing on rapid preparation, foods you can eat with your hands when out and about and convenience foods (ready made products). We love these options for grabbing a «fast meal» – which we also eat almost casually. We often simply gulp down our food during a brief break, without even consciously enjoying it and taking advantage of our break to switch off either mentally or physically. Have you heard of mindful eating? Find out more here.

What do our emotions have to do with our eating habits?

Our eating habits are influenced by more than just our hectic daily lives. Our emotions also determine what we eat, and how much. While some people find that constant time pressure and the pressure to perform suppress the appetite (stress hypophagia), others are likely to reach for food more often (stress hyperphagia). Why is this? Stress can trigger negative feelings. To regulate them, we use learned strategies such as comfort eating, also called «eating your feelings». Haven’t we all rewarded ourselves with a chocolate on one occasion or another? Or cheered ourselves up with cake after an interview that went badly? That is exactly what comfort eating is, and it is a sort of emotional eating. Food is also used not only to boost the mood, but also for avoidance purposes (this is called avoidance eating). This happens when we eat because we are bored, or don’t have enough stimulation, and not because we are hungry.

How to recognise and avoid emotional eating

What can you do if you notice that you, too, are prone to emotional eating? Use our tips to understand your «pattern» and to change it:

  • Try to change your strategy by observing your own behaviour: when do you reach for a snack? Why? Because you’re hungry, or because you’re stressed? What feelings does food trigger in you in such situations? When we deliberately get to grips with our habits, we can learn new things and discover alternatives.
  • In the office: the best thing is to empty your snack drawer and relocate the contents (if any) to the common room. If less food is lying around, we are less likely to be tempted to snack.
  • Rewards: think about alternative rewards. What about a trip to the cinema in the evening, or clocking off work a little earlier? What is your favourite fruit? This sort of reward is more sustainable than chocolate in your drawer.

Tips for your work-eat balance

As we have seen, our eating habits and working lives are closely associated with each other. Many things affect what, why and how we eat – not just how hungry we feel! So what can you do in future to ensure you eat a balanced diet with more enjoyment during your (stressful) working day? We have put together a few tips to help you improve your work-eat balance:

  • Vary your eating habits:
    • Bring something from home. In this way you can make a more mindful choice and are not indiscriminately deciding when you get hungry. For example, you can cook something at home on the day before, so you only need to microwave it at work.
    • If you go to the staff canteen, then make sure that you don’t always grab the same meal out of habit. You don’t always have to have pizza or chips. Try some new dishes sometimes.
    • If, on occasion, you have to have something ready-made, look at the nutritional values, particularly the salt, sugar and fat content. This will allow you to compare different products and make a more mindful choice. 
  • Planning your meals every week can help you develop healthier eating habits. Seek out recipes and arrange them on a weekly plan. This could help you to create new routines and shop more mindfully.
  • Deliberately planning between-meal snacks can help prevent food cravings. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks can satisfy the need for an energy boost between meals and may also help to keep concentration levels high. You can find ideas for your next snack here. But if you don’t feel hungry between meals, you should pass on snacks.
  • Take some time for a proper lunchbreak and sit down to eat. When you eat food standing up or on the move, you often chew less and swallow more rapidly. Be consciously aware of what you eat. An organisation tip: block out time for your lunch in your calendar – this way you deliberately create a proper break. You should also make sure you allow enough time (at least half an hour).
  • A simple tip for eating slowly and more mindfully: put down your cutlery after each mouthful and chew 15 to 20 times.
  • Your lunch should not be too fatty and your portion not too large if you want to remain productive in the afternoon.
  • If you are a manager, or are planning a meeting with your colleagues, you should avoid holding meetings during over lunch, because nobody will feel that they have had a break at all if you do. Breaks should be consciously used to talk about things that are not work.

Tips for takeaways and eating out

  • If you choose a sandwich on wholemeal bread, combined with, e.g., ham, chicken or cheese, this is already a good basis for a balanced meal. Add a salad, other raw vegetables or some fruit to complete your meal. 
  • Mixed salads with tuna, eggs or cheese provide a great many nutrients. If they only contain a little starchy food, then we recommend adding a slice or two of bread. 
  • Quiches, cakes or flans with cheese or vegetables can also constitute a complete meal, because they contain starch (in the dough), protein (eggs, milk, cheese, ham...) and some vegetables. If the vegetable content is on the low side, you can supplement it with fruit or extra vegetables. However, shortcrust and flaky pastry are quite high in fat, so you should only eat it occasionally.
  • Asian street food is very popular and widely available. The menus, based on rice, meat and vegetables, can sometimes be very balanced. But here you need to be careful about the quantity. Some Asian dishes can also be high in fat, particularly when the food is fried (spring rolls, fried noodles or fried rice). These should largely be avoided.
  • A lone hamburger is not a balanced meal, as the meat is particularly high in fat. Our tip: add a salad to your burger and your meal is already much more balanced.
  • Another favourite takeaway food is the kebab, consisting of bread, meat and vegetables. Although the individual components contain lots of healthy sustenance, the proportions are not exactly ideal. That’s why we recommend asking for more vegetables, or supplementing your meal with a salad or some fruit.

Tips for night and shift work

  • As our digestion settles during the night and simply ticks over, eating low-fat foods is recommended for the nightshift.
  • Warm snacks, such as a vegetable soup, will give your body more energy. 
  • Our body clocks cause our bodies to cool down overnight, so drink plenty of warm drinks, such as tea or decaffeinated coffee. 
  • You can find more tips and information on night and shift working here.

Stay inspired

Our conclusion? We need food to remain productive during our daily lives. That’s why it’s worth deliberately scheduling a lunchbreak and allowing yourself enough time to take it. And don’t forget: you choose what you eat. You can find some great recipes on www.hey-zug.ch until the end of this year. Take a look and find your new favourite recipe for your next working day.

 

 

 

 

References
Ahrens, C., & Ahrens, L. (2014). Leadership-Food-10 Gebote für effektive und führungstaugliche Ernährung. Springer Gabler. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-05881-4
Duss, P., & Kuhn, N. (2019). Schnell einfach gesund essen. [Master’s thesis, Rapperswil Technical College]. University of Eastern Switzerland. https://eprints.ost.ch/id/eprint/782/
Forum BGM Zürich. (2022). Gesunde Ernährung bei der Arbeit. https://www.bgm-zh.ch/wissen/gesundes-verhalten/ernahrung/
Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Ernährung. (2015). Auswärts ausgewogen essen und trinken. https://www.sge-ssn.ch/media/Merkblatt_Auswaerts_ausgewogen_essen_und_trinken_2015_2.pdf
Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Ernährung. (2019). Ernährung am Arbeitsplatz. https://www.sge-ssn.ch/media/Merkblatt_Ernaehrung-am-Arbeitsplatz-2019.pdf
Staatssekretariat für Wirtschaft SECO. (2017). Nacht- und Schichtarbeit – Ernährungsempfehlungen und Tipps. https://www.sge-ssn.ch/media/nacht_schichtarbeit_tipps_2017_de.pdf

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