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7 Tips for Healthy Lunches While You Work

Having lunch at your desk -- again? Here's how to enjoy healthy lunches even if you can’t leave the office.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Ellen Spencer admits it: She's a desk diner.

"I eat lunch at my desk three or four times a week," says Spencer, an executive assistant in Boston. "I'd like to eat away from my desk with my friends more often, or just get away from my desk for a while, but usually it's just too busy."

Sound like anyone you know? Some 70% of Americans eat at their desks several times a week, according to the American Dietetic Association and the ConAgra Foods Foundation.

The bad news is that this can lead not only to poor nutritional choices, but to food safety problems as well.

"The desk was not designed to be an eating place," says Rick Hall, RD, MS, a faculty member at Arizona State University in Phoenix. "So spending your lunch hour in front of your computer brings with it a number of issues."

What are the hungry and overworked to do? Can you still eat healthy lunches while you work?

Read on for some desk-dining tips from experts. But first, here are some reasons not to eat while you work.

Drawbacks of Desk Dining: Unhealthy Lunches and Weight Gain

One of the biggest drawbacks to eating at your desk is that you're not focused on your food. Instead, you're sending emails, answering the phone, shuffling paper -- the perfect recipe for overeating.

"Eating at your desk encourages mindless eating, and overeating," says Susan Moores, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "You're most likely multitasking and not paying attention to the amount of food you're eating."

Lunching at your desk also means that instead of sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day, you're doing it for nine.

"Eating at your desk also prevents you from getting up and out of your office," Moores tells WebMD. "You need to get the heart pumping and the blood flowing again, and lunch is an important time to do that. If you're sitting at your desk eating, you lose that opportunity."

As if that weren't bad enough, dining at your desk can create a field day for bacteria, which can invade your healthy lunch during the long hours from 9 to noon.

"If you get called away from your desk, and then you have to put off eating for an hour or two, and then you pick at your lunch over the day, you need to be concerned about the temperature of your food and food safety," says Moores.

In other words, your room-temperature chicken salad sandwich that's been sitting out for three hours can easily become a bacteria feeding ground. But wait, it gets worse. (You might want to put that sandwich down now.)

"The desk, in terms of bacteria, is 400 times more dirty than your toilet," says Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "People turn their desks into bacteria cafeterias because they eat at them, but they never clean them. The phone is the dirtiest, the desktop is next, and the mouse and the computer follow."

To give your desktop the dirt test, Gerba says, "Turn your keyboard over and see how many crumbs fall out. The more of a snowstorm, the dirtier your desk."

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