In the office, what you eat affects how you work

Why you should think twice before opting for a lunchtime cheeseburger

What you eat can significantly affect your work performance, but we rarely give our digestive decisions any thought, consultant Ron Friedman writes in the Harvard Business Review.

Many of us intuitively know that high-carb meals can lead to a "sugar high" (and then crash), and that high-fat diets can cause us to become tired quickly after eating. But Friedman notes that we do not always make smart decisions when it comes to how we refuel our bodies at lunch.

According to Friedman, this is partly because we are at our lowest point in energy and self-control when deciding what to eat, and unhealthy foods can seem more appetizing when you are mentally exhausted. Furthermore, less healthy lunch options also tend to be cheaper and faster than healthier foods—and busy workers tend to see such options as valuable timesavers.

However, a paper published this summer in the British Journal of Health Psychology touts the benefits of eating healthy and how it affects our day-to-day experiences.  

During the study, participants recorded their food consumption, mood, and behaviors over a nearly two-week period. When the study concluded, researchers examined how participants' food choices affected their daily activities and feelings.

The study found that the more fruits and vegetables a person consumed (up to seven portions), the happier, more creative, and more engaged he or she was. The authors note that fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that spur the production of dopamine—which affects a person's curiosity, motivation, and engagement—and boost antioxidants that can improve memory and enhance mood.

Friedman presents three strategies to maintaining good eating habits at work:

  • Make your eating decisions before you get hungry. Friedman recommends choosing where you will go out to lunch first thing in the morning—not when you get hungry mid-day—or deciding what to order in after you've had a mid-morning snack.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to keep your glucose levels more consistent and avoid any spikes or crashes.

  • Bring healthy snacks, like fruit, almonds, and granola bars, to the office on Monday morning and place them in your "line of vision" near your computer (Friedman, "HBR Blog," Harvard Business Review, 10/17).

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