Four steps to a joyful lunch at work

For all of you who are just tuning in, this post is the THIRD in my three-part series on eating lunch at work (here are my first and second posts).

Let’s say that you’ve packed a lunch you love. And you’ve planned your day so that lunch isn’t the only good part of it.

What happens once you sit down to eat? How do you actually freaking eat your lunch at work?

Here are four steps to a joyful at-work (or at-school) eating experience:

In this picture, I'm doing my best "oh, I'm just a nonchalant yet chic working woman" pose. Do I look like a J Crew model?

In this picture, I'm doing my best "oh, I'm just a nonchalant yet chic working woman" pose. Do I look like a J Crew model?

1. Make sure you’re actually hungry.

It is easy, far too easy, to confuse your desire for lunch with your desire for a break.

In particular, if you're burned out from working, you can be disconnected from your body and find it hard to even tell if you're hungry.

Here’s one quick way to tell: If you don’t feel like eating your lunch unless you can also read articles online/talk to a friend/watch a YouTube video, you’re not actually in the mood for lunch. You’re in the mood for a break.

In which case, put your sandwich away for at least a moment, and take a break.

It’s true that you might be hungry for lunch and hungry for a break. But figure out which one you are more hungry for, and do that first. If you are using eating as your “break,” as your opportunity for pleasure, you will almost always over-eat.

Wait, but Katie, how can I over-eat when I packed a reasonably-sized lunch?

That’s a great question. It’s true that you may not be eating an insane number of calories if you’ve packed a reasonably-sized lunch. In that sense, you’re not over-eating.

But part of eating is about connecting to what your body needs in that moment. We might pack a sandwich for lunch, but we won’t know exactly how much we’re hungry for until we sit down to eat it. Some days we might want a whole sandwich. Other days, just half.

But when you eat when you’re not hungry, or when you’d rather be taking a break, your natural sense of when to stop becomes skewed. 

Because you weren’t hungry to begin with.

Because you didn’t really want to be eating to begin with.

So you stop when the food's done, or when you mentally decide that you've had the right amount

You'll be more likely to go scrounging for sweets later from the candy jar because you were using food when you didn’t really need food at all.

The point isn’t that you aren’t allowed to eat the entire lunch that you packed.

But the point is that if you are hungry when you eat it, you’ll enjoy it more, stop when you’re full, and be less likely to look for more food later.


2. Do you want to be eating what you had planned to eat?

If you’ve packed your lunch with love, you’ve given yourself the best possible chance of liking what you packed. You’ll have some options, including a few of your favorite foods, so you won't feel deprived.

But it’s also good to take an internal survey because you’re not always going to get it right.

This doesn’t mean you need to run out and buy a new lunch. The purpose is to know what’s up.

If you say to yourself, “Ugh, this turkey wrap seemed like a good idea this morning but now it seems gross. Also, I really want to save more money this month,” then you know what you’re working with.

If you don’t acknowledge what you’re working with, you know what happens? You eat too much, always hoping that the next bite of that turkey wrap will bring a satisfaction that it is simply incapable of bringing.

If you do acknowledge it, you can:

  • Eat the turkey wrap, but promise yourself that tomorrow you’ll pack something more delicious and that tonight you’ll treat yourself to something you really like.
  • Only eat half of the turkey wrap, and have a handful of the trail mix that the office keeps on hand, which is more satisfying and sweet. Even if the only snacks your office has on hand are cookies and leftover donuts, if those sound appealing to you and you are hungry and you eat to fullness, it's okay . Those things are still food.
  • Decide that today you are not going to eat the wrap. Buy a lunch, and promise that tomorrow you will do a better job of packing something you’ll actually enjoy (or pack two things for lunch, if you have a tendency to change your mind).

You know?


3. Really be present for your lunch

I’m going to talk about this in a lot more detail in future posts, but if you’re sitting at your desk, working, it’s hard to really enjoy your food.

Really enjoying your lunch means eating without looking at a screen or a book. It means stepping away from your desk to a different location.

This is really important, so I am going to say it again: Eat your lunch. Don’t do anything else (except maybe talk to someone) while you eat your lunch.

Reading articles on your phone, catching up on Twitter, even reading a book are all wonderful activities. But you should do them after (or before!) you eat.

Working is also a wonderful activity. But again, don’t do it while you eat.

It can be hard.

I know it can be hard.

Man, I SO often want to work while I eat, or at least do something fun. And it can feel so awkward to eat and not do anything else, especially you are eating alone and all you are doing is staring into space

But if you try it, I promise it will change the way you eat.

It’s easy to not notice that you ate a sandwich, if you eat it in two bites while watching an adorable video about cats. And then you go scrounging for other things. Maybe a leftover biscotti next to the coffee area in your office?

But if you actually stop and pay attention to what you eat…

…then it’s hard to miss that sandwich.


4. Finish your lunch off with a non-food treat

If you’re choosing between getting back to work and eating more lunch, what are you going to choose, even if you like your work?

You’re gonna choose eating!

And, inevitably, you will over-eat. You might not go wild and binge, but you’ll just eat a little bit more than you really want, because you are using food as a way to not work, for just a few more minutes.

Again, I’m not saying that you’re going to eat wild amounts of food.

You probably didn’t even pack wild amounts of food.

But the practice of listening to your body and eating accordingly builds long term trust between you and yourself – which is invaluable.

BUT, if you end your lunch with something pleasurable that doesn’t relate to food, then you aren’t choosing between data entry or a few more bites of your sandwich.

You’re choosing between more food and something fun.

And it’s really easy to leave the sandwich if you have the option of, say, walking outside and feeling the sunshine or sneaking in a few pages of The Interestings (have you read it? READ IT.)

I hope you enjoyed this series!

Do you have any questions you’d like me to answer in the blog? Leave a comment below, or send me an email!