By Brittany L. Jones | Registered Dietitian & Owner | Brittany Jones Nutrition Group
As a registered dietitian, I hear the struggles of being overworked and how it affects one’s health on a daily basis. And I get it—I’ve experienced it myself as well. Over time, I’ve realized that there are commonalities among those who don’t let their work dictate their health, and taking your lunch break is one of them.
You might be thinking, “You’re a dietitian—I thought you were going to tell me what to eat!” I’ve learned in my practice that it’s not just talking about what to eat and how much to exercise, but more so how we make these healthy habits fit into our lifestyle. If you are overworked with no time for yourself, a list of what to eat is not going to help you reach your goals. We need to do an evaluation of your day and see how we can make healthy habits fit in with everything else.
Think about this for a second: when was the last time you actually took a lunch break? Not a quick bathroom break, but the actual full 30-60 minute break that your employee handbook tells you is included in your 8-5 day. Maybe the answer is last Tuesday, or maybe the answer is never.
I encourage my private practice clients to protect and block this time on their calendar—do not give this time away. This is your time to eat your lunch, take a walk, run errands, hit up the gym and just generally not do work. You owe it to yourself to use this time to help protect your productivity and mood (and your boss/clients will thank you, too!).
Is taking a 30-60 minute break in the middle of the day not feasible for your office environment because you want to leave on time? Take a look at your calendar and see if you can take a longer break even just two or three times per week. On the opposite days try to get away from the computer (which is typically the source of your stress) and take a lap around the inside or outside of your building. Own your time, and stop apologizing. You do not owe anyone an explanation for why you are taking time to eat your lunch or take a short walk.
Now that we’ve talked through the time it takes to recharge in the middle of the day, let’s take a second to discuss meal planning. It might sound intimidating, but I hear from my busy professional clients all the time how efficient meal planning makes them throughout their week.
Personally, I enjoy how making my weekly plan frees up my brain space to provide more attention to counseling clients and running my business. I know that if I didn’t meal plan and grocery shop on the weekends, I would have to make at least three meal decisions every day—and I just can’t handle 21 more choices per week on top of my day-to-day stress. Many of my clients tell me they feel the same way.
So how can meal planning benefit your busy work day? On top of opening up some brain space, it also helps you optimize your time by packing your lunch so you can go run errands, go to the gym or go on a walk without having to worry about waiting in the drive-thru line.
I totally get it—stuff comes up. You don’t have to pack your lunch every day. If you know where you are going out to lunch with your boss or a client, you can make it easier on yourself by taking a look at the menu, and making your lunch choice now rather than waiting until you place your order. This will decrease your stress level, while helping you make a healthy choice.
Making time for self-care throughout the work day might seem impossible, but by looking for these small opportunities, even the busiest person can find 10- or 15-minute wins. Don’t let work run your life, and try these simple steps now to take control of your health.
Brittany L. Jones, MS, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and owner of the Brittany Jones Nutrition Group in Greenville.