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Why you need to break for lunch

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If you work through lunch and don’t eat, thinking you’re being a good and dedicated employee – think again. You may be dedicated, but without lunch, you’re likely not very good.

About a third of American workers say they seldom, if ever, take a lunch break, according to a survey by Right Management, a human resources consulting firm. This trend is likely caused by unrelenting pressure to perform and produce.

But a recent study found that not eating lunch or eating quick unhealthy snacks to tie you over, can hurt your attitude and productivity—neither of which are good for the company. The study,  published in the Journal of Nutrition, interviewed physicians about their barriers to eating regular, healthy lunches and how not eating well affected them. The physicians admitted that missing lunch caused them to feel irritable, easily annoyed and emotionally drained.  Some felt that they had difficulty concentrating and made decisions more slowly. In contrast, when the doctors were educated about the benefits of eating regularly and then given nutritious food and drinks at regular intervals, many reported performing better and having improved moods.

Previous studies have demonstrated that having low blood sugar, which is what happens when you don’t eat for a while, leads to impaired fine motor skills, information processing and memory. Another study, also published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that when doctors went about their normal (skip-eating) routine, they scored lower on cognitive speed and accuracy tests than when they were fed at regular intervals.  On their “normal” days, when they didn’t eat regularly, they also reported more symptoms such as hunger, fatigue, sweating, feeling too warm and drowsiness compared to the intervention day, when they ate regularly.

So, don’t feel guilty sneaking off for lunch. Not only does taking a break help you clear your head so you can come back to your desk ready to go, but eating will likely make you a better, more effective employee.

Have your lunch and eat it too

If you truly don’t have time for a real lunch break, you can eat smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, as long as they’re healthy – such as a nutrition bar, fruit, trail mix or yogurt.

Don’t let yourself get famished. We have a tendency to pick unhealthy foods when we’re starving.  If you work in a fast food zone, pack food for work. Sounds dorky, but lots of people, especially high level executives, are doing it.  According to CareerBuilder, an employment consultant agency, about 40 percent of executives pack a lunch for work.

Eat a big breakfast. Filling up on a protein and whole grain breakfast before you get to work can carry you through to a late lunch, especially if you eat a piece of fruit in between.

Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.