The easiest way to succeed with any goal is to structure your life and habits to facilitate and support the achievement of your objectives. This is especially true with eating habits- from choosing what you eat, following appropriate meal intervals, declining unhealthy snacks to understanding what you should do before and after your meals. For example, if you are supposed to wait five to six hours between meals and eat healthy snacks only as needed- your chances of success will be diminished if you only have the opportunity to eat every eight hours and are surrounded by others indulging in "junk" food.
An objective overview of our natural routines can illustrate how they are often at odds with what is ideal for good health. The average person's normal lunchtime is a perfect example of this dichotomy.
Let's start with your initial habits upon waking-, which have a great influence on your dining choices later in the day. Unfortunately, many people skip breakfast or have something really fast and unhealthy, such as just a cup of coffee, or a doughnut or pastry. Because this creates a nutritional "deficit" in the body, as the morning progresses, they might snack on some candy or chips- anything that is easily accessible and will provide a quick energy boost. When lunch time arrives, they may do one of the following: Grab some quick take out or a snack from the vending machine and quickly down it at their desk while continuing to work through the day. Or they may go to a restaurant or a fast food place- sometimes with friendly co-workers and sometimes as a business meal to continue working. Finally, perhaps they brought their meal from home and may eat it at their desk or in the break room and then quickly return to the business at hand.
Whether this describes your normal routine or just a fragment of it- this is just the opposite of what would be a quality usage of your daily meal break. If you skipped breakfast, you have put your body on "starvation mode" from the beginning of the day. The body's natural response to this is to slow down and conserve as much energy (calories) as possible. Not a good thing for creating a consistent metabolism in order to maintain a healthy weight. Later, after spending the entire morning on "work mode", an activity that utilizes your sympathetic nervous system, you either continue working while you eat or you rush to lunch - without giving your body a little time to rest first. This is a very common "mistake" that creates challenges for the body to perform proper digestion. A relaxed state of mind is a critical component for the proper digestion and distribution of the body's nutrients. Digesting and resting are activities that involve your parasympathetic nervous system. By failing to take a little time to switch to this relaxed state of mind prior to eating, we make our system work overtime in an attempt to complete its tasks.
After eating, you return to work, but your body has received a great deal of calories without the opportunity to burn them off. To make matters worse, even though you are probably sitting down, you have switched back to the sympathetic nervous system for work and are unable to access the system you need to digest effectively.
What is the best way to use your lunchtime? First of all, it is critical to take time in the morning to have a healthy breakfast with plenty of protein. Whether you have a high stress job or not, when lunch time comes, take five minutes to calm your mind and body before eating. Just five minutes for a few deep breaths and a temporary release of stress. Then, unless there is a cafeteria or a restaurant that is very close to where you are, you should bring your food to work. This enables you to control what you eat. Focus on your meal while completely releasing work, problems or anything stressful. Trust me, those things will be there waiting for you when you come back, so for now you can just let them go. When you are done, going for a pleasant walk is the single most important thing you can do after any meal.
Going for a walk will help burn up some of the sugar in your blood stream and prevent it from being converted into fat. Converting some blood sugar into fat is a natural process that occurs after every meal. If you eat healthy foods and avoid excessive snacking between your meals, that fat will naturally be utilized for energy once your liver glycogen storages are depleted. However, even a brief, slow paced walk will accelerate that process because exercise puts your body into "fat burning mode" and will use up some of the glycogen stored in your muscles. You will do exactly the opposite what you have been doing the entire morning (and will most likely do for the whole afternoon) because you will get your body moving and blood flowing. When you are sitting down and working, you are stimulating your mind but keeping your body sedentary. When you go for a walk you will gently stimulate your body while simultaneously relaxing your mind. And that's exactly what you want your break time to be about: relaxation and balance.
It is not necessary to take a "brisk" walk in order to reap the benefits of exercise. You should walk at a pace that feels enjoyable to you. Your body will tell you how much it wants at a time. If you feel the urge to go a little faster, go for it, but never force yourself to go faster if you don't feel like it.
Just a few simple modifications will help you optimize any meal time and will be tremendously beneficial with reaching your health and fitness goals. The added bonus is that your boss could even thank you for the increased mental alertness and productivity he notices from these few simple changes. Perhaps he will join you for a little walk- which is great- as long as you don't talk about work!