Workplace stress is among the factors responsible for multiple lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular complications. A stressful day at office or a bad client meeting often force you to take refuge in the company of chips, soda and other such snack variants in a futile attempt to elevate your mood. This is also often followed by binge eating at home, which has further adverse effects on health.
“Eating healthy boosts your immunity and helps you to stay healthy and energetic at work,” says Mayuri T, a dietician at Fortis Hospital, Vadapalani, Chennai. She adds that this will also have a direct bearing on your productivity in office.
Experts point out that processed junk food has extremely low nutritional value and constant consumption could lead to nutritional deficiencies that often require medical attention.
Unhealthy eating and deficiencies
“Common deficiencies that could be caused due to regular unhealthy habits include iron, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and vitamin A deficiencies,” says Samreen Sharieff, a Bengaluru-based nutritionist and certified diabetes educator.
Ayesha Christy, a 22-year-old graphic designer from Chennai, says cooking became increasingly difficult for her since she lives away from home. As a result, her dependence on processed and junk food increased.
“Since I must reach work early too, I either cook processed food or reheat the previous night’s food, so it is easy”, she says.
Christy adds that she ends up eating snacks and food from outside during working hours because she has to make up for not having proper food.
“I feel tired soon and it affects my productivity,” she says. “It impairs my visual-design sense and I also feel physical stress. But I do drink lemonade as I instantly feel energised and work better.”
According to nutritionists, eating healthy at work can become easier with some dietary discipline and wise choices:
- Opt only for health food options during work breaks
Just because you want to avoid unhealthy food, you need not skip your daily afternoon and evening snacks break with your gang of colleagues. You could in fact use it as an opportunity to eat healthy food — especially protein and complex carbohydrate food — that would also make you feel satiated.
“You can have snacks like boiled chickpeas that have fibre in them. Fibre keeps you satiated and full for four to five hours,” says Mayuri.
Ashika MK, a clinical nutritionist at Oliva Skin and Hair Clinic, Jayanagar, Bengaluru, adds that you can instead opt for cornflakes with milk, sattu drink, brown-bread sandwich with unsweetened peanut butter, unsweetened yogurt, puffed chana, sprouts, dates, nuts and seeds, or seasonal fruits.
- Always have a balanced meal at work
To stay healthy, it is important to have a balanced meal. The best strategy to ensure that is to have food that is rich in complex carbohydrates, proteins and minerals — so as to ensure proper overall nutrition
“When you incorporate at least three to four food groups in every meal, your energy levels are high, you can concentrate better and sustain long working hours,” says Sharieff. Every food group has its own nutrients and quality, so when you combine and have variety in your diet in the right proportions, you don’t have to worry about your energy levels being low or about not being able to concentrate.
Mayuri adds that foods rich in complex carbohydrates — like dosa along with dal — give you instant energy.
“You can also have dried fruits, seeds, fish and a good amount of protein, along with water,” says Ashika.
When you sit in a single place, you don’t feel like drinking a lot of water. But it is important to keep yourself hydrated constantly.
- Most important: eat in moderation
During meetings or team outings it can get difficult to have healthy food, especially if snacks like samosas or pastries are available. If impossible to completely avoid them, you can keep a check on the quantity you consume.
Ashika suggests drinking two glasses of water before eating anything — after which you can try to make a healthy choice and not go overboard on portion size.
“People must make sure they have potion control,” says Sharieff. “If they’ve gone out and indulged in a lot of junk food, then the next meal that they have can be slightly lighter, with a lot of whole grains, salads or fruits so that there is a balance in it.”
Ashika adds that you should add adequate amount of protein and fibre to each meal, which will keep you full. This also helps in portion control.
It is also common to consume tea or coffee in the workplace, mainly to feel refreshed. But this should be done in moderation. “Going overboard on caffeine is not a good idea at all, because it is an inhibitor for many micronutrients in our diet,” says Sharieff. “If we go overboard on caffeine, we are hindering the absorption of other micronutrients.” A safe limit would be two cups of either tea or coffee.
To feel refreshed, you can also switch to other beverages like tender coconut water, buttermilk and lassi.
- Try to opt for home-cooked food
Packing your own lunch and snacks from your home kitchen is one of the best ways to ensure that you stay healthy despite workload pressure. Sometimes, office canteens and cafeteria might just not have healthy food options. The only solution: strap on your cooking apron and make that perfect meal in your kitchen.
“Cooking for me is a therapeutic process, and packing my own food ensures that I’ll find it a lot more delicious than outside food,” says Shripad Goenka, marketing executive at a media-production house in Bengaluru. “This comes with the added benefit of making sure that what I’m eating is absolutely safe and won’t cause any illness.”
- Employers can help too
While serving lunch, they can make sure that employees have healthy food options. “Adding a lot of whole grain in the diet will also have a positive impact on employees’ performance,” says Sharieff. Employers can make sure there is healthy food for meetings and outings too.
“Instead of going for snacks like samosa or vada, people can have dried pulses or a sandwich,” says Mayuri. She adds that this also helps them have a stronger immunity and lower the risk of diseases.
Having a supportive environment in the workplace — by, say, ensuring that those who want to lead a healthy lifestyle are not mocked — can work wonders. “Eating healthy does not mean you are on a diet,” says Mayuri.
It is important to eat healthy food in the workplace and not have a lot of trans fats or oily foods. Meals should be balanced and have a lot of whole grains. Adding fibres to the diet will help you feel satisfied and full. Keeping portion control is also necessary. Eating healthy will keep you fit and healthy, and also help boost productivity.