Eating Healthy at Work: A Recipe for Boosting Employee Wellbeing and Productivity

One of the most important, simple, and effective ways to ensure you can show up as your best self at work is to make sure you are fueling your mind and body.
three colleagues eating lunch together

Many people strive daily to be the best version of themselves. A perk which comes along with that is maximizing productivity at work and in their personal lives. One of the most important, simple, and effective ways to ensure you can show up as your best self at work is to make sure you are fueling your mind and body. Our food is our energy, and our food choices directly impact our cognitive function. Just like the type of gas you put in your car matters; the fuel we consume also matters.

The challenges and solutions in maintaining healthy choices


A healthy balanced diet is good for life, not just for productivity. That doesn’t mean it is easy. There are challenges we all face like meetings that run long, back-to-back calls, or getting deep into a project and forgetting to look up from the desk. Sometimes we haven’t stocked the fridge, and the temptation to order in is all too alluring. 

Other factors impact our dietary choices. High levels of stress, inadequate sleep, and environmental nudges and cues such as peer pressure can lead us to make less than desirable choices. When we are tired, the hormone that tells us we are full, leptin, decreases and the hormone that tells us we are hungry, ghrelin, increases. As a result, we crave foods that give us high energy quickly. 

Stress is also a barrier to healthy food choices. When we are under stress for long periods of time, we tend to see rates of overeating increase and our willpower to grab for the apple over the chips decreases. When we are in fight or flight mode our brains are not working logically. Learning to handle this response through stress management practices will help to increase heathy choices. 

It's best to make food choices before the hunger sets in. Making a good choice for your future self is so much easier than when in the moment you just want the cookie. Here are a few tips for tackling the above challenges: 

  • Bring snacks with you to your workstation if you tend to skip meals
  • Keep easy go-to items stocked in the kitchen to make your life easier
  • Meal prep is great if you have the time, but simply deciding ahead of time what you are going to eat BEFORE the hunger kicks in will help you make the healthier choice
  • Getting 7-9 hours of sleep is key to curbing these cravings
  • To relieve stress in the moment try taking a deep breath or taking a walk 
  • For longer term stress management, look at how you can prioritize your workload and find outlets that recharge you

Links between eating healthy at work and productivity 


Not all foods are processed and digested the same way. High-sugar foods such as sugary cereal and treats will increase glucose levels quickly and can leave you feeling hungry and tired more quickly. High-fat foods like pizza or fried items will take longer to digest but take significantly more energy to digest thus leaving us feeling groggy. This is why we want to find balance in our diets and work toward consuming a sustainable energy source that doesn’t leave us running to the coffee pot in the afternoon. 

We want to find balance in our diets and work toward consuming a sustainable energy source that doesn’t leave us running to the coffee pot in the afternoon. 

 

 

Similarly, limited or severely restricted diets are also not great for our sustained energy. Our bodies convert proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into the fuel our muscles and organs need to function. Our brains account for 20% of our energy needs and its primary fuel source is glycogen. Glycogen is the byproduct of the digestion of carbohydrates. Complex carbs such as whole grains take longer to digest and sustain us for longer. They also will not spike your glucose level as quickly as a simple carbohydrate will such as refined sugar. Try incorporating whole grain options. Fruits and vegetables are also a great source of fiber and provide glycogen for our brains. Being too restrictive can also make it hard to concentrate and pains of hunger will distract from the task at hand. This is why balance is key. A diet focused on whole grains, lean proteins, adequate fiber, and plenty of water is what will set you up for success. 

How employers can encourage healthy eating at work 


As a workforce we can make a difference in the “norm” of how we see nutrition in our workdays. Shifting it from being thought of as a waste of time or loss in productivity to a necessary activity for our teams to do the demanding work we are asking of them. Simple changes like avoiding meetings during the lunch time hour can go a long way in sending the signal. Allow for small breaks between meetings for team members to grab a snack and fill their water bottle. These little shifts can help set a standard that allows employees time to recharge and prevent that afternoon crash where we all reach for the candy bar. 

If you are part of a remote workforce, normalize being off camera to eat and take a break. When we model these behaviors, we give permission to our teams and colleagues to practice self-care. People leaders play a key role in this culture. Shifting our thinking to understand fueling our bodies will make us better, more productive, and more able to think outside the box. It’s not a luxury to have the time to eat. The culture of work from home has shifted so drastically we have to examine the parts that are working and the parts we want to improve in our own workday. 

Onsite we all love the donuts in the break room but offering healthy alternatives that boost our brain energy promotes a healthy and productive workplace. Highlighting nutritious options in cafeterias and snack carts will nudge team members to make the healthier choice. If we are offering sweet treats or indulgences, individually wrapped items help limit over consumption and support a balanced approach. 

Food is the fuel we need to be the best version of ourselves at work. We are not doing ourselves or our employees any favors by skipping meals or emphasizing quick or unhealthy choices that leave us feeling foggy or needing for more. As employers we can create the space and culture that celebrates healthy options. Modeling self-care and creating space for health is the road towards a healthier, more productive workforce.