It’s snack time! You just finished the project (okay not really, but at least the first part of it), or you keep hitting a wall in whatever it is that you are working on, so you decide you need a snack break. Or perhaps you are just one of those people who schedules regular snack breaks into your daily routine (good for you). How can you make this break really count? You want to be able to sit back down (or stand, if that’s the way you do things) at your work with renewed energy and mental clarity. Additionally, you want to reduce the build up of unhealthy levels of stress hormones (you may not be aware of this yet, but it is essential), before they turn into a real health problem.
First, how often should you be taking a break (snack or other)? There have been many studies on this subject with recommendations varying from every 50 to every 90 minutes. You should experiment with your own break routines depending on the intensity of your work. For most office jobs, two breaks before lunch and two more before the end of the day should deliver the desired benefits. The breaks do not have to be long. While getting up and moving around is ideal, as physical activity aids with the release of stress hormones, if you feel pressure to stay at your desk, they can even happen there.
Second, what should you do on this break? Specifically, should you be snacking, drinking a coffee or just relaxing? Some of you may be thinking at this point: “Hey wait a minute, I don’t need a break to snack or drink a coffee, I do that while I’m working.” This may be just the wake up call you need. Take breaks! You do enough multi-tasking already, and do not need to add “snacking while typing” to the list (incidentally, this doesn’t work all that well anyway). Additionally, snacking at your desk generally leads to poor eating habits and weight gain. Instead, resist the urge to eat while working and take snack breaks instead. Coffee can also be used as a break food, but this may result in over consumption and using coffee at the wrong times (more on this later). Do you have to eat a snack at every break? No. If you will be leaving your desk for a few minutes, this can sufficiently release tension and change your focus, so that you are refreshed for the next work period. However, there are several advantages to snacking during your breaks.
Here are some reasons you should snack during your breaks. Snacking regularly keeps your metabolism active. This is turn allows your body to better regulate your sugar levels and maintain alertness. One of the main causes of work-related stress, is the pressure caused by unfinished work. By maintaining a high energy level, you will be able to work effectively and not fall behind. Additionally, although you may be eating healthy meals, without snacking you will end up experiencing periods of hunger throughout the day. I don’t have to tell you how distracting these can be. Snacking regularly reduces hunger, increases digestive rate and allows for much higher levels of overall performance.
Okay, you don’t need any further convincing. Who doesn’t love the cookies on sale in the vending machine down the hall? Here’s where you can really improve your snacking habits. Try to eat at least one fresh fruit snack a day. Fresh fruit is great for your digestive system and is loaded with natural energy sources. Choose low carb protein bars or whole grain granola bars over chocolate or cookies. Protein is great for maintaining your energy, and whole grain foods provide complex carbohydrates which digest slowly and prevent hunger sensations.
Enough about eating, what about drinking? Drinking is best done regularly. The single best liquid you can put into your body is water. It’s simple, it’s refreshing and it doesn’t leave stains when you accidentally spill it on your clothing. Drink water at your desk throughout the day, and not as a break food. However, if you are taking a break at your desk, you can use the water as an object to focus on in place of your work. Coffee, on the other hand can be a great break food. Because coffee is generally not gulped down (please don’t gulp down your coffee, this can cause injury), drinking slowly and enjoying the moment can produce an excellent break. However, don’t overdo it. Coffee is a great stimulant and can be very effective at delivering heightened alertness, but this comes at a cost. Coffee also causes decreased patience and increased irritability. Keep your coffee drinking below 400 – 450mg of caffeine per day for optimal results. This is the amount of caffeine in four k-cups or two donut shop coffees or one Venti from Starbucks.
Tell me about how you deal with snacking. I love to hear from you.