Planning is the key to dietary success and it now seems that specifically planning our lunch goes a long way when it comes to calorie control on a daily basis.
New research published in the Journal of Marketing Research (conducted by the University of Pennsylvania) has found that the simple act of planning your lunch immediately after breakfast can significantly cut calories on a daily basis and result in long term weight loss.
Researchers investigated the lunchtime habits of more than 900 workers and university students who were regularly purchasing lunch from on-site canteens. They found that lunchtime habits were significantly impacted by the times in which lunches were ordered and/or planned in advance.
The longer participants waited after breakfast to order their lunch, the higher the number of calories ordered at lunchtime. Waiting just an hour before ordering lunch rather than buying impulsively cut as many as 40 calories off a lunch order, while planning lunch immediately after breakfast cut up to 240 calories (which is equivalent to a Dairy Milk chocolate bar or the amount of calories burnt off in a 3.2km walk).
These findings were explained according to a number of theories. The first being that planning lunch in advance when feeling satiated and full from breakfast allowed more mindful food decisions to be made.
Next, the simple act of planning allowed for more considered choices and a tendency to make healthier choices. While calories were reduced by as little as 40 calories per day, as lunch in the workplace is consumed out of habit and ritual these calories add up, which could result in significant weight gain in the long term.
Long working days, a tendency to eat lunch at the desk, frequent trips to food courts and skipping lunches are all common work day habits. The health consequences are well documented with overweight and obese workers linked to a range of negative outcomes including; reduced productivity, increased sick leave and increased absenteeism costing workplaces billions of dollars.
This new data suggests that simple workplace strategies encouraging workers to plan ahead, make their lunch decisions early in the day and commit to a regular lunch break has significant positive outcomes for workplaces in general. As such, greater investment in workplace health, wellbeing and lunch breaks is warranted.
For busy workers, making healthy lunch choices can be complicated. Food courts are filled with high calorie, high fat options, often offering twice as much energy that is required by sedentary workers.
My advise as a nutritionist
Lunch should be taken more seriously and considered an important part of the day. Not only is it a time for workers to take a break, re-energise, get some sunlight and movement but now the importance of good nutritional intake is clear.
A well-balanced lunch at work will be consumed early in the day, by 1pm, and include; lean proteins for fullness, whole grain carbohydrates for energy and plenty of fresh salad and vegetables for nutrition.
For individuals who frequent the local food court, making a concerted decision early in the day about which menu choice you will make is a positive step from a calorie perspective. Even better, planning your lunch the night before so that you start the day with a clear idea of what you will be eating appears to go a long way when it comes to daily and long term calorie control.