After catching up with my recently-graduated friends at our college homecoming the other weekend, we landed upon the topic of eating lunch. “I get so busy with work, sometimes I just forget to eat!” My one friend confided. I was taken aback. Not eating lunch? “How could you just forget to eat?” My second friend responded before I could express my surprise. “I can’t focus without eating. So if I ever have a lot of work to do, I just eat at my desk.”
While I agreed that at least eating something was better than nothing, I wasn’t so sure about noshing deskside. Although I too have been overwhelmed with work at times, I make a habit of stepping away for a bite. It’s not just to clear my mind, it’s a research-backed method that also helps me stay slim! And it’s not just taking time to walk away from work that’s proven to keep your weight in check; there are several lunch-time rituals you can employ that make managing your weight easier than feigning approval of your mother-in-law’s fruitcake. Start working these habits into your daily routine, pair it with avoiding The #1 Worst Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants, and you’ll start to see the scale tip in your favor in no time.
Brown Bag It
You’ll save money and calories! Countless studies show that restaurant fare is both high in calories and loaded with salt, the ingredient that causes belly bloat. Brown bagging it can help you cut back on both of these measures. In fact, Johns Hopkins researchers found that home cooks will consume nearly 200 fewer calories than people who eat out more often. For some drool-worthy lunch ideas, check out these 25 Super-Healthy Lunches Under 400 Calories.
Or at Least Order Lunch Ahead of Time
We know we just told you to bring lunch from home, but get that it’s not entirely realistic for this to happen every day. So, when it’s time to order out, here’s our advice: order ahead of time. Like, right after you get in the office. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University found that when people ordered lunch more than an hour before eating, dieters chose meals with an average of 109 fewer calories than those who ordered immediately before lunch. The reasoning behind the saved calories? Your willpower to choose healthy meals rapidly deteriorates when your mind is distracted by a rumbling stomach that craves energy-dense food. Talk about being hangry.
Sure, you may have an end-of-the-day deadline to finish that project for your boss, but don’t let that be an excuse to eat at your desk. Nutrition experts have found that when you keep your mind busy while you munch, you block certain satiety cues from your stomach that alert your brain that you’ve eaten your fill. For example, a study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference found that people who listened to music with headphones while eating consumed significantly more of the exact same food compared to those who weren’t jamming out.
Take a Seat
It might feel good to stretch your legs after an entire morning of sitting, but make a point of grabbing a chair while you’re eating. A Canadian study found that people who stood while munching ended up scarfing down 30 percent more at their next meal compared to those who sat. The researchers predicted that the reason you end up eating more later in the day is because your body subconsciously dismisses a standing meal as a “false meal,” i.e. it forgets that you even ate in the first place.
Sip on Green Tea
Although it may initially appear that your combo lunch deal will save you money, you’ll end up paying for it in the long run. That’s because these deals often throw in a “free” sugar-filled soda that will only serve to fill you with empty calories that spike and crash your blood sugar—leading to hunger pangs soon after eating. Instead, opt for hydrating water or green tea. This caffeinated beverage has been shown to boost metabolism thanks to its concentration of catechins: a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from fat cells and helps speed the liver’s capacity for turning fat into energy.
Get A Lunch Buddy
Diets are much easier when you set yourself up for success. An easy way to do that is by keeping yourself accountable. Find a friend or coworker who has healthy eating habits and who can encourage you to do the same. It works! According to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, dieters who had a weight-loss partner lost significantly more belly fat compared to those who worked to trim down alone.
Chat with Coworkers
Instead of shutting yourself off from society during your lunch break, pull up a chair next to your coworkers. When you take time to chat with friends, you force yourself to eat more slowly. Because it takes about 20 minutes for the signal to travel from your tummy to your brain that you’re full, taking the time to chat is one of our best weight loss tips that will keep you from eating past your fill.
Start With a Salad
Fend off calories with more calories! Starting your lunch with a small side salad can actually help your body keep its blood glucose levels more even-keeled, according to Cornell University researchers. That means you’ll not only stay fuller longer, but you’ll also save your body from an inflammation-inducing spike in blood sugar.
But Don’t Only Eat Lettuce
Ordering a salad isn’t always the healthiest choice. When salads are made entirely of carb-laden fare like lettuce and veggies, they often lack the staying power of satiating protein or healthy fats that you’ll find in grilled chicken and avocado. Plus, many restaurant salads are secretly diet bombs that can detonate your flat belly progress; Just take a look at our exclusive report, 35 Restaurant Foods With Crazy-High Amount of Sugar—many are salads!
Request Dressings and Sauces On the Side
Let the restaurant dress your salad for you, and you’ll not only be stuck with soggy lettuce; you’ll also get an average of five tablespoons (2½ ounces) of a calorie-laden vinaigrette that suffocates your once-nutritious vegetables. Depending on your dressing of choice (please don’t let it be thousand island), that can set you back anywhere from up to 400 calories. Instead, ask for the dressing on the side, and use half of it to save around 200 calories. Just make sure you still use some! When you add healthy fats to your salad, it will help your body absorb the fat-soluble, health-promoting nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Ditch the Microwaveable Meals
We don’t blame you for nabbing frozen meals from the grocery store aisle; These chilled options are often marketed as nutritious and convenient. The issue is this: many of them are diet disasters in disguise. They may be touted as portion-controlled and low-calorie, but, like most ultra-processed foods, many frozen entrees pack a surprising amount of health-harming sugar and belly-bloating sodium. Plus, the 40 plus ingredient list just makes it more likely you’ll be filled up with inflammation-causing, processed additives—just like these foods that cause inflammation.
Eat Before 3 PM
Last-minute projects come up and deadlines get pushed forward, but don’t let these distractions throw off your lunch schedule. We recommend making a point to nosh on your midday meal before 3 p.m. every day. That’s because Spanish researchers found that obese women who ate their lunch after three lost an astounding 25 percent less than those who ate their lunch earlier in the day. Experts believe that pushing out lunch until you’re starving could encourage you to eat more calorie-dense foods when it’s time to nosh.
Pass on the Drink Menu
Even if you’re splurging by hitting up a restaurant for your midday meal, it’s not necessary to overdo it. Drinking in moderation won’t do too much harm to your waistline, but making it a habit (and we are talking about lunch rituals) can slow down your metabolic rate. Because your body registers alcohol as being toxic, you’ll preferentially break down a cocktail before the rest of your lunch that’s waiting to be digested. The last thing you want is to slow your metabolism in the middle of the day.
Order First If Going to a Restaurant
Planning to go out with your coworkers for a lunch meeting? Take the lead and order first. A University of Illinois study found that people tend to order similarly when in a group. The researchers reason that the conformity stems from the fact that people are happier making similar choices as their peers. So if you tend to be indecisive with your menu option, check out the menu at home, decide on a dish, and ask the waiter if you can order first. This is also one of our 35 Tips for Being Healthy At Restaurants!
Be Mindful of Buffets
Whether your office sets up lunch buffets for meetings or you often frequent the local mart’s salad and hot bar offerings, be weary of what you select. Cornell University researchers found that heavier diners tend to overindulge in buffet settings. The larger issue, however, is that most stores won’t provide nutrition information for any selections, so you’re never quite sure what you’re eating. If you can’t step away from the pay-by-the-pound places, here’s one tip: a PLoS One study found that diners will make better choices when healthier foods are placed at the beginning of the buffet line. So our advice is to load up on the healthy items first and then come back to the mozzarella sticks.
Promise us one thing: you’ll eat something for lunch. A wide breadth of research, including a report by the National Institute of Health (NIH), shows that when dieters skip a meal, you’ll actually feel hungrier when the next meal rolls around. When you don’t eat, your body can deplete its blood glucose stores, which increases production of the hunger hormone ghrelin, ramping up your appetite even more. It’s one of the 30 Reasons You’re Always Hungry.
And Eat—Don’t Drink!
Even if you’re short on time, at least munch on something. Because our bodies don’t register liquid calories like they do solid calories, drinking a shake or juice won’t satisfy our hunger pangs as much as chomping on a salad or handful of nuts. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants ended up drinking more (and thus consumed a greater number of calories) until they felt satisfied, compared to when they ate solid food. Even a granola bar is better than nothing!
After You Eat, Take a Walk
It’s time to put an end to the age-old myth that any exercise after you eat is bad for you. A 2016 study published in the medical journal Diabetologia found that when diabetics walked for 10 minutes after each main meal, they were able to lower their blood glucose levels by 12 percent more than those who concentrated their exercise into one 30-minute walk. Diabetics aren’t the only ones that can benefit from a short walk. A study published in BMJ found that middle-aged overweight and obese adults who interrupted sitting time with short bouts of walking every 30 minutes also minimized spikes in blood-sugar and lowered insulin levels after eating meals. That directly translates to preventing your body from storing fat! Recently diagnosed with diabetes? Don’t miss these 14 Myths About Diabetes Treatment.