Updated: Dec 29, 2020
If you’re like most people, you’re probably trying to acclimatise to life during the COVID-19 pandemic, as we all are. We’re all trying to find ways to stay connected even while being apart and find some semblance of normalcy. But as the severity of the situation sinks in, there’s a growing realisation that there’s no going back.
There’s a high likelihood that COVID-19 will fundamentally change how society and businesses function. In the past, organisations have been hesitant about encouraging a work-from-home culture for fear of reduced productivity. However, in the post-coronavirus world, work-from-home may be the norm rather than the exception.
After all, even the Prime Minister of Britain, who is the first world leader to test positive for coronavirus, has said, “be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology.”
Working from home is an exercise in social isolation. The liberty to work in your pajamas from your bed is small recompense for the lack of a social environment. Working in a collaborative environment and talking to coworkers during work are crucial for your mental wellbeing. It boosts your mental health, encourages teamwork, and fosters creative thinking.
Companies around the world are now trying to find unique and niche ways to encourage socialisation in a virtual environment. Some use Zoom to stay connected through regular virtual meetings while others stay connected through chatrooms and Slack networking platforms.
While companies are doing their fair bit to encourage socialisation, we believe people aren’t focusing enough on yet another severe risk of prolonged isolation. Working in isolation also breeds unhealthy nutritional habits, which directly impacts workplace productivity.
The isolation inherent in a work-from-home culture also has some adverse effects, especially when it comes to your employees’ nutritional habits and general wellness. Staying home 24/7 leads to poor work-life balance, increased inactivity, regular bouts of binge eating, weight gain, and poor mental health, all of which directly affect your employee’s ability to contribute to work.
However, companies can look after their employee’s general health during this uncertain time through the implementation of corporate wellness programs. In this article, we discuss how isolation breeds unhealthy nutritional habits and how companies can counteract that with corporate wellness programs.
How a Balanced and Nutritional Diet is Conducive to Workplace Productivity
According to a study conducted by Business in the Community, poor nutrition in the UK costs employers approximately £17 billion a year. The Nutrition Gap contributes to a health crisis that makes employees far more susceptible to non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.
Workplaces should provide educational support in nutrition to bolster their employee’s physical and mental health. An unhealthy workplace leads to lower productivity, increased risk of long-term sickness, and increased healthcare costs.
But how can a balanced diet promote workplace productivity?
Just about everything you eat is converted to glucose in your body, which, in turn, helps you concentrate. When you’re low on glucose, i.e. when you haven’t eaten enough, you can’t concentrate on work. This is pretty simple, but productivity doesn’t just depend on the amount you eat but what you eat.
What you eat directly contributes to how you think and feel. Your diet directly influences whether you can focus or concentrate, or whether you’re energised. If you’re feeling grumpy, groggy, or dissatisfied in general, you can probably fix that by paying closer attention to your food intake.
The most crucial factor to consider when eating for greater wellbeing is your blood sugar levels. If you only eat refined carbohydrates (i.e. white bread and jam), then your body will experience a sugar high followed by a massive sugar low, which will drain your energy and make you feel groggy. When you experience such a sugar low, your body craves another sugar rush, and you’re compelled to get another snack, which, in turn, repeats the cycle of sugar highs and sugar lows.
How can you prevent the sugar-high sugar-low cycle?
The best way to avoid the cycle is to eat a combination of foods, which will slow down your digestion into glucose.
Make sure that each of your meals includes the following components:
• Healthy fats, such as natural yoghurt, nuts, and avocado.
• Small protein sources, such as pulses, beans, nuts, lean meat/fish, or other vegan alternatives.
• Wholegrain carbohydrates, i.e. brown varieties of bread and rice rather than the white ones.
If you follow this structure, you’ll have a healthy and balanced diet for all of your meals, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Such a balanced diet, consisting of healthy fats, proteins, and wholegrain carbohydrates, steadily releases glucose into your bloodstream. On the other hand, highly-refined carbohydrates like chocolate are digested rapidly, which leads to a quick release of glucose into the bloodstream, leading to sugar highs followed by sugar lows.
This phenomenon explains your post-breakfast 11 am sugar dips and post-coffee 3 pm pick-me-ups. When your body experiences the sugar dip, it craves some chocolate or caffeine for another jolt of energy, followed by another sugar dip, and so on.
According to NHS, you should ideally consume five portions of fruits and vegetables per day for optimal health and wellness. Unfortunately, studies have found that only 15% of adults in the UK meet that target. You may think this is a difficult target, but you can easily have five portions of fruits and vegetables a day if you simply include one fruit or some vegetables in all of your meals and snacks.
The correlation between food and productivity has also been backed by several studies. One particularly interesting paper published by The British Psychological Society found that vegetables and fruits lead to feelings of ‘wellbeing, curiosity, and creativity.’ These are all the qualities you need for greater productivity at work.
I’m sure this information won’t come as breaking news to any of you. Most of us know this instinctively. When we eat certain foods, we feel sharper and alert. When we eat other types of food, we have an urge to brush our keyboard off the desk, slump down, and shut our eyes.
How Isolation and Working from Home Breed Unhealthy (and Unproductive) Nutritional Habits
What do you think is easier to attain and more desirable: a bag of crisps or fruits and vegetables?
The answer is obvious — a bag of crisps.
Not only are crisps easier to attain, but they’re also a lot more addictive. Several studies have shown that processed foods share qualities with hard drugs. When people are isolated and stuck at home, they’re a lot more likely to indulge in easily attainable junk food, which can trigger an addictive dopamine response and reward pattern, which leads to overeating.
To put it simply, junk food such as packets of crisps give us a hit of dopamine and serotonin in the short term, but they make us feel tired, exhausted and drained in the long run. When you experience that slump, your body craves another hit from the junk food. This repeats itself in a vicious cycle.
Furthermore, when you’re stuck at home 24/7, it’s a lot easier to munch on those packs of crisps mindlessly. The continual access to an abundance of addictive junk food leads to overeating, which negatively affects your ability to concentrate.
Importance of Mindfulness while Eating
So how do you avoid such unhealthy patterns of eating?
The answer is simple: Mindful Eating.
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you must keep snacking while working. You should ideally establish a specific time for your lunch break, snacks, and breakfast. This will ensure that you’re only eating when you’re supposed to, and not throughout the day.
During your meals, you should sit at another designated spot, away from your laptop, work, TV, or other distractions. Research conducted by The American Society for Nutrition found that there’s a direct correlation between distractions while eating and overeating.
Being distracted while eating is unhealthy for the following reasons:
• You’re a lot more likely to eat more than you need to.
• You don’t enjoy your meals.
• There’s a greater risk of indigestion after the meal, which affects your post-lunch productivity.
The next time you’re on a lunch break, focus on the contents of your plate. Make sure that you have a balanced plate of healthy fats, protein, and wholegrain carbohydrates. And take the time to chew your food gradually, taste it, and seek satisfaction in the process of eating.
Not only will you feel a whole lot better, but you’ll also learn to find genuine joy in your meals. And we could all use that in these times.
How to Incorporate Healthy Nutritional Habits in Isolation
We have already touched upon the crucial factors to consider while eating.
Unhealthy nutritional habits mostly occur because of two factors:
• Poor choice of food items due to lack of awareness.
• Distracted and unplanned eating habits.
You can neutralise both of those factors with a balanced meal and mindful eating.
But it’s not always as simple as that. Food, especially junk food, can be an addiction, especially in the kind of stressful times we’re living in. As such, we all need a helping hand, someone who can guide us and empower us to engage in mindful eating and nutritional habits.
Employers should play an active role in their employee’s health in these trying times. They can implement corporate wellness programs to empower their employees to eat healthier, thus improving their physical and mental health, which, in turn, will make them more effective employees.
The use of regular communication tools like webinars also promotes a healthy company culture, connecting employees to their employers.
How Online Nutrition Consultants Can Help your Employees Eat Healthier and Increase their Productivity
Your company and employees can benefit from lunch-and-learn webinars with an experienced and trained nutritionist. Online nutrition consultants ensure that your employees practice mindful eating while also learning the benefits of healthy eating.
Companies can also use corporate wellness programs as yet another means of connecting with their employees while we live in isolation. Through these webinars, employers have a greater opportunity to engage with their employees, keep them motivated, and make their presence felt in their lives. You can show your employees that you value their holistic wellbeing.
Online nutrition consultants also provide nutrition newsletters with handy nutritional tips and simple healthy recipes suited for the work from home lifestyle. They empower your employees to prepare healthy meals for themselves and their families every day, regardless of how skilled they are in the kitchen.