Stress eating. It's something you might associate with a bad breakup or feeling lonely more than being at work. But considering that 4 out of 5 people say they're stressed out while at work, your office or company cafeteria actually might be predictable venues for the behavior, too. Researchers have found that mindful eating can be a powerful way to break free of this problem, combating both anxiety and depression. If your job has you feeling a little blue, you might find that your lunchbox is your biggest weapon toward happiness, health and greater productivity.

What does it mean to "eat mindfully"?

Mindful eating is simply being actively aware of how, what and why you're consuming something. Mindful eaters, for example, focus on certain external elements during their meal such as:

  • Portion size
  • Food color
  • Texture
  • Temperature
  • Number of bites
  • Satiety/fullness
  • Macronutrient ratios
  • Where the food came from
  • Whether you feel good while eating
  • How the food is going to help or nourish your body

There's no real right or wrong here. There's no script or mantra. You just have to go into your meals or snacks being emotionally open and willing to notice whatever you can, using each sense you have. You can't do that if you're trying to multitask, inhaling your food in seconds as you hop between screens or buzz around. You'll simply be too distracted. Be prepared to stop juggling and just eat.

Nifty ways mindful eating takes the yuck out of work

  1. Mindful eating makes it more likely you'll eat appropriate amounts and access the nutrients your body needs. Because you're giving your body enough good fuel, your energy and ability to handle your emotions both go up. You'll get more done or interact with your team better as a result.
  2. Mindful eating forces you to be aware of sensory input. You get in the habit of being more observant and acknowledging feelings and facts. Eventually, as this technique becomes a habit, you can transfer it to other areas of the work day. Thoughts like "It took 10 different people to put this salad together for me" might become "Every person on my team gave something special to this report", for example. As a result, you stay agile and appreciative.
  3. Part of mindful eating is awareness of time as a whole. For instance, you might ask yourself "Is this food going to address the fact I got dehydrated earlier during my morning walk?" (past), but you'd also ask yourself "Is it going to satisfy the desire I have for something creamy right now?" (present) and "Will it keep me from crashing during the presentation after lunch?" (future). Having a less fragmented view of time actually can lead to better decision making, which can help you avoid conflicts and reach goals you can be proud of.
  4. In mindful eating, you don't have to completely shun junk food, but everything has a purpose, and you're aware of that purpose in your food choices. An ice cream cone, for instance, might let you cool off, or a chicken breast might help your muscles recover. Mindful eating thus trains you to ask "why". In your work day, that can manifest as "Why am I pursuing Opportunity X?" or "Why is Sally nervous about her project?" Being able to answer those questions not only helps you respond to those around you, but also keeps you from feeling like your work doesn't matter.
  5. Mindful eating forces you to slow down and think. That habit can stop you from rushing into hasty decisions you'll regret later on. It also can help you maintain a broader perspective that keeps you more creative and respectful to your team.

A great tool to add to your feel-good arsenal

Unlike other "therapies", mindful eating is totally free, and you and your workers can practice it every single day. Combine it with other positive strategies--listening to music, decorating your space with personal items or taking a quick yoga break--and work suddenly might seem a whole lot brighter.