Feed Your Mind: The Mental Health Benefits of Eating Lunch

You’ve probably been told at some point in your life that you shouldn’t skip lunch. That was good advice. The most common reason for this advice is that lunch provides the fuel that helps us make it through the rest of our day.

However, that reasoning doesn’t tell the whole story. Lunch does more than just provide fuel for the remainder of the workday. Lunch also has a range of mental health benefits for you and your employees. That’s right. What we eat plays an essential role in our mental health much in the same way we know that food plays a role in cardiovascular disease and blood sugar management.

With some people, the simple act of skipping lunch can wreck their mood for the remainder of the day or longer. And, missing lunch can have a more significant impact. It can trigger one of their existing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. Because of these possible impacts, lunch should be thought of as more than fuel. Lunch can be an important mental health stabilizer.

Since we’re talking about mental health, before we talk more about food, it’s helpful to get a perspective on the pervasiveness of mental health conditions.

Mental Health by the Numbers

Many millions of people, including a significant percentage of your employees, are affected by mental health issues every year. Keep in mind that the definition of mental illness includes a wide range of diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders. And, these disorders range from mild to moderate to severe.

It’s important to understand that these conditions can impact an employee’s performance at work. And, the impact can last for days, weeks, or even longer.

The unfortunate reality is that mental illness is pervasive in our society. Here’s what the numbers tell us:

  • Approximately 1 in 6, or 44.7 million, adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million
  • Approximately 1 in 25, or 9.8 million, adults in the U.S. experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • 9% of adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • 8% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.


Lunch and Depression

Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Fortunately, there are things individuals can do to ward off depression before it takes hold. Because we know that what a person eats has a direct impact on their mood, it’s important for someone living with depression to eat a healthy, daily lunch.

“A healthy diet is one of the most important facets in treating depression,” says Rosa Schnyer, clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas College of Pharmacy in Austin. “If your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, then it’s likely your brain isn’t getting the nutrients that it needs to function properly.” This means not skipping lunch, because having regular meals keeps blood sugar levels stable and helps prevent mood swings.

Lunch and Overall Mental Health

One of the most obvious, yet under-recognized factors in mental health is the role of nutrition. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that food plays an important role in the occurrence of mental health problems and their treatment. A field of research has even been developed around the topic. It’s call nutritional psychology—the science of how nutrients affect mood and behavior.

Harvard’s Dr. Eva Selhub has this to say about the connection between food and our brains: “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.”

Offer Lunch as a Benefit

Because the stomach is directly connected to the brain, it’s crucial that everyone puts the right food in their stomach every time they eat. And, no one should skip a meal—especially lunch.

Helping your employees maintain their mental health is easy when you use a lunch-as-a-benefit program like the one offered by EAT Club. Through our program, you’re able to provide your employees with healthy lunch options each day. You’re doing more than just giving your employees lunch that satisfies their dietary preference when you invest in a lunch-as-a-benefit program. You’re making the act of eating lunch a sensible mental health decision.