Eating at Your Desk? (Live Clinic)

An E-Mail Based Live Clinic Session with the Nutritionist & Natural Health Consultant, Dr. Amira Ayad
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Eating at office

Deadlines, meetings, emails, phone calls, important files to submit. All these are symptoms of daily business routines that have made workers subjected to the harmful act of having their lunch at their desks or being forced to eating in haste, without having a proper lunch break.

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you sometimes eat your breakfast or lunch at your desk?

It is clear that this is due to hyper-fast working environment which has left many employees with more work and less time. Adding to this is the spread of fast-food concept that has also eradicated the previously famous midday lunch break at work.

So we all get busy, but we also need to eat. This, thus make us combine working with eating at the same time. But do you know this could be really dangerous? And actually, this could pose a lot of hazards to your health. Our modern life has imposed on us a certain pace that is too hard to cope with and that gets its toll on our physical, mental and psychological health.

To tackle this important topic, Dr. Amira Ayad, a pharmacist, nutrition specialist and natural health consultant provides answers to all these questions in an email-based live clinic session.

Read below all the questions and Dr. Amira's kind replies:

  • Arfakhshad: To avoid eating at work, I tend everyday to wait till I reach home by 4 or 5 o’clock and then have my lunch there; it’s like fasting in Ramadan for instance. Could this habit affect me badly in any sense?

Unfortunately, yes. Our body needs healthy meals at regular intervals. Ideally, three meals and two snacks. This ensures a balanced blood sugar level and a healthy digestive system.

Ramadan fasting is different. Besides the blessing of the holy month of course, when we intend the fast, natural changes occur in our body as it adjusts to the fast including changes in the thyroxin hormone levels, metabolic rate, ect... So we benefit from this time for detoxification and boosting our systems without affecting our energy levels and blood sugar adjustment.

This is not the case on a normal day as your mind knows that you aren't fasting so your system is behaving regularly and are expecting their needed 'fuel'. So, my advice is to start your day with a light healthy breakfast before you go to work. Then, you can take a light dinner with you like turkey sandwich, salad or even some fruits, yogurt, and nuts. This won't need much time to consume and you owe it to yourself these few minutes of healthy snack.


  • Qutbi: Is it harmful to mix both breakfast and lunch in one meal? If yes, why?

Well, I do not call it mix both in one meal, it will be rather like skipping one of them as you cannot eat double your capacity in one meal.

Yes, this is quite unhealthy (wouldn't call it harmful, though unless you have some pre-health problem). The aim of eating at regular intervals is keeping our blood sugar level (BSL) steady and balanced. This ensures steady energy level, optimum brain performance and hormonal and metabolic balance.

Eating one big meal, assuming that it is healthy and nutritious, might supply you with your needed nutrients, but food does not supply us only with nutrients. The only fuel for our brain cells is sugar (glucose); we need to keep a balanced blood sugar level to ensure good brain concentration, and adequate energy level. Too much or too little sugar in our blood could be harmful. Combining two meals or gathering our meals into one mess up with our BSL, our brain energy, and our digestive secretions. Furthermore, on the long run, if this meal is high in simple carbohydrate or not well-balanced, our insulin secretion will also be affected.


  • Amasis: I eat snacks like chips or chocolate in the lunch break at work instead of a “meal” is that ok?

I do not think so, Sorry. You can choose healthier snack options like fruits, salad, whole wheat crackers, or nuts. You can have chips and chocolate from time to time but try the healthy options like backed chips (instead of deep fried), vegetable chips (like sweet potato, pumpkin, beet...) and dark chocolate.


  • Cassandra: I don’t have any appetite to eat breakfast in the morning, how can i solve this?

Try waking up a few minutes earlier and perform some stretching exercises, stating your morning dhikr Allah (divine remembrances)... then, head for the kitchen for a light breakfast. You can substitute the meal with a healthy smoothie or drink a herbal tea and take a light sandwich, whole wheat cereal or yogurt with you to eat later at work.


  • Lodmila: Fast-food is mouth-watering, I’m addicted to it. Any help to overcome this?

This can be done gradually. First, you need to replace this mental picture you keep of the 'mouth-watering' fast-food. When you see the fast-food chain sign or when it crosses your mind, directly replace it with the end result of living on such food like the picture of clogged arteries, pot-belly, insulin injection or lethargic body. Yes, I am sorry, it has to be that dramatic for your subconscious mind to grab the idea and stop torturing you by nagging for the wrong food. Meanwhile, don’t combine the image of healthy eating with a piece of broccoli or a meager portion of steak. Healthy food could be, and should be, also appetizing and delicious.

Many fast food chains now offer some healthy options. Try fast food outlets that serve ethnic foods like Chinese stir-fry dishes, Mexican burrito, sushi or vegetable-stuffed pitta. If it’s a must to eat that burger from time to time, order it with a side dish of salad instead of fries and replace the coke with fresh juice.


  • Tahiri: As a healthy rule of thumb, i know that walking after any meal is a good action that supports good metabolism in our bodies, but, is walking after lunch breaks in overcrowded, noisy and polluted streets useful? I mean will our muscles and metabolism benefit from walking despite all of these harmful aspects?

Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot escape our unhealthy or polluted environment. As you said, walking is tremendously beneficial but if you have to do it while inhaling car exhaust, I don't think it will serve you much. Still, this doesn't mean you give up. Even in the most crowded and busy places you could find some escape, a small street with fewer cars, or a nearby park. For the noise, you can use headphone and look at the crowd in a positive way as entertainment or company. With your attitude and mental picture you can actually change your environment.


  • Aliyeh: Why is fast-food harmful as you specialists always say? It’s delicious.

You now sound like my son! Well, not all fast-food is harmful. Now you have many choices (please see question 5). The unhealthy options are the ones that offer empty-calories. This means they give you pure calories with no nutritional benefit. The problem with that is that your body actually needs the nutrients to help it digest assimilates and absorb the food. If you supply it with empty calories, it refers to its own reserve of nutrients to digest them. In other words, they not only supply you with zero nutrients, they also leach nutrients out of your system. Another problem with fast-food is that most of them rely on synthetic chemicals to add flavoring, color and even aroma to the product. Our body has hard time dealing with these synthetic chemicals which cause stress on our liver and may end up stored in our cells damaging our DNA.


  • Renard: What is the safe limit of fast-food meals per week or per month?

The less the better. I can't give you a safe limit; it differs from a person to another and from a choice of fast-food to another. The safest way is to optimise your choice of fast-food as much as you can and minimise their consumption as much as you can.


  • Mehmet: I hate eating fish, yet at the same time I want to gain and benefit from the fatty acids of Omega 3. Are there any natural alternatives with Omega 3 rather than fish?

Omega 3 fatty acids are available in many foods besides fish, like: fresh dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds and their oils, canola oil, and walnuts. You need to eat the seeds and nuts raw and unsalted and they need to be stored in dark cool place or better refrigerated. The oils also should be used raw in salads or spreads and kept in dark cool places.

Too bad that you hate fish. They are still the best source of the Omega 3. You can try different kinds and different cooking methods or try smoked options like smoked salmon.


  • Urlas: I once read that missing breakfast in the morning is harmful. Why is it harmful while no food has entered your body and thus you won’t get fats or additional unneeded carbohydrates or unneeded sugar? It’s like fasting. Is it something related to hormones or enzymes secreted in the morning?!

After a long night fast, you body needs to replenish its energy and restore its blood sugar level (BSL) to normal. A new supply of brain fuel (glucose) is needed to sustain mental performance and your muscles also need glucose to start their tasks. Studies show that people who eat breakfast have better attitude, better ability to handle tasks, better memory, better concentration and better strength and endurance.

I know, sometimes or maybe most of the time, you actually don’t feel hungry if you skip breakfast while you can actually feel hungry at lunch time if you did have breakfast in the morning. This is because when you eat breakfast, your body ends the night-long fast and reverts back to its natural state of metabolic function and this hunger that you feel is perfectly normal to alert you that your BSL is getting lower. Skipping breakfast, on the other hand, makes you feel more stressed, irritable and restless. And, contrary to many beliefs, it doesn't make you leaner, as your body thinks you are in a starvation situation, so it reverts to a fasting mode where every bit of energy is conserved and your basal metabolic rate (the calories your body burns while at rest) is downshifted so you burn lesser calories than you usually do.

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Amira Ayad is a natural health consultant and a holistic nutritionist. She holds a Master Degree in Pharmaceutics; and a PhD in natural health. She is a Board Certified Holistic Health practitioner by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP) and a Registered Orthomolecular Health Practitioner by the International organization of Nutrition Consultants (IONC). She published 2 books: Healing Body & Soul, in 2008; and, The True Secret, in 2011. Amira teaches Biochemistry & Body Metabolism at The Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Toronto, Canada.

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