More than half of Americans say they can’t take a lunch break

New research found that one in two Americans say they are unable to take a full lunch break and 30% of the participants said they ate lunch at their desks.

For many of us, lunchtime is work. We shovel grub into our mouths with one hand and continue typing with the other. According to a new survey of 2,000 workers, it’s hard for us to make the time to sit down and eat our meals in peace. The research, conducted by OnePoll in partnership with Eggland’s Best, found that one in two Americans say that they are unable to take a full lunch break.

Instead of going outside for their break, they are staying put, with 30% of the participants saying they ate lunch at their desks.

The importance of a lunch break

For those of us who love walking outside with our sandwich, a lunch break is not just time away from work, but a time to recharge for the rest of the day. But this concept is generational. Workers under 45 years old said it was not realistic to take a full lunch break, while those over 45 years old disagreed. For those munching at their desks, the pull to keep working was too strong. Almost half of the participants admitted that lunch can feel like a distraction from getting things done.

And when we cannot lunch in peace, we graze on snacks to keep our stomachs and minds occupied. Sixty-eight percent of employees said they snacked twice a day, and three in ten workers said they ate three or more snacks a day. This constant eating has consequences. Research has found that snacks are the true test of self-control and are where diets can get sabotaged, so making a designated lunch break is not just a way of staying full, but of also satisfying your unhealthy snack cravings.

But beyond your physical health, a lunch break can give workers unseen mental benefits. U.S. federal law does not require employers to give their employees a lunch or coffee break, but research in Psychological Science finds that taking breaks to enjoy ourselves helps us succeed. It’s important to remember that busyness is not an accomplishment. Doing less can help us do more. When we are given the gift of a tasty lunch break, it can make it easier to endure the less pleasant aspects of our jobs. I personally have found that a full 30-minute lunch break has made all the difference in my mood and willpower to keep working during long shifts. The reprieve reminds me that I am a person outside of my daily to-do list and it gives me a fresher perspective on ideas when I return.

Ultimately, when your employer allows you to leave your desk and eat lunch wherever you want, you are faced with two options: keep working non-stop, or savor the gift of a break. I know which one I’ll be taking.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.