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Al Fresco or Al Desko

Research tells us that the food we eat plays a huge part in our overall mental health and wellbeing. We know there is a connection between our gut and our brains, making the link between our mood and our food even stronger.

With over 70% of our immune system and 90% of our serotonin (which regulates our feelings, including happiness and anxiety), coming from our gut, what more could employers be doing to support this powerful connection?

Modern day on demand living means that we are all moving in fast forward for a lot of our days. Employees can be reached from the comfort of their own beds, before the working day has begun, on the commute to work, throughout the day, on the return home and even in the sanctuary of the home when the official workday is done.

Sometimes as a business the guidelines for wellbeing have been unwittingly created. New starters entering your place of work look to those more experienced people around them to see what the unwritten and unspoken rules are when it comes to time away from the laptop, personal phone calls or personal days, and even lunch break etiquette.

Guidelines for what to eat are shifting away from the standard approach of 5 a day. This is because in some cases 5 of our most favourite and sometimes even just bearable fruits and veggies, are chosen and played on repeat day in and day out. Whilst this is ok and better than no fresh fruit and veg at all, it doesn’t give our gut everything it needs.

Our guts love variety. What we get from a green pepper vs a red or yellow pepper is completely different, so ideally, we need to be aiming for

30 different plant-based foods a week.

When I say plant based this includes, fruits, veggies, nuts (obviously not if you have a nut allergy) seeds, wholegrains, and legumes (all the different varieties of beans you usually find on the shelves next to the tinned tomatoes).

This helps us understand the what, but let’s dive a little more into the how and when, which are both equally as important for our mental health and wellbeing. The concept of Al Fresco dining often conjures up the idea of a relaxed paced meal, taking the time to enjoy the food and the company in front of us. Sadly, the lunch time environments that have been created in the world of work are far more Al Desko than Al Fresco. Whilst some give thought to what they are eating, the how and the when, become a fast-paced process for a quick re fuel whilst sitting in front of a computer, answering emails, or scrolling through social media. Whilst this may be the norm for so many, this does not support our gut and our brain health.

Our brains use 25% of the calories eaten at each meal and our stomachs are about the size of our own clenched fists, so if the food we are eating is big and bulky and practically inhaled as we stress about looming deadlines, our digestive system needs to work doubly hard, which has a big impact on our energy and focus. We could be eating all the leafy greens in the world but if we are stressed and in a high state of alert, we are not going to get all the benefits they offer.

What can you do as an employer?

As an employer what can you do to move your culture away from Al Desko and more towards Al Fresco?

  1. Lead by example. Wherever possible step away from your desk and go outside or to a communal area and encourage others to do the same.

  2. Raise awareness. Inform people about the impact of technology on our mental health and wellbeing and the importance of creating pockets of headspace throughout the working day.

  3. Set the 30 a week challenge. Share. Share recipes, one pot cooking ideas that help your people feed their minds, bodies, and soul and encourage this to filter into home life too.

  4. Chew your food!! Take the time to really break down what you are eating to make your digestive systems job a little easier. For those that struggle with this concept, place cutlery down in between each mouthful.

  5. Educate your people. Help them understand more about the gut/brain connection and all the inspired action they can take to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.

  6. Create a ripple effect. Whatever you do in the working environment will no doubt ripple into home life impacting the next generation.


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