Ask Dr Adam | How Is My Busy Schedule Bad for My Diet?
During a busy working week, I rarely have time to take a full lunch break or prepare food, opting instead for a takeaway or something on the go. What impact might this be having on my otherwise healthy lifestyle?
Your predicament is not uncommon of Londoners. In fact, it’s very likely the norm. In London and much of the UK, there is this eating culture that borders on panicked and opportunistic. It’s this “I must grab the best thing I can find in this 10-minute window between meetings” mentality. We shop when we’re hungry. Even if we have the means to plan ahead, with supermarkets or even more convenient Cook-type shops in our vicinity, we go and buy something when we need to eat. Behaviourally, more often than not, it leads to overindulgence.
I myself am not immune to falling into this pattern. Just recently my wife and I had to do a stocktake after a particularly busy period for both of us. We became unorganised, stopped thinking about the meals we’d have of an evening, or our breakfasts or lunches, for that matter, and we ate crap. Planning the meals you’re going to cook in a single week can make a big difference to falling out of that pattern – perhaps not necessarily to the extremes that you see wellness influencers go to, with breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next two weeks ready and labelled in the freezer – but structure does help when it comes to healthier eating.
My answer to your question isn’t purely anecdotal, though. We have a good example of how this works in the Mediterranean diet. Observational epidemiological studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to increased life expectancy, low obesity and heart disease rates, and many more benefits.
We often hear about the Mediterranean diet being compositionally very good, from a public health perspective. It’s neither high or low carb, nor necessarily high or low fat, and many countries are in consensus that it is nutritionally optimal.
But the other interesting thing about the Mediterranean diet, at least in the places it originates, is the cultural aspect. The eating pattern is significantly different, and a big part of that is well-spaced out meals, eaten over longer sitting periods rather than cramming on the go. There’s a lot to be said too about the culture around food prep, eating, and the social aspect of the Mediterranean diet, which no doubt plays into its success.
In most Mediterranean countries, everything is structured around family, lifestyle, and crucially food. Here in the UK, the culture is largely much more geared towards career, with these things becoming the afterthought. So you might try just slightly shifting your priorities where you can. If you can find some mealtimes and lunch breaks to eat socially, taking a little longer to digest and enjoy your food, you could well be tapping into some of the many benefits associated with the Med diet. Buon Appetito!