Is your job bad for your health?


Charmaine Yabsley


Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper, so the saying goes. Yet more and more Australians are forgoing their princely meal altogether, according to studies which show that we skip our midday meal at least once a week. And when we do eat it, our choices can be less than healthy.

Aloysa Hourigan, nutrition program manager at Nutrition Australia, Queensland, looks at some common occupations and working patterns, and advises on the best food choices to make.


If you tend to overeat or overindulge when you're stressed, then teaching may not be the job for you. According to a study by Deakin University, teaching is one of the most stressful professions, with 41 per cent of teachers reporting high levels of occupational stress. "For teachers in schools, the canteen and the food that's served there can vary from healthy to not so healthy," Hourigan says. "Typically, the food can range from a dish such as lasagne, to higher fat items such as pies and sausage rolls."


Nutritional overhaul: Eat as regularly as you can. "If you have a high-stress job, your body does much better at dealing with it if you're eating at regular times," Hourigan says. "Playground duty and answering queries from students and teachers during lunchtime means that meal breaks aren't as relaxed as they should be, and you may not have time to eat well unless you plan ahead." Teachers need that energy boost, because they burn around 300 kilojoules a day more than office workers.

Try: From the canteen, Hourigan suggests a wholegrain chicken and salad roll, fruit salad and yoghurt. Or, if you are looking for a hot meal, perhaps have lasagne and salad or pasta with a protein food and vegetable, instead of a pie or sausage roll, to give yourself some afternoon energy.

Office worker

According to a Nielsen poll, one in three office workers has a 20- to 30-minute lunch break, with a further one in five spending less than 20 minutes eating. Five per cent don't stop for lunch at all. And if you do get a chance to grab some lunch, two-thirds of office workers choose hot chips, hamburgers or meat pies. "Or they lose track of time and eat a late lunch," says Hourigan.

Nutritional overhaul: "If you plan ahead and bring things from home, you'll have a healthier food choice," Hourigan says. "A sandwich bar will offer you a reasonably healthy lunch, but if you're at an industrial estate, chances are your choices are less healthy. The other trap can be vending machines, which often have those late-afternoon snack-attack foods, and are very unlikely to be healthy."

Try: Low-GI carbohydrates, such as wholegrain bread, pasta or basmati rice. Add protein such as egg, chicken, lean meat, chickpeas, tuna or salmon, and a serving of vegetables. If you cook a healthy meal the night before, take in a leftover portion to work. "Put that portion into a container immediately, so you're not tempted to eat extra," says Hourigan. Avoid creamy pastas or high-fat foods, as they'll leave you feeling sluggish and sleepy. Also, don't forget to drink water. Keeping well hydrated - drink around 1 1/2 to two litres of water a day - can help reduce stress and keep you more alert. "Airconditioning or a hot environment may make you may feel weary," says Hourigan. "Whenever you feel sleepy or unmotivated, get a glass of water - you could simply be dehydrated."

Shift worker

Research published in the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing found that shift workers tended to be overweight. Compared to non-shift workers, the nutritional intake of shift workers is less healthy and they are more likely to smoke. They also tend to be sleep-deprived or don't sleep well. "What to eat and when an be confusing if you're not working nine to five," says Hourigan.

Nutritional overhaul: "Regardless of when you go to sleep or when you wake up, within an hour of waking have a reasonably sized meal, whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner," Hourigan says. "Then eat every four hours or so to maintain your energy levels."

Hourigan suggests having your largest meal before you leave for your shift and a lighter snack at your next meal break. "Then for your 'lunch', eat a small- to average-sized meal," she says. "The trick is to not eat high-kilojoule foods when you come home and wind down after work. Such foods might be convenient, but are high in fat and sugar."

Try: Rather than a fatty or large meal after work, eat something that's lighter, such as a hot milk drink and a piece of raisin toast, or some fruit or yoghurt.

Home worker

If you envy your work-from-home friends and imagine that their life is one non-stop luncheon, think again. The same Nielsen poll found that home workers are too busy to stop for lunch and usually skip it at least once a week. "They look for something quick and easy when they're busy," says Hourigan.

Nutritional overhaul: "When you make breakfast, get lunch organised so that when you stop for lunch you don't have to prepare it, you just have to eat it," Hourigan says.

Try: Eat outside. "It's good to move from the desk," she says. "You shouldn't sit down for longer than an hour at a time."