93. Stop Eating Al Desko

Welcome back to the Rabbit Hole. Today we are here to tell you all to stop eating al desko! What even is “eating al desko”? Well, simply put, it’s eating at your desk. Now although it sounds delicious and appealing, it’s actually a thing you should never do. Basically what it comes down to is, you want to do more al fresco and less al desko. So tune in today as we talk about the common reasons why people often resort to eating al desko, the positive impact that can be gained from simply eating away from your desk, and how companies across the world are working to improve the lunch culture for the employees. All this and inside today’s episode!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Defining al desko, and why you should stop doing it.
  • Reasons why eating al desko is often the chosen option.
  • Getting away from your desk when working for a company that caters lunch.
  • The positive impact that eating your lunch outside has on employees.
  • Why eating at your desk sends your body mixed signals.
  • Understanding why eating at your desk leads to overeating.
  • Is sitting truly the new smoking?
  • Alternate options for eating your lunch al fresco.
  • Why starving yourself from rest can be detrimental to your work ethic.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 93. Stop Eating Al Desko

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in fantabulous Chelsey, Manhattan. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today.

[0:00:09.8] DA: Dave Anderson.

[0:00:10.8] MN: Our producer.

[0:00:12.0] WJ: William Jeffries.

[0:00:12.3] MN: Today, we’re asking you to stop eating al desko.

[0:00:17.8] DA: First, what even is that?

[0:00:19.7] MN: William you came in and was like, “Hey, we need to let the people know to stop eating al desko,” and I was like, “What is al desko? What is that?”

[0:00:27.7] WJ: It’s when you eat at your desk.

[0:00:28.6] DA: It sounds delicious

[0:00:29.8] WJ: It does sound really appealing. It seems like something that you would ask for in an Italian restaurant, but it’s actually a thing that you should never do.

[0:00:36.5] MN: Right, I think I had Google al desko for those who are interested. Al desko, according to Google, it says, “While working at one’s desk in an office (with reference to the consumption of foods or meals).” So yeah, it’s eating at your desk. It’s supposed to sound like “al fresco”, if that helps anyone –

[0:00:59.6] WJ: Which mean you’re eating outside.

[0:01:00.7] DA: Yeah.

[0:01:01.1] WJ: Which is way better.

[0:01:03.0] MN: Stop the al desko.

[0:01:06.2] DA: Oh that’s what that means? I really just don’t know Italian I guess. Really bad about it, I was just there earlier this year. I’m really bad at Italian.

[0:01:15.3] MN: Yeah, because I thought it was just fresh. Al fresco is about keeping it fresh.

[0:01:19.1] DA: Yeah, it’s like some cucumbers or something.

[0:01:20.4] MN: Yeah, exactly.

[0:01:21.7] DA: Or salad.

[0:01:21.9] MN: Yeah, al fresco, al desko, you want to do more al fresco and less al desko. Well, let’s talk about that for a second.

[0:01:33.5] DA: Just realized why I don’t know what al fresco means because at Taco Bell.

[0:01:38.8] WJ: Oh, they ruined it.

[0:01:40.0] DA: That’s like their fresh menu items.

[0:01:43.4] WJ: Yeah, that’s their healthy options.

[0:01:45.9] DA: Right, you can eat Taco Bell al fresco, al desko. That’s like the worst you can do.

[0:01:52.4] MN: Do not have a Taco Bell al fresco al desko, don’t do it. Shout out to Taco Bell.

[0:01:59.5] WJ: I actually really – I have a soft spot for Taco Bell, that’s one fast food chain that I have a really hard time resisting.

[0:02:07.3] MN: It is good stuff, I got to agree.

[0:02:09.7] WJ: Although I feel like the al fresco just kind of ruins the deliciousness. The fast food healthy options are –

[0:02:17.4] DA: If you’re going for it, just eat it hard and fast at your desk I guess.

[0:02:22.0] MN: No, no al fresco.

[0:02:23.2] WJ: Try and get it over with.

[0:02:25.4] MN: As fast as possible.

[0:02:27.5] WJ: Just get directly to the indigestion.

[0:02:29.4] MN: Yeah.

[0:02:30.5] DA: How have I found myself in this situation? Why am I eating all those Taco Bell at my desk?

[0:02:37.9] MN: There could be many reasons; there’s definitely the social or like work pressure for you to get stuff done.

[0:02:44.7] DA: Yeah, that’s true.

[0:02:46.1] MN: You know, if you’re at a place and you really want to get this feature out and you’ve just got a couple of tests you want to make pass and it’s already lunch time, you’re probably going to get that Taco Bell al fresco al desko.

[0:02:58.0] DA: That’s true. If I had time, I would go to Chipotle.

[0:03:01.2] MN: There you go. But you don’t. So you want to get this done and shipped as fast as possible. So you end up sitting on your desk eating while trying to get this one thing done.

[0:03:13.9] DA: Yeah, that one can cause a creep with that where you just like, feel a stress and a pressure, especially like if you see your colleagues doing it as well.

[0:03:23.4] MN: Yeah, that’s another thing too. If you see a coworker is also eating at the desk, it only takes one person to do it then everyone kind of sees that person working hard and you feel like you have to also eat at you desk.

[0:03:38.6] WJ: It’s contagious, it spreads like a disease.

[0:03:40.8] MN: Yeah.

[0:03:41.4] DA: They’re probably on Reddit though, right?

[0:03:43.8] MN: Well, you don’t know that but then if you –

[0:03:46.2] WJ: Sometimes they are, which is even worse. Just go outside.

[0:03:49.9] MN: Read the Reddit outside, how’s that? I don’t know.

[0:03:54.6] WJ: It’s not actually worse. Reddit is pretty good sometimes.

[0:03:58.0] MN: Sometimes. If you feel like the stress is coming from your manager or your job is like forcing you to do that then you really need to just step away from the desk and have lunch outside. Because I think like, and this is for any managers out there listening, please don’t force your employees to work and have lunch at their desk. They could definitely use the break by walking outside.

[0:04:24.3] WJ: Yeah, there are some companies that will try and trick you into doing it by catering lunch and then like not providing seating.

[0:04:30.0] MN: Oh that’s — yeah oh man, that’s the worse. Yeah, if you’re at a catered lunch company, you’ve got to be mindful of where you eat and if you do happen to have the lunch and you stay in the office, definitely make 15 minutes, 20 minutes outside during that time. Because you get the lunch, you eat fast, and you go right back to your desk. Or worse, you don’t have enough seats in the cafeteria area, which forces you to be at your desk.

[0:04:56.8] DA: Yeah, I’ve worked at a place that had a catered lunch and initially, I really liked it because I would just take it as an opportunity to bring the whole family to the table and just talk with random people who I wouldn’t normally interact with on my day to day basis. But eventually, I started seeing my colleagues bringing the food back to their desk and eating and then they kind of became social pressure and it was like kind of a bummer.

[0:05:24.5] MN: It definitely can be, if your cafeteria area has the seating to allow you to sit down and speak with people you normally don’t speak with and have conversations, that’s great. But when it’s just jam packed 90% of the time and the only seat you know that’s available is the one on your desk, then you’re going to sit at your desk and eat.

[0:05:47.4] WJ: Yeah, although I feel like most of the time when people eat at their desks while working it’s not because there’s like a catered lunch or there’s like a manager pressuring them, it’s because they genuinely think that that is the best use of their time. I think that’s just like a lack of information. People just are not aware of the negative health effects and the negative productivity effects.

[0:06:08.8] DA: William, it sounds like you got some science.

[0:06:11.0] WJ: There is actually a lot of science on this. There’s this company, King’s, they manufacture bread and they commissioned to do this study on lunch habits and what they found was that people had a significant measurable improvement in their happiness and productivity when they ate outside.

The biggest impact came from people who ate on the beach. I don’t know how many people have that opportunity? That’s certainly not an option for me here in New York City.

[0:06:38.0] DA: Yeah.

[0:06:38.6] MN: That’s crazy.

[0:06:40.3] DA: Is this the factory? Is this the bread factory?

[0:06:42.0] WJ: I think it’s a pretty large company and they have offices like internationally.

[0:06:46.4] MN: A bread factory by the beach.

[0:06:48.3] DA: Wow.

[0:06:49.1] WJ: Yeah. They found that just getting outside, even for a short period of time like on the way to lunch was still had a meaningful positive impact and eating lunch outside of the physical office building had a positive impact. Eating lunch in an office cafeteria had a neutral impact but eating it at your desk had a significant negative impact. As a result, they actually created nationwide search for the UK’s top 10 lunch spots as like a way to raise awareness and had been calling on employers in general to let staff eat lunch offsite, even if it’s only occasionally.

[0:07:25.1] MN: Oh that’s great.

[0:07:26.3] DA: Do you know what’s on this top 10 lunch spots in England?

[0:07:30.2] WJ: I don’t. It’s not – I think that would be kind of a long lunch break if I were to go to one of those?

[0:07:35.4] MN: For our UK listeners, I don’t know, maybe we’ve got a couple out there, they might want to appreciate that.

[0:07:40.4] WJ: That’s a good point.

[0:07:41.2] MN: You know, whenever we decide to take a lunch break at the UK.

[0:07:45.8] WJ: This is where we need to open an office next. Seems like they have a better handle on lunch culture than we do at New York City.

[0:07:52.8] MN: Bread factory by the beach? This sounds amazing. Yeah, I think one of the things, I don’t think I have the science to prove it, to be honest, but I’ve always like made it an effort to step away from my desk and one of the reasons that I vaguely remember why this is a thing is because as you’re working, we as human beings find are in two different states and not like two – I don’t mean like the extremes of one versus the other.

It’s either like fight or flight or like rest and digest. So if you will, millions of years ago when we had to hunt for our food and work and in some way shape or form, we had to be focused on the task that we had to do. You're less likely to be going to be calm when you're eating if there’s a tiger nearby and you got to run or you got to like get to work or whatever.

[0:08:47.9] DA: And the tiger is like a piece of code.

[0:08:50.2] MN: Yeah, that tiger is a test case that is now passing and you have no idea why. Your brain is constantly stuck in this cycle of trying to get this work done or like fighting and if when you bring your food to your desk, you’re sending your body mixed signals because you’re trying to digest something and at the same time, defeat the tiger that is the silly test case that you need to do.

So I’ve always been told, just off of that, your body doesn’t know to rest because you’re – how would it know? When you sit in front of a desk in front of a computer, it’s work time. If you have food in front of you, it doesn’t change that, which is like part of the reason why you should at least step away from like the screen and the keyboard and I think what William had mentioned before where eating in the office has a neutral space, I think is because of that, because you take away the keyboard and whatnot.

[0:09:46.7] DA: I do find it also, just like having some distance between a problem will make things make a lot more sense. Like if you take a break then that often helps a lot.

[0:09:58.2] MN: Yeah, especially like during lunch.

[0:10:01.3] DA: I remember the first time that we programmed together, I just kept getting stuck and then as soon as we want to get like a snack, I’d be like, “Wait, I got it, I’m going back.”

[0:10:09.7] MN: You come back with the snack and the answer to the problem and it’s a really great thing. I think most of the solutions to my programming problems are solved when I take a break and go use the restroom. I think that’s like I come back and I’m like, “Oh, that’s what I need to do,” and then it kind of all happens. I think that when you have lunch away from your desk like, you know, you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs as well as resting so you can go back and tackle the problems for the next four to five — Four hours, right? Four to five hours after lunch. I can’t math right now. But yeah, it sounds like I need lunch. Not a break though, I’ve had enough of those.

[0:10:50.9] DA: Yeah, I also feel like if you eat at your desk you might be more likely to overeat just because you are not paying attention to the task at hand. It is like eating junk food while watching TV. You just mechanically eating and not paying attention to your body signals.

[0:11:10.4] WJ: Yeah, I think that is well documented. This happens.

[0:11:13.7] DA: No science?

[0:11:14.7] WJ: Science.

[0:11:15.4] MN: William with the science. I think if your job also offers unhealthy snacks that only makes it a lot worst too. I think we mentioned it before and one of the many episodes about how amazing it is to have snacks in your office but I do think that the choices of the snacks you have are also important. So whatever you do, please don’t overeat in front of your desk.

[0:11:40.2] WJ: Yeah the whole snack situation is tricky because it is a perk that people ask for that is seen as being a part of being a sexy young startup having the snack rack.

[0:11:51.3] DA: Right all of the throwbacks snacks, the dunk-a-roos, Nutella things.

[0:11:57.2] WJ: It’s like a status symbol; people brag about the snacks on their rack.

[0:12:00.9] MN: Yeah and so you end up with type 2 diabetes like I did.

[0:12:05.7] WJ: Oh man it was the M&M machine, right?

[0:12:08.6] MN: Yeah the M&M machine killed me. Well, that didn’t killed me I am still here. This is not the ghost of Mike. But yeah, I had an M&M machine at the client that I once worked out that will pour out M&M’s and I don’t know how it did it but it, but it just read the amount of space your hand had to give you the M&M’s that you want, which is a handful.

[0:12:31.4] DA: Which is all of them.

[0:12:32.2] MN: Yeah, exactly.

[0:12:33.2] DA: Were they peanut M&M’s?

[0:12:34.3] MN: Yeah of course, it killed me. So I gained at least 10 pounds. I was over 200 pounds, pure M&M’s at least 30 of those pounds were just straight M&M’s I swear.

[0:12:49.2] DA: Yeah that’s dangerous. We had some candy for Halloween and I worked from home the other day and we got no kids. There were no kids that came.

[0:13:00.1] WJ: It’s just all for you.

[0:13:01.4] DA: All fun sized packages of M&M’s. There is a pile of evidence of my shame. It’s like, "Did I really just eat four packs of fun-size M&M’s.”

[0:13:12.4] WJ: Oh four? That is not that bad. I thought this was going to be a much bigger pile.

[0:13:17.8] DA: No but this is a consistent habit.

[0:13:19.9] WJ: Oh that is not the total, that’s just a day.

[0:13:23.6] DA: Yeah, you know that is like in mid session.

[0:13:26.5] WJ: Yeah there was a study done on will power a long time ago, they gave people radishes and cookies.

[0:13:34.1] DA: Okay, I see where this is going.

[0:13:35.8] WJ: So the experimental group was asked to resist the temptation to eat the cookies, which were fresh baked and it smelled amazing and the other group was allowed to have whatever they wanted and then afterwards they gave them all a math test and what they found was that the people who had been asked to exert will power did worse on the math test even when you compare to the people who opted to eat the radish instead of the chocolate.

Like because they weren’t trying to resist because they had permission to eat the chocolate cookies that they wanted to, even though they chose the radish.

[0:14:13.8] MN: That’s nuts.

[0:14:14.8] WJ: They still performed better on the math test. So this is what we do to our employees when we put a snack rack up on the way to the bathroom it is like every day we just rob them of our will power as they go to the bathroom.

[0:14:29.6] MN: Oh man and then you have to sit down and try and solve this problem that you have been dealing with for the past couple of hours and it is just so frustrating.

[0:14:40.1] WJ: I ended up going the long way around to avoid that M&M machine. It was like a significantly longer walk.

[0:14:48.9] MN: Yeah, I know it’s nuts. Oh my gosh.

[0:14:52.7] DA: There you go, just put in a radish machine it will be fine.

[0:14:56.6] MN: Yeah that will do it.

[0:14:57.7] WJ: This is a way to get a lot of angry emails from workers.

[0:15:02.1] DA: Fill up your [inaudible] with radishes.

[0:15:03.6] WJ: “Our manager took away the snacks it’s your fault.” The other thing that it does is it leads to more sitting when you eat at your desk. Lunch time is one of the few good excuses that you have to get up and move around a little bit during the work day as an office worker and sitting is the new smoking. There are lots of studies that show that’s really bad for you, which is part of the reason why standing desks have gotten so trendy.

[0:15:27.8] MN: Wait, sitting is the new – what am I supposed to do then?

[0:15:30.8] WJ: Oh my god it is so bad for you.

[0:15:32.2] MN: What am I supposed to do then?

[0:15:33.7] WJ: You’ve got to alternate sitting and standing.

[0:15:35.1] MN: I got to get up now.

[0:15:36.1] WJ: Move around do some physical activity.

[0:15:38.4] MN: Oh my gosh.

[0:15:39.0] DA: Treadmill desks.

[0:15:39.9] WJ: In fact humans were not evolved to sit still for literally all day in front of a computer screen.

[0:15:48.0] DA: Funny, yeah and I am very happy that Kimberly bequeathed her standing desk to me when she moved onto your project.

[0:15:58.8] WJ: I cannot believe that she gave that up. She used her professional development budget on that, didn’t she?

[0:16:03.0] DA: I reimbursed her. Shout out to Kimberly, thank you. But also, I paid her. But yeah, it does make a difference. I feel like I have more energy though out the day and when I get tired I just sit down and I enjoy sitting a lot, but I get up.

[0:16:20.1] MN: Then when you realize it’s worse than smoking, then you have to get up again.

[0:16:23.6] WJ: I don’t think it is actually worse than smoking, smoking is really bad.

[0:16:28.2] MN: Will I get lung cancer from sitting down bro? Like what? We just mentioned why individuals don’t want to eat al desko. So what are some things that you like to do or rather what are some things you all like to do to eat lunch or take breaks al fresco?

[0:16:47.4] WJ: I think going to the gym can be really restorative. That one is kind of hard to arrange because you’ve got to have a change of clothes or you’ve got to do a very light workout.

[0:16:57.2] DA: You have to be pretty close to the gym too.

[0:17:00.4] WJ: Yeah, transportation that’s an issue. I’ve worked in offices where there were yoga classes.

[0:17:05.5] MN: Oh nice.

[0:17:06.3] DA: That sounds cool.

[0:17:07.0] WJ: Those are nice because if you do a chill yoga class you don’t really need to change.

[0:17:11.9] DA: Right just hopped out of the high yoga class that is probably too much.

[0:17:16.4] MN: That Bikram, don’t do the Bikram yoga.

[0:17:21.2] DA: Yeah that sounds pretty cool. I mean even light exercise or just walking. I find that really nice. I like to stretch my legs and just have a good think or clear my head of all thoughts entirely. It’s pretty nice.

[0:17:36.5] WJ: One of the most productive developers on an old team of mine would take video game breaks. This was a Pomodoro thing, he would do 25 minutes of work and then he would switch over to a separate computer and he would play a five minute round of some random game on Steam and then come back and it was like extremely effective because it was so instant the switch from work mode to play mode and it’s so all consuming.

[0:18:06.9] MN: Right.

[0:18:07.6] DA: I got to know what that game is. Like right now I am deep in the Red Dead Redemption, as many people are and that is not five minutes. That’s been my life.

[0:18:19.1] MN: Well you have to flip your Pomodoro where you do 25 minutes or Red Dead and then you do a five minute work.

[0:18:25.6] DA: It sounds more likely, yeah I can’t work for home right now.

[0:18:30.7] MN: If you had, I think we mentioned before, if you have catered lunch or you bring your lunch home because you want to be economical and save money, definitely take the time, as Dave mentioned, to go outside. Try to make that a thing you do. Smell the fantabolous air of Manhattan or whatever state or city you’re currently in. So I think it is more important than sitting in front of your desk all day.

[0:18:54.2] WJ: Yeah I remember you recommended to me a coffee shop that was further away just so I would get more airtime and it was extremely helpful.

[0:19:03.7] MN: No it’s good, I mean you go to coffee shops that’s probably a block or two away, coffee, tea, matcha seems to be the new thing, all the cool kids are doing it. I don’t understand why, but matcha is awesome, go for a matcha break. Take your coworkers out too. I think that is very helpful just to step outside and away from your problem that you are currently dealing with at work. So when you come back you are nice and refreshed and matcha-ed up.

[0:19:27.7] WJ: Yeah and there is a lot of research that shows that social contact has a really positive effect on people’s ability to concentrate, people’s ability to communicate when there are problems, and to deal with miscommunication. Also happiness levels; general productivity and happiness levels.

[0:19:43.5] DA: Yeah, definitely good for team moral and just like having that opportunity to get to know people outside of doing the code.

[0:19:51.9] MN: Yeah and I think one thing, this may even be something outside of the desko thing, the al desko thing, but don’t work really crazy 12-hour shifts or anything like that. Because the longer you starve yourself from resting the less likely you are going to produce great work. It just feels like you are working harder. If you work hard and you are going to get this done fast but it’s sometimes opposite. You just might need those breaks.

Ladies and gentleman, whatever you do, do not have your Taco Bell al fresco al desko, all right?

[0:20:29.0] DA: Amen. Yeah.

[0:20:30.0] WJ: Yeah, that is the new golden rule.

[0:20:31.6] MN: Have your Taco Bell al fresco not al desko.

[0:20:36.6] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers just like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode. Subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast.

On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.


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