If you have ever worked in an office, you probably know what it is like to sit through the unpleasant aroma of someone’s heated up lunch. According to the American Dietetic Assn., as many as 83 percent of people regularly eat lunch at their desks, which means everyone has suffered through someone else’s mealtime odor at some point. Some dishes aren’t that unpleasant, but they’re still distracting. If it’s not your carne asada burrito, do you really want to be the one who’s smelling it?
According to Dr. Charles Wysocki at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a lot of the problematic office food smells stem from situational expectations. “You expect to have a lot of aromas when you go to a restaurant, but you don’t expect to have a lot of aromas in your cubicle when the person next to you is eating their lunch,” he says. To show how context matters, Wysocki points to an experiment that found that people who smelled Stilton cheese in a container marked “Food” reported a cheesy scent, whereas people sniffing the same scent in a bottle marked “Body” thought it smelled like feet. So if you have to eat Stilton, keep it at the restaurant—if you take it back to your desk, your co-workers might think you’ve removed your shoes and socks.
According to Pamela Dalton at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, some of the common smelly foods that get the most complaints are reheated fish dishes, fast food french fries, microwave popcorn, hard boiled eggs, sandwiches with liverwurst or onion and dishes with aged cheeses.
As if smells aren’t bad enough, there are also those co-workers who are the munchers, the crunchers, the finger licking lip smackers. Be mindful when snacking on chips, nuts or anything super crunchy. Is there a worse sound than listening to someone else eat?
Odors aren’t the only problem with eating lunch at your desk, says Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. “People don’t eat more calories if they eat at their desk, but they do report enjoying their food less,” he says. That leads to a feeling that you’re not quite satisfied—which may lead to more snacking, especially if you have snacks or candy available elsewhere in the office.
As much as most desk lunchers say they get more done, productivity experts challenge the idea. “Squeezing out every possible moment” in the day for work actually drains energy and reduces output, says Tony Schwartz, chief executive of the Energy Project, Riverdale, N.Y., an author and consultant on employee engagement. A better route would be to take a break for lunch and return to work energized.