Photo: Bethany Newman
In some form or another, emotional eating accounts for the majority of poor dietary habits in America.
Twenty-seven percent of US adults confess to eating in order to mitigate symptoms of stress, 30% skip meals with the same objective in mind and 34% either overeat or eat less healthy foods as an immediate consequence of their “psychological duress.”
Given these statistics, it stands to reason that work pressures have an enormous impact on our eating behaviors. In fact, according to a new report published by researchers over at Fit Rated, one in four employed Americans habitually eat poorly as a direct result of work-related stress.
Women and executives are especially impacted, with the latter packing on an average of 5.3 pounds a month.
“Emotional eating, also known as stress eating, is not an illusion. Many people use food not only to quell their cravings but also to feed their emotions. They eat when they feel anxious, depressed, or lonely. And they may even eat when they need to cope with a stressful day at work,” the authors write in the report.
The average stressed employee puts on 4.8 pounds a month
The researchers began by polling 946 full-time US workers. Each put in a bare minimum of 40 hours at their job per week and the survey pool ranged in age from 18 to 74 with an average age of 37 and a standard deviation of 10 and a half years. Fifty-three percent of these identified as male, and 47% identified as female.
Four hundred and fourteen respondents worked in an associate or entry-level position, 437 worked in mid-level positions, and 95 worked in senior-level or executive positions.
Of the 946 surveyed 611 respondents reported feeling stressed at their place of work as recently as last month and 246 of the workers surveyed said that they were generally unsatisfied with their job. Forty-seven percent of members belonging to either demographic admitted eating more sugary foods while at work and a fractionally smaller portion continued to binge well into the night.
Not only did these unhappy workers increase their calorie intake while on the clock they also tended to spend more money on food when they left their respective offices.
Participants that perceived their work environment as stressful spent nearly $500 more on food per year and workers who confessed to adopting poor eating habits due to work stress spent an average of $782 more a year on the same.
“Stress wasn’t the only factor, though,” the authors continued in the new paper. “Feeling pressure from your boss, managing a complicated project, juggling too many tasks at once, or not being taken seriously by your co-workers – these are stressful situations that can trigger emotional eating, and that emotional eating can trigger weight gain.”
How how to curb stress-induced binge eating
The American Psychological Association reports that 25% of Americans rate their stress level as an eight or higher on a ten-point scale. Over time, a fixed state of unease causes the adrenaline gland to release a hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol assists the flight-or-flight mode in the human body, increasing our appetite and various motivation stimuli. Essentially our anatomy gets stuck in high gear. To fuel this state we develop cravings for foods high in sugar and salt i.e comfort foods.
The best way to reduce the effects of an unwanted adrenaline rush is by addressing it head on. Moderate to vigorous physical activity is a good way to exhaust the production of cortisol if you have space and privacy though this might be a little harder to achieve in an office setting.
Mindfulness and physical hybrid practices like yoga or tai chi might serve you well if you have time to commit to either before your morning commute but mediation has been proven to be an effective measure against rising stress and poor impulse control all on its own. These in combination with a network of supportive team members can go a long in keeping you mindful of what foods and how much food is entering your body before the clock strikes 5 pm.
“Overeating isn’t the only stress-related behavior that can add pounds. Stressed people also lose sleep, exercise less, and drink more alcohol, all of which can contribute to excess weight, Harvard Medical school report. “Research suggests that people working in stressful situations, like hospital emergency departments, have better mental health if they have adequate social support. But even people who live and work in situations where the stakes aren’t as high need help from time to time from friends and family.”