Overeating Linked to Work-Related Stress

Findings from a new study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveal that women who experience high levels of stress at work are more likely to overeat. Dubbed ‘emotional eating,’ this practice involves consuming large quantities of food when feeling stressed out, full of anxiety or depressed.

The 12-month study involved 230 employed women between the ages of 30 and 55. The participants were part of a clinical trial that examined healthy lifestyle changes, which found that those who reported high levels of workplace burnout were more likely to also exhibit out of control emotional eating habits than those who reported little or no stress at work.

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“Those experiencing burnout may be more vulnerable to emotional eating and uncontrolled eating and have a hindered ability to make changes in their eating behavior,” stated Nina Nevanpera, a lead researcher from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. “We recommend that burnout should be treated first and that burnout and eating behavior should be evaluated in obesity treatment.”

22 percent of the study participants reported high levels of workplace burnout, which was determined through various surveys on workplace-related stress and eating habits that were administered at the beginning of the study. Not surprisingly, body mass index (BMI) was directly related to uncontrolled and emotional eating among the participants, yet around half of the women with burnout maintained a normal weight, proving that weight loss and weight gain also varies under stress.

Also of note, women who did not report high levels of workplace stress were more likely to cut down on overeating throughout the course of the year, but the group that reported burnout was largely unable to make any change for the better. The reason is largely thought to be the fact that people who are unhappy at work are more likely to view eating as one consistent and reliable source of pleasure in daily life.

Researchers say that a larger study involving a greater number of participants is necessary in order to determine the long-term implications of these findings, but preliminary results have indicated that addressing burnout at work could be key to controlling overeating and obesity. Since the overeating is likely associated with a psychological rather than a physiological reason, it is imperative to address the source of the stress in order to curb the unhealthy eating habits.

In addition, uncontrolled eating was found to aggravate the stress women felt at work, because short-term dietary fluctuations can alter brain chemistry and decrease the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The study focused on women because there are believed to be a larger amount of women than men who suffer from emotional overeating. To combat cravings at work, it can help to take a short walk, or plan ahead to have healthy snacks available, which provides a better option than vending machines.