Stress and Weight Gain

Can stress make you fat? It seems so. A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology is one of the first to examine the ways in which work-related psychological experiences can affect how we eat. It found that stress on the job leads not only to overeating but also to unhealthy food choices.

The research involved two studies that looked at a total of 235 workers in China. One study was on information-technology employees who had heavy workloads; the other was on workers in a call center who often had to deal with unpleasant customers.

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According to co-author Chu-Hsiang “Daisy” Chang, PhD, of Michigan State University, the researchers concluded that “Employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table, as manifested in eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of healthy food.”

But the study also discovered a possible way to break the link between job stress and bad eating. A good night’s sleep. As Dr. Chang went on to report, “Sleep helped people deal with their stressful eating after work. When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day.”

Although the study is relevant to just about anyone who goes to work, the authors directed their recommendations more to employers. Employers, they suggested, should accentuate the importance of health management for their workers They should also consider offering sleep-awareness training and flexible work schedules. Finally, they might want to reconsider offering food as a job perk. As Dr. Chang put it, “Food-related perks may only serve as temporary mood-altering remedies for stressed employees, and failure to address the sources of the work stress may have potential long-term detrimental effects on employee health.”

Want to learn more about maintaining your emotional health? Read “Relaxation Techniques for Stressful Times,” “Stress: Finding Peace Amid the Storm,” and “The Healing Value of Fun.”