Does stress make you overeat at work?

Jack is sitting at his desk intently focused on his work. He is getting a little stressed because he has a deadline to meet and he has a lot of other work that is beginning to pile up.  Automatically, his left hand reaches down to the desk drawer that is filled with food in case he gets hungry.   Is Jack really hungry? Or, is he stressed? 

There are a few things to consider before answering this question.  Maybe it’s near lunch time and Jack has those tell-tale signs of hunger – growling and gnawing stomach pains, as well as feeling lightheaded, weak, irritable, and cold hands and feet.  He might be experiencing physical hunger.  On the other hand, it might be 2:00 p.m., and Jack has had lunch recently.  He does experience an upset stomach (which could resemble the stomach pains of hunger) and he is weak and irritable with cold hands and feet.  While identical to signs of physical hunger, these are all also signs of stress.

To tell the difference between physical hunger and the signs of stress, you need to ask yourself a few questions.  Am I upset about something? How long ago did I just eat?  Am I eating because I’m stressed or am I really physically hungry? Is it a habit to eat at my desk when I’m stressed?  These questions will start to guide your answer.  You probably have a good idea at the answer anyway, but you normally don’t stop to think and reach or not reach for the food drawer accordingly.

There are a number of things that you can do when you’re stressed at work besides eat.  That is definitely not the best solution. For instance, try a short 3 Minute Breathing Space  or go for a quick walk or stretch.

When you’re at work, it is a good idea NOT to eat in front of your computer at all.  First of all, you risk mucking up your keyboard and your IT people won’t like that very well. Second, you probably won’t be paying attention to what you eat and you’ll tend to overeat. Third, you will probably be eating food that is available but often times isn’t all that healthy.  And, fourth, you will not get the same pleasure out of your food if you don’t get away from the computer and actually enjoy it while you eat. And, I believe eating is one of those things to take pleasure in.

I have had people tell me they can’t even work unless they are eating at the computer.  If you are one of those people or feel like you could use a little extra help not eating when you’re stressed, sign up for my next Eat for Life programstarting in the fall.  There are a lot of reasons why you feel the way you do and there are solutions to help you stop using food when you’re stressed.  Work is hard enough the way it is, adding extra pounds around your middle when you’re stressed is just one more problem you don’t need.