A Stressful Job Can Make You Want to Eat Junk Food — But Sleep Can Even the Score

Devon Kelley
Assistant Beauty Editor
Your stressful job shouldn’t have to ruin your healthy habits. (Photo: Getty Images)

Bad day at work? Everybody knows the feeling, and most of us have curled up with a pint of double chocolate fudge to deal with it, only to enhance the stressful feelings in the end.

Now a new study finds there’s a way to avoid those stress-related junk-food cravings in the first place: Don’t skimp on sleep.

Analyzing the habits of 235 workers in China, one study researched information technology employees who were under the pressure of regular high workloads and didn’t have enough time to complete their duties. A second study involved call center workers who dealt with rude patrons.

Both groups of workers had stress-related moodiness at work, which was correlated with unhealthy eating habits at night.

Researchers think that two things could be responsible for the influenced eating habits: that food is used to divert negative feelings and approach desired feelings, and that unhealthy eating results from diminished self-control, which often happens in stressful work environments.

“We found 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,” Chu-Hsiang “Daisy” Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author, told EurekAlert.

But the researchers found that these negative habits were significantly reduced when workers got a good night’s sleep the night before a stressful workday. “A good night’s sleep can make workers replenished and feel vigorous again, which may make them better able to deal with stress at work the next day and less vulnerable to unhealthy eating,” said Chang.

The researchers advise that companies address this issue head-on with health management and sleep awareness training, as well as more flexible scheduling. They also believe that food-related benefits could “serve as temporary mood-altering remedies for stressed employees,” said Chang. “And failure to address the sources of the work stress may have potential long-term detrimental effects on employee health.”

If your job doesn’t offer food perks, you may want to consider meal prepping to avoid unhealthy and impulsive food decisions after a stressful day. And, of course, do what you can to get your recommended seven to nine hours of sleep.

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