Stress during the workday can lead to overeating and unhealthy food choices at dinner time, new research warns.
New research suggests that a good night’s sleep can serve as a protecting factor between job stress and unhealthy eating in the evening.
“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,” said Chu-Hsiang “Daisy” Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author.
“However, another key finding showed how sleep helped people deal with their stressful eating after work,” she added. “When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day.”
The research team looked at two studies of 235 total workers in China who experienced regular stress in their jobs.
One study dealt with information-technology employees who regularly experienced high workload and felt there was never enough time in the workday. The second study involved call-center workers who often got stressed from having to deal with rude and demanding customers.
In both cases, workday stress was linked to employees’ negative mood while on the job, which in turn was linked to unhealthy eating in the evening, said Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois.
The study proposed two potential explanations, Liu said.
“First, eating is sometimes used as an activity to relieve and regulate one’s negative mood, because individuals instinctually avoid aversive feelings and approach desire feelings,” he said.
“Second, unhealthy eating can also be a consequence of diminished self-control. When feeling stressed out by work, individuals usually experience inadequacy in exerting effective control over their cognitions and behaviors to be aligned with personal goals and social norms.”
Being well rested helps employees to cope with unexpected problems at work and makes it less likely that they will turn to junk food in the evening, researchers said.
The study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.