More adult women of all ages are working a full-time job and caring for a family, all at the same time. These days, women are running large companies and starting their own, all good things, but is success in the workplace putting women at greater risk for weight gain?
Visions of slender working women running an office or a company in a chic suit that accentuates their lean, well-toned body, as you see on television shows and commercials, isn’t necessarily reality. According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, working women are more likely to be overweight compared to non-working women.
Researchers came to this conclusion after following the body weights of women who worked part-time and full-time for two years as they tracked the hours they worked. The results? Women who worked full time or part time gained more weight than those who didn’t, while those who clocked more working hours gained more weight than those who worked less. Non-working women in this study gained an average of 1% of their body weight, whereas participants who worked more than 40 hours a week gained almost 2% of the weight they started out with. For example, a woman who weighed 150 pounds put on about 3 pounds working 40 plus hours a week. Gaining that amount of weight over time could lead to substantial changes in body composition and health.
Why Working a Job is a Risk Factor for Weight Gain
Although this study doesn’t delve into the reasons working contributes to weight gain, some possibilities come to mind. The more hours a woman works, the less likely she’ll have enough time left over to exercise. Combine that with a sedentary job with lots of sitting, and daily energy expenditure drops even more. Not only is sitting bad for your waistline and body composition, but it’s also linked to health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Understanding the risks, more companies are equipping employees with stand-up desks and treadmill desks to keep them moving throughout the day.
Working a full-time job also means less time to prepare healthy food and, without proper planning, more trips to the fast food window. It’s no secret that calorie-rich fast food is a contributor to weight gain. Women who work full-time eat more meals in restaurants where the fare is deceptively high in calories. Then there’s the element of stress. Most jobs carry with them a certain level of stress – deadlines to meet and the need to be constantly engaged and productive. Research clearly shows a link between stress and weight gain. In addition, it’s easy to fall into the habit of using food as a stress reliever. Plus, too many time commitments don’t make it easy to get a good night’s sleep. The link between sleep and weight gain is also well established.
If you work full or part-time you may be struggling with your weight too. Here are some tips to help you lower your risk for weight gain when you work:
Be an Opportunistic Exerciser
If you work full-time, exercise takes planning. One approach is to do it first thing in the morning before your day even gets rolling. Load an exercise DVD the night so you can fire it up first thing. Exercising before work ensures you get it done and will help you wake up faster and be more productive. If you’re challenged for time, do a short, sweet but intense workout.
Once at work, take advantage of opportunities to move. Take frequent walk breaks or climb the stairs as many times as you can during the day. Challenge yourself to climb one more flight each day. Then hide your chair and make a habit of standing, rather than sitting. Don’t forget movement is a great stress reliever. If possible, use a portion of your lunch break to get outside and walk.
Pack a Lunch and Healthy Snacks
Don’t leave eating cleanly to chance. Bring a healthy lunch to work, so you won’t have to eat the wrong stuff when you’re starving. You may not have time to pack an elaborate spread, but you don’t need to. Keep is simple. Pack healthy leftovers or put together a tuna or roasted turkey sandwich or wrap piled high with veggies. Whip up a big batch of soup on Sunday and carry some with you to work in a thermos or bring along a container of chopped veggies and a tasty dip. Pack a colorful salad and enjoy it with your favorite healthy dressing. Nuts, string cheese and yogurt without added sugar make quick and healthy snacks.
Stay hydrated, but make sure your re-hydration beverage is calorie free. The best options? Water or green tea. Sipping on green tea gives you a dose of cell protective antioxidants while water is the universal beverage your body always craves, and it’s completely free of calories and added sugar. Coffee might be the universal office beverage, but too much increases levels of stress hormones that you’re trying to keep under control.
Reign in the Mindless Nibbling
The purpose of carrying healthy snacks to work is to keep you from grabbing a cookie in the break room or a handful of candy from a co-workers candy stash. Portion-controlled packs of nuts are an option that won’t destabilize your blood sugar and lead to further hunger as sugary snacks will.
Take Time to Unwind
Resist the urge to be a workaholic. A sane life is a balanced one. Exercise is one way to relieve stress, but so is yoga or meditation. Make time for little pleasures like a hot, sudsy bath or a cup of herbal tea when you get home. Take 5 minutes to de-stress every day no matter what. It’s not all about work!
The Bottom Line
Working full-time could make it harder to control your weight unless you plan ahead and avoid the pitfalls of fast food eating, inactivity piled upon lack of sleep and stress. Fortunately, you have some control over what you eat and how active you are, even if you work more than a 40-hour week.
Harvard School of Public Health. “Sleep Deprivation and Obesity”
Psychology Today. “Why We Gain Weight When We’re Stressed–And How Not To” August 28, 2013.
The Telegraph. “Women who work long hours ‘more likely to put on weight”
Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 May;37(5):718-24. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.92. Epub 2012 Jun 19.
Related Articles By Cathe: