Whether you work at home or in a busy office, you deal with stress – the daily pressure of unrealistic deadlines, office politics, and the challenges of staying motivated and separating work life from home life. Regardless of what type of work you do, a job or career comes with stressors that vary depending on the day. On a given day, you might be fighting a deadline to finish a project or preparing for a meeting, and the pressure mounts – and so does your stress level. What do some people do? They snack.
If you eat and snack more when you’re stressed, you’re not alone. Stress is one of your body’s ways of telling you to act, and for some people, that action is to reach for a sugary snack. If you’re a stress eater, you might use food to distract from the pressure of doing too many things at once or to provide a sense of calm in a hectic environment. When the going gets tough, it’s easy to reach into your desk drawer and nibble on some candy or eat a cookie when you take a break from your frenzied schedule.
Stress eating is a common approach people unconsciously use for stress management. According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of adults reported eating too much or eating unhealthy in the last 30 days due to stress. Snacking provides instant gratification and a source of comfort.
Stress eating is unconscious eating, so it’s easy for snacking to get out of hand and cause weight gain. Plus, people often eat comfort foods when they snack, and these foods are high in sugar and fat. It’s easy for work-related snacking to get out of hand. In some cases, you might not even be aware of how much you’re eating between meals. Plus, if you work at home, the refrigerator is right down the hall and it’s easy to gain access to your next snack. Let’s look at some ways to reduce stress-related, workplace snacking.
Get to Know Your Triggers and Respond in a Healthier Manner
Stress eating is something that happens unconsciously or on autopilot. Many people who do it don’t realize how often they’re snacking, and you can’t change it if you aren’t aware of it. The first goal is to increase awareness of how often you’re nibbling.
How can you become more aware? Write in a journal every time you reach for a snack. Document what you were doing and thinking about at the time you snacked, so you can link specific situations with stress eating. Then rate your hunger on a scale of one to five. If it’s less than a 4 or 5, it’s not physiological hunger, and it would be healthier to tap into other ways to relieve stress. Over time, you’ll learn to associate certain thoughts with stress eating and can be ready for other strategies, like leaving your desk for a brisk walk, to counter the urge to snack.
Breathe to Relieve Stress
Once you’ve identified triggers, learn to breathe in a way that relieves stress, rather than snacking. Most people breathe too shallowly. Breathing in a deep, slow, controlled manner helps reduce stress. Here’s how:
- Inhale slowly through your nose. If you place your hand on your tummy, you should feel it rise.
- Breathe out slowly through your nose with your mouth closed. Feel your tummy fall as you exhale.
- Repeat five times.
- Relax your shoulders as you breathe and clear your mind.
Learning to breathe properly can help you manage stress in all aspects of your life. Practice this technique until it becomes second nature.
Take a Short Walk During Breaks
Walking, especially outdoors in nature, is stress relief magic. It gives you the mental break you need to keep from reaching for a snack. There are other benefits to taking short walking breaks at work. Sitting too long increases the risk of blood clots forming due to blood pooling in your legs. Don’t let yourself sit for hours on end without a break. Set a timer every 30 minutes to remind yourself to get up and walk around. If possible, take a long walk outdoors on your lunch break. Regular walking breaks can do wonders for stress eating – and your stress level.
Stress and Sugar Cravings: Keep Unhealthy Foods Out of Reach
It sounds simplistic, but you can’t eat what isn’t available. Purge your desk drawers and work areas of unhealthy snacks. Do a clean sweep. Don’t forget to remove the candy jar on your desk too. Do you need that temptation? Keep a package of peppermint sugar-free mints in your drawer and enjoy them instead. The powerful flavor of peppermint is an appetite suppressor. Don’t mosey down to the break room either. Well-meaning people bring in too many unhealthy food items to share. Avoid places and situations that tempt you to snack.
Pack a Healthy Lunch
Make sure you’re not skipping meals or undereating. Start the day with a healthy breakfast. A nutrient-dense breakfast reduces cortisol, a stress hormone that affects your body’s stress response. When cortisol rises, you feel hungry and crave sugar. Then, head to work with a healthy lunch in tow. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but make sure it includes a source of protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates. Who needs the white bread sandwich? Instead, buy a bento box, a metal box with slots for various food items, and take healthy leftovers from the night before to work.
Other options include:
- Healthy Leftovers from Dinner (Cook once eat twice)
- Soup in a Jar
- Vegetables Dipped in Hummus and a Boiled Egg
- Cheese and Fruit
- A Stuffed Avocado
Wear a Fitness Tracker
Another way to remind yourself to move and to be more aware of your office habits (and how often you snack) is to wear a fitness tracker. Fitness trackers can provide the extra encouragement you need to get up and move around, which can help prevent back pain – one of the most common problems among office workers.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let stress turn you into a constant nibbler. The combination of snacking and sitting too much can, over time, affect your weight and, in turn, your health. Now you have some strategies for keeping stress eating at bay.
- “Stress and eating – American Psychological Association.” .apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating.
- “Stress and Eating | Psychology Today.” .psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200311/stress-and-eating.
- “Why stress causes people to overeat – Harvard Health.” 15 Feb. 2021, .health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat.