Think back to the last stressful day you had at work. Perhaps you had a heap of deadlines piling up, or maybe your boss or colleagues were on your case about something. Whatever the reason, try to remember if you ate erratically or emotionally as a result?
In stressful scenarios like this, eating emotionally can be a perfectly natural response. Unfortunately, it can also hinder your desire to lose weight and feel good. This article explains the biological and psychological reasons that may be behind emotional eating and how we can avoid it in the workplace.
Why do we eat emotionally?
Sugary snacks like donuts are often craved during stressful times but hinder healthy living.
Put simply, emotional eating is a result of food causing a chain of reactions in our brains. During stressful times, we crave things that make us feel good. And certain foods can help do just that.
Sugar and carbs are a great example. Sugar triggers the release of opioids and dopamine in the brain and carb-rich foods can increase serotonin. These chemicals reduce physical pain, provide relief, and stimulate pleasure receptors.
There are also plenty of emotional reasons why we turn to food for temporary relief in the workplace. As touched upon earlier, some people eat to escape from workplace problems that plague them. Others peck at food without being aware of it (this is called unconscious eating). And finally, when your body is hungry or tired, it sends strong messages to your brain to eat, but leaves us ill equipped to fight off cravings or urges.
How to avoid emotional eating?
The danger of constantly giving into temptation at work is that you might not feel great afterwards, especially if you’re trying hard to stick to a weight loss plan or healthy living goals. To avoid this pitfall, here are a few ways you can develop healthy responses to emotional eating:
Look at the whole picture
It’s not just about the food or its effects on your body. It’s about being clear on what you want in all areas of your life. Your outlook on life can impact the way you think, sleep AND eat.
Dig deep to understand yourself better and your core values as to why you want these things. Doing this will aid you in your quest to resist all those office goodies and/or make healthier choices.
Create a plan
After you’ve looked at the big picture, think about devising a plan to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. For example, create a journal or get an app to track eating and exercising habits at work.
Alternatively, you can seek help from an expert coach to help guide, support, motivate and make you accountable along the way. Either way, having a plan of action may benefit you greatly, as it is a motivating force.
Make healthy swaps
The office can be a dangerous place for eating well. You’ll probably find yourself accepting snacks from your workmates. Sometimes it seems like every day is an occasion … someone’s birthday, a celebration of a new employee, or a fundraiser.
Think about substituting office snacks with healthier alternatives like a fruit yogurt.
The key is to make simple swaps. You can still participate in these events either by bringing along a healthy alternative or by choosing from the assortment of food wisely. Sure, eat a few M&Ms but then balance it with a piece of fruit or choose a glass of water over a can of Coke.
Remember, you don’t have to feel as though you are being unsocial by choosing not to eat at an office occasion. Attend the social event for the people, not the food.
By eating mindfully, you can train your brain to slow down and eat with pleasure. A good trick is to observe the flavours, textures and sensations of food as you chew. By taking the time to smell your food and appreciate its appearance, you are raising awareness of food and eating in a healthier manner. Remember that chewing more promotes satiety, which helps to prevent overeating.
You can find these tips and 40 other expert health tips (including a couple from Ireene) here. Hopefully, they’ll help you achieve your goals and allow you to better navigate the perils of office eating.
Liz Jury, HealthPost Naturopath
Healthpost’s Liz Jury is a Registered Naturopath with 16 years of experience in natural health. Liz has an extensive background within the Natural Health Industry and has enjoyed commercial and voluntary roles, including as a practitioner in a community clinic, a tutor at Naturopathic schools, a co-host of a radio show on Mind-Body wellness, and within the industry helping formulate product and advise on policy. Liz enjoys making information easy to understand for busy people wanting a healthy happy life and believes coffee and dark chocolate play an essential role. Lately, she has helped curate Healthpost’s extensive Expert Health Tips article.