How to keep your job from making you fat

April 13, 2011 - 0:0

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A study of stress and weight gain finds that chronic stress at work makes you more susceptible to gaining weight.

Excessive job stress may cause you to gain weight, a new study suggests. But the data on job stress and weight gain also show that the phenomenon is due, at least in part, to factors that are under your control.
The details: As part of a study published last year in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers surveyed 2,782 male employees of a company in New York state that had recently experienced significant layoffs. (Thus, acute job stress was presumably high.)
Employees were asked about their job stress (both short- and long-term), diets, and leisure-time activities. Interestingly, the researchers found no correlation between short-term stress and gaining weight, though they admit that type of stress may not have had enough time to play out in the form of weight gain.
However, chronic stress—due to such factors as too much job responsibility and not enough control over work duties—was significantly associated with weight gain among the employees.
What it means: Research has shown for some time that stress can increase your risk of gaining weight, and during these difficult economic times, there’s certainly a lot of stress in the workplace. But the authors of this study dug deeper to find out exactly how stress was having this effect on weight.
Turns out the culprit wasn’t some physiological reaction triggered by the stress—an increase of so-called stress hormones, for example. Rather, stress likely led to unhealthy behaviors, namely less exercise and more sedentary time watching TV, which themselves led to the weight gain.
In essence, stress at work often makes people fall back on unhealthy behaviors at home, says lead researcher Isabel Diana Fernandez, MD, MPH, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, New York.
“They go home after a tough day, and they only want to veg out,” says Dr. Fernandez. Her study makes it clear how important it is to focus on healthy behaviors if your job is stressing you out.
And to deal with stress at its source—the workplace—so you don’t bring it home with you in the form of unhealthy habits.
Here are some simple strategies for coping with workplace stress:
• Keep up with exercise. Not only is exercise a proven stress buster, this study shows that exercise is a casualty of a stressful workplace.
If you have trouble getting motivated, try walking, which the American Heart Association says has the lowest dropout rate of any form of exercise. See Getting Enough Exercise Is Easier than You Think for more ideas.
• Cut down on TV time. It's tempting to plant yourself down on the couch and escape from stress with a trip to TV land. But too much television time can make you depressed, and it's not exactly helping you stay slim. On the other hand, watching less TV seems to help people lose weight even if they don’t replace TV time with exercise time.
• Limit homework. If taking work home with you is adding to your stress, try compartmentalizing instead of multitasking to get more done during the day. For instance, if you have a presentation, designate a time block during your workday to devote to it, and don't let a ringing Blackberry or incoming emails interfere with that.
Knowing that you have time set aside to catch up on other tasks makes it easier to concentrate on one thing at a time. See Taking Work Home Is Common and Unhealthy for more suggestions, and make sure you're not becoming a workaholic.
• Spend time with someone special. A study done in 2008 found that intimate contact with their partners lowered stress hormone levels in working couples.