Overeating? Maybe you're burned out at work
March 15th, 2012
11:19 AM ET

Overeating? Maybe you're burned out at work

Work can be a real burden for some people. They feel overwhelmingly exhausted and cynical toward their workplace environment, and believe their efforts are not valued. 

In other words, they are burned out.

A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition connects these sentiments with overeating and controlled eating behaviors.

The experiment involved 230 working women. Those who were experiencing workplace burnout at the beginning of the experiment were more likely to have emotional and uncontrolled eating than those without burnout. This held true even after 12 months.

Among those without burnout, uncontrolled eating decreased significantly over the year.

"Among overweight and obese subjects, failure to make changes due to burnout and reduced resources may impair self-esteem and self-efficacy, which are important for achieving success in weight maintenance," the study authors wrote.

Consistent with previous research, body mass index tended to be associated with uncontrolled eating and emotional eating. And overweight and obese individuals were more likely to engage in these behaviors, too. However, there was no significant difference in weight between people with and without burnout. And almost half of the people with burnout were of normal weight.

There are, of course, individual differences when it comes to responding to stress - some people actually eat less when they are stressed out, while others eat more. Weight loss and gain under stress varies, also.

The researchers also did not take into account the participants' weight history, whether they had made significant changes before the study in terms of weight loss. This could have impacted the results.

A study involving more participants is needed to corroborate the findings of this particular investigation. But from what is known so far, experts recommend confronting the burnout head-on.

"What I find in a lot of people is that food is not the issue. They’re not necessarily eating the food for a physiological reason, but they’re doing it for a psychological reason. It just happens that food is so readily available," says Meagan Mohammadione, R.D., L.D., at the Emory Bariatric Center in Atlanta, who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Melina Jampolis, physician and nutrition expert for CNNHealth.com, also views stress as a critical issue for nutrition. If stress isn't addressed and managed in a long-term way, dietary and exercise changes are very challenging, she wrote in an e-mail.

In fact, short-term diet changes could actually aggravate the stress women feel by altering their brain chemistry and decreasing critical nutrient intake. For example, reducing carbohydrates could lower mood, which is already low.

"This really ties in to the growing body of research looking at the 'medication'-like properties of food in some cases, their impact on neurotransmitters in the brain, and also the interaction of the hypothalamic/adrenal(stress)/pituitary access and weight control," she wrote.

And note that this study was only done on women. Mohammadione says she sees many more women than men suffering from emotional eating. And while women tend to eat a lot when they're overwhelmed, men's emotional eating seems to be more tied to the perception that they need to finish everything on their plate - at least, in Mohammadione's view.

So what about cravings when you're at work, when the vending machine is tempting you with junk food? Mohammadione recommends planning to have healthy snacks readily available at work, such as baby carrots and apples, "so that [when] you absolutely do have to eat, you have a better choice."

Also, take a walk, she said. Just stepping away from your desk and getting a little exercise can replace that chocolate bar you were going to munch on.

"The emotional eating, it hits very quickly," Mohammadione said. "Your response to it has to be very quick as well."

Mindfulness techniques are being used to help people with eating problems. It's a way of being conscious and nonjudgmental about the emotions you're having, and translating that awareness to the practice of eating. For more information, check out the Center for Mindful Eating.

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Work, & Stress remedy.

    2 cups of coffee in the morning, and a b-12 vitamin supplement, every 4 hours does wonders. Im not a doctor or even sure why this works. But for me it's been nearly a miraculous for stress!

    March 15, 2012 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. r

    Calm yourself down with a shot or two. Leave the food alone.

    March 15, 2012 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. ebone

    BJ's really calm me down.

    March 15, 2012 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • thatguy


      March 15, 2012 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
    • Joedokes

      Giving or receiving? : )

      March 16, 2012 at 00:20 | Report abuse |
  4. Portland tony

    Nothing was mentioned about what these individuals had eaten before work. A good breakfast or a donut and Latte? The assumption here was these woman sat on their cans and did nothing except work a keyboard or answer the phone! How about those who are active? On their feet for eight hours a day. Those who do "men's work" like construction or work assembly lines. These folks need calories to keep energy levels high. Lousy study. Even people who just use their brain eight hours a day need to replenish calories. Perhaps healthy snacks would be better, but you gotta eat to maintain maximum efficiency!

    March 15, 2012 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cap'n Rita

      I'm on my feet 8-12 hours a day (depending on who does and does not show up for their shift). I am definitely obese and reading this article was like looking in my mirror. After a full day of being a retail chew toy when I get home all I want to do is eat. And a lot. Some nights it feels like I will never be full. There are days when I will not get a lunch or dinner break and snacking is unheard of. I know it isn't healthy and I hate the way I look-but that's reality for me. I have noticed that I do not eat much at all on my days off. There really is a great deal of validity to this study-at least from my point of view.

      March 15, 2012 at 22:20 | Report abuse |
    • jane

      Rita...nurse? My sis is a nurse and describes work like you do.

      March 15, 2012 at 23:37 | Report abuse |
    • Fred Evil

      What's even worse, is that you're (WE'RE, really) eating in the evening when we should eat earlier in the day. Then, instead of being used immediately for energy while AT work, the food gets stored as fat, since we eat, and then go to bed right afterwards without burning it off.
      I've found that snacking within an hour of two of bedtime makes it MUCH harder to keep the weight off.
      But it's not like these bodies come with a manual, and after 40,000 years, we're only really starting to understand how they truly work, much less educating people on how to take care of themselves emotionally.

      March 16, 2012 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
  5. Change the record anyway

    "A new study... " Oh joy. I'll bet it's scientific as all get out.

    March 15, 2012 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. CJ

    I would suggest doing meditation. I find a quiet conference room or if the weather is nice out in the sunshine. Get some warm sun and center your mind. It does wonders.
    Sounds a bit new age-ish but it gives one perspective and a chance to relax the body and the mind.

    March 15, 2012 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jane

      I wish it was possible. I usually get to work and don't get to leave the building until 10 hours later. All conference rooms have glass doors. I do eat a healthy breakfast and lunch. I am glad to see this article since I am currently feeling burnt out....I will definitly be careful not to start overeating.

      March 15, 2012 at 23:39 | Report abuse |
  7. M

    When I am busy with good stress, I eat less. When I am busy with boring work I hate and am tired, I eat more.

    March 15, 2012 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joyce

      I am with you completely. Ideally, we would all work in jobs that we love, with agreeable and competent co-workers, for bosses that know how to supervise and motivate, in organizations that run smoothly without unnecessary bureaucracy, and reward good performance with adequate compensation.

      Alas, we do not work in a perfect world.....and we are often unprepared to deal with less-than-ideal work situations. Or home situations for that matter.

      Ideally, we would all have a supportive spouse, obedient children without special needs or behavior problems, a home that doesn't run amok, and finances that cover our expenses....and a solution to every problem.

      And enough time and energy to manage our retirement accounts, floss our teeth, get regular exercise, meditate, make healthy meals, cut coupons, make a five year plan for our careers, network, send cards for everyone's birthday, decorate for each holiday, do volunteer work, pay our bills, take out the trash, clean the house, get our ducts cleaned, whiten our teeth, read a good book, keep current on politics, have a hobby, keep in touch with friends and relatives....need I go on?

      Stress? Eat my stress.

      March 15, 2012 at 20:56 | Report abuse |
    • jane

      100% agree. And when its boring stressful work at a desk for 10 hours its the worst.

      March 15, 2012 at 23:40 | Report abuse |
  8. Joyce

    Wow. I wonder how much federal funding these people received for this 'research'. It's a pretty well known fact that lots of people eat to cope with stress. It's also a pretty well known fact that developing other strategies would be better. Often this is related to the fact that, when under stress, people don't feel they have time to get some exercise or meditate...and food they can eat at their desk.

    When will these geniuses figure out that a lot of stress cannot be 'managed'? When people are overworked, or face a no-win situation, meditation and exercise are not always an option. Of course, they'll tell you that "if you really want to, you can make the time". Sorry to sound so negative, but a lot of people don't feel they have any control over their time....with work demands and family demands, it's often hard to incorporate some of these better coping strategies into their lives.

    March 15, 2012 at 20:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maddmoizill

      Yes yes yes to everything you said.

      March 15, 2012 at 23:30 | Report abuse |
    • Maddmoizill

      Often hard if not impossible. Go to the gym between juggling kids, a 30 minute lunch break (which counts the time getting to and from somewhere), and all the garbage that must be done at home? We all need to wake up and see how we've been enslaved, practically. Europeans simply do not live this way.

      March 15, 2012 at 23:31 | Report abuse |
  9. Joe

    So if I gt my pinhead VP canned I'll loose weight! Done! (by the way in response to th article, no doi!)

    March 15, 2012 at 22:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. ryder_ted

    Stop stressing at work folks–geesh. Just get some sudafed and a few household chemicals and make some meth. If you only take 10mg a day orally you can focus like a sob and lose weight like crazy. Don't snort it or shoot it though because you will instantly be addicted. Cycle it with ritalin every 3 weeks. One 3 week round of ritalin followed by a 3 week round of meth (prescribed for adhd and weight loss by the way).

    Take plenty of fish oil and you'll be healthy as horse. Don't believe the media.

    March 15, 2012 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • unowhoitsme

      Retalin is speed, which several kids are on to "control" them. It permanently alters the mind. Drugs lead to another addiction. Bad decision.

      March 16, 2012 at 07:11 | Report abuse |
  11. Captain Obvious

    Seriously who gives these people money? YOU MEAN STRESS CAN CAUSE OVEREATING? This is a NEW study?

    Last year there was a study that said that obese kids are more likely to get picked on.

    I really hope that none of my tax dollars are going to actually "discover" this stuff.

    Here's a few theories (they aren't proved until somebody sinks money into a study):
    People who breath oxygen have a 100% mortality rate.
    People who suffer from obesity are less likely to exercise.
    Non-English speaking adults less likely to earn a degree.
    Car accidents are largely caused by negligent drivers.

    Send me a check and I will send proof of all of those facts.

    March 15, 2012 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maddmoizill

      I would like to know where to apply for a grant to study the damage caused by using hydrochloric acid to clean underneath one's fingernails.

      March 15, 2012 at 23:34 | Report abuse |
  12. John

    Did the authors discuss the units for emotion? How many units of emotion did the women have that became obese compared to the women that did not become obese?

    The dieting, snack, candy, and lard filled food industries would like you to believe that high calorie foods do not have any effect on your weight gain. I have noticed that as soon as anyone begins to lose weight, they can quickly be turned back around to gaining it, if only they can be confused enough to forget what caused them to gain weight in the first place: high calorie foods, being told to enjoy them as a "treat", that they're "comfort foods", because "you deserve it", and it will calm your hunger before your next meal.

    No, what they're not saying is that those foods will make you fat.

    People, women, men, it is OK to be hungry before a meal. It is OK to eat normal tasting food. The treat they are offering you, will make you fat. If you eat that treat, you are gaining weight. If you gain weight, it was your choice to ignore the calories in the treat. It was your choice to stuff yourself. It was your choice to get fat. You can continue to grow fatter, or you can lose it. I did. It took a long time, but it's worth it, believe me, it is worth the effort to figure it out, and do what you need to do to go back to normal size.
    It's also less expensive.

    March 16, 2012 at 03:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. John

    It's hard to believe that more people haven't caught on to this yet, that the food industries make huge amounts of dollars if they can just divert you from what you need to know, that those snack, comfort, emotional, luxerious, and other terms used for food, are there to make them money, at the expense of you getting fat. They do not want you to know what makes you fat: too many calories per day. If you have too many calories consumed per day, you will grow in size, your fat cells will expand, and more fat cells are created in your body to hold all those excess calories you're consuming. That is what you need to know, but it's what they don't want you to know, because you'll stop buying their high calorie foods, and stop buying the diet programs they sell you after you get fat. If you stop buying, they lose profits.

    It's all money, and them trying to get what ever money you have, without a care about what it does to you, or all the medical treatments and drugs you'll later have to buy again when your body goes south from all the weight issues put onto you.

    Open your eyes people, look at for what it is. Don't be taken in. it's your quality of life they're playing games with.

    March 16, 2012 at 03:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • VladT

      "They're" not doing anything to quality of life. I can advertise that committing suicide is fun all I want, but it takes someone else making the decision to pull the trigger. The evil food industry doesn't make us buy ding dongs and ho hos ( with apologies to Hostess ), it is us. Stop blaming "evil corporations."


      March 16, 2012 at 06:15 | Report abuse |
    • John

      VladT, exactly how will they profit if you commit suicide?

      It's all about selling high calorie food products that will make you fat, because normal food doesn't make a lot of profit when every local grocery store has locally grown food. Then telling you that you can't do anything about getting fat, that it's emotional, that you're fat because you have no choice about it, so eat up, high calorie foods make you feel better, that you deserve it.

      The truth is, you don't deserve it, you'll realize that after you get fat, you didn't deserve getting fat, you deserved someone telling you to avoid those foods, or you will get fat. But we all know there's no money to be made in saying the truth.

      March 16, 2012 at 06:39 | Report abuse |
  14. Just maybe

    Maybe overeating is linked to education. Those who lack one end up doing menial jobs, which create conditions where one feels drained, under-appreciated, and that their efforts don't matter. If I was inspecting golf balls all day with a b/itchy boss, I'd be fat as a pig.

    March 16, 2012 at 07:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kana

      It's not just those low wage menial jobs/ Work related stress is quite prominent elsewhere. For instance I work for an "International" computer and services company that practices what they call job redistribution. In other words we the US worker train our foreign replacements so our job can be shipped to another country. Our manufacturing division workers work a 12 hour alternate work day schedule. There are two day shifts and two night shifts. These employees had their wages reduced by 20%. Other employees had the job levels reduced because of restructuring not performance. This large "International" company has a large population of IT workers. This company is lobbying for the Computer Professionals Update Act, S. 1747. This Act will strip IT workers from receiving overtime compensation. IT workers include those that perform Server\network administration to the PC tech who installs your printer or your home wireless system.
      Not to mention the ever looming layoffs aka Resource Action.
      Job stress, what job stress.....?

      March 16, 2012 at 09:17 | Report abuse |
  15. smartaz

    Three words: Office Fight Club

    March 16, 2012 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. texgirl2762

    Really, CNN? Duh.

    March 16, 2012 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Susan

    I hope no taxpayer money was wasted for this exercise in mastering the obvious.

    March 16, 2012 at 09:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. The Jackdaw

    No kidding. In other news, study shows that humans need oxygen to breathe.

    March 16, 2012 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Kevin

    It may sometimes seem to be obvious and a waste of time, however there have been several such studies on diet and nutrition that have contradicted what many would hold as conventional wisdom and given great insight into our behaviors when it comes to gaining weight.

    March 17, 2012 at 21:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Susie

    I totally relate to the "retail chewtoy" analogy. This article describes me, as well. All others can ridicule this articles validity all you want, the bottom line is- this is a real issue and does exist...and it's not going to go away by ignoring or denying it. This is an issue of the "business establishments" mentality, respect and honoring the real personal and health needs of all people, which it does not do. This is an "emotional disfunction"- eating disorder, and i do not use this term lightly, and they don't want to be bothered fixing it, it is too much effort and cost. So, there it is...like it or not.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
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    I just visited your seiwbte and just wanted to say hats off to you and the work you are doing. This seems like a great initiative and should be incorporated in all western societies. Something needs to change to stop this cycle. I hope elkingston is doing well now.Kim

    March 27, 2012 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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