Is Your Job Making You Fat?

Stress-eating, mindless munching, zero exercise...Is your job causing you to pack on the pounds?

You already know that stress at your workplace could make you go nuts, but did you know that it could also add inches to your waistline?  “Blame it on fast-paced modern living,” says Dr. Anita Vohra, a practicing counselor who draws the connection between stress and eating. As we log in more hours at the office, we are left with no time for exercise. Then, when workplace stress is at its peak, we turn to junk food and other fattening treats for comfort.

To ensure that your work doesn’t go to your waistline, you can start by identifying the workplace weight-gain triggers and then fighting them so you won’t be burdened with extra pounds.

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Occupational Hazard 1: Skipping Breakfast to Arrive Early at Work

“My boss is a stickler for time,” says Sharon, 28, an accountant. “So, to avoid running late, I skip breakfast most mornings. I figure that this way, I could stick to my diet, but also make it to work on time.” Then again, Sharon is wrong. In fact, missing breakfast to avoid your boss’ wrath might seem like the logical thing to do, but here’s the deal: When you pass up breakfast, you’re asking to pile on the pounds in the long run.

You see, if your last meal was at nine p.m. the night before and—after bypassing breakfast—you don’t eat until lunch at two p.m., you’re going 17 hours without eating. By the time lunchtime rolls in, your body is going to be starved and you’re bound to eat more than you would if you’d had a satisfying breakfast. Worse still, you might be tempted to stuff yourself with a bag of chips even before lunchtime! More proof to say yes to a morning meal: A recent study found that eating breakfast regularly was a common characteristic of people who lost weight and kept it off.

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Occupational Hazard 2: The Project That’s Freaking You Out

A stressful project does more than just make you crabby—it can also make you fat! “There’s lots of evidence showing that stress can cause weight gain around the middle,” says David Cameron-Smith, an associate professor from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. “When we’re stressed, our adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol, which makes you store fat just in case you have to go for a lengthy time without food.”

Stress can also make you crave for fatty, salty, and sugary food. Likewise, when you’re under consistent pressure and feel anxious because of it, your blood sugar levels may alter, causing mood swings, fatigue, and conditions like hyperglycemia. What happens next: Your body automatically craves fatty, sugary foods so it can raise the blood sugar levels.

The next time you’re stressed at work, don’t treat nervous energy with food or drink. Instead, try two minutes of deep breathing to remind yourself that food is not a solution to your problems. If you suddenly feel the need to eat, take a brisk walk around the office until the urge to binge passes.

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Occupational Hazard 3: Getting to Work is a Looong Drive

A long commute home makes it easy to get into the habit of buying chips, sweets, or chocolate for the journey back home. Then again, even if you do manage to avoid temptation, you’re so overcome with hunger that you gobble up any food you happen to see when you get home. The solution: Avoid filling up on junk food, instead prepare beforehand and pack healthy snacks for your journey. Pack a banana, a cheese sandwich, or a handful of nuts. Empty handed? Get yourself a strip of sugar-free chewing gum. According to research, food that requires chewing helps turn off hunger signals. Bonus: Recent studies show that chewing gum can also help ease stress.

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Occupational Hazard 4: You’re Working ’til Three in the Morning

Take note: Work fatigue, overtime hours, and lack of sleep may raise the risk of gaining weight. A University of Chicago study found that after two nights of sleeping less, people experienced an 18 percent drop in leptin, a hormone that tells your brain it’s full and doesn’t need to eat anymore. Meanwhile, the chemicals that tell your brain you’re hungry rose by 28 percent. Another study in the International Journal Of Obesity, found that high work fatigue and working overtime were associated with weight gain, with almost a quarter of all overworked women saying they had gained weight in the last year. This could be attributed to the fact that most of them were too tired to prepare healthy meals.    

It’s okay to have to work overtime every now and then. However, if late nights have become a regular part of your work life, speak to your boss. “Meet with her and say, ‘I know there are times when I have to stay late, but I have other commitments, and on those days I’d like to leave at a decent time,’” says don Gabor, author of Words That Win. Also, initiate some order at work. Consciously cut out the amount of time you spend chatting during lunch—that contributes to having to stay late to complete projects.

If you absolutely can’t avoid working late, politely decline invitations for nightcaps with colleagues and get home as soon as you can. When you’re tired, you’re likely to think of biting into a cheesy slice of pizza over having a healthy salad because the calorie rush makes you feel better. We don’t have a foolproof solution for this—it essentially depends on your self-control—but we suggest deleting the phone numbers of any place that delivers junk.

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Occupational Hazard 5: Eating Lunch When it’s Time for Dinner         

Studies show that shift workers are more prone to becoming overweight. One contributing factor may be that they eat when their body clocks are preparing to slow down. If your job usually leads you to skipping lunch and eating a large dinner instead, you’re bound to pile on the pounds, too. This happens because your built-in body clock is put out of sync by erratic eating, which confuses your metabolism, making it less effective. Also, when you deny your body a meal, it goes into a state of starvation and converts any available food to fat that is then stored in your body for later use.

To keep your weight in check, eat your main meal in the afternoon, and have light and healthy snacks or mini meals for evening breaks at work—research suggests that our bodies may not process carbohydrates as efficiently after eight p.m., when our digestive enzymes and metabolic rates are lower.

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Occupational Hazard 6: Your Office is Super Noisy      

Construction workers drilling away close to your workplace? Colleagues louder than a live band? Is your boss constantly screaming at people? Putting up with constant noise at work may make you more likely to reach for snacks between meals. Research from the Pennsylvania State University, showed that people exposed to more noise while solving problems ate more than those who worked in silence.

If noise outside your office building is bothering you, speak to your boss or HR department about taking action. If you’re dealing with noisy colleagues, you’re better off handling the problem yourself. Most offices allow the use of headphones, so wear a pair to keep noise out and help you concentrate better.

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Occupational Hazard 7: Being Miss Desk Potato                      

Given that most of us spend a big chunk of our day sitting at our desks, getting up only to get lunch or a snack, it’s no surprise that our chained-to-computer jobs could lead to weight gain. 

People whose work is largely conducted while sitting behind a desk, such as secretaries, lawyers, and teachers, get little physical activity during the day. “There’s a huge difference in the amount of physical activity people get in different professions,” says lead study author John Porcari, a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin. “There was almost a four-fold difference between the most active and the least active.” Bottom line: “If you’re basically at a sedentary job, you need to make it a point to get exercise during your leisure time.”

We know that finding time to work out during the morning rush or at the end of a long day isn’t easy. A simpler way out: squeezing in some fitness in the middle of workday by looking for opportunities that allow you to move. Some suggestions: take the stairs instead of the elevator or hold informal meetings during a walk outside. Just get moving.

Occupational Hazard 8: Everyone’s Got Great News to Celebrate        

Sure, it’s fabulous when a colleague celebrates his or her birthday and orders boxes of pizza or your boss takes out the team for dinner-and-drinks after completing a tough project. However, regular celebratory drink-and-eat sessions do nada for your weight. “My manager loves treating us to ‘working lunches,’” says Princess, 24, an account executive. “And while we love getting out of the office and eating great free food, these weekly eat-out sessions have led to a mucho weight-gain problem for me.”

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If it’s a colleague’s birthday and there’s cake, offer to slice the cake so no one notices if you only have a sliver. Otherwise, ask for a small piece and leave the cream filling and icing on your napkin. Stuck at a buffet? It’s easy to lose track of what you’ve eaten from a large selection of dishes, so promise yourself just one visit to the table with small portions of all you want to try. If you’re stressed, go for fruits rather than that naughty brownie. The high sugar content in the brownie is bound to give you a sugar rush and a smile—along with some extra pounds on the side.

Plus, make sure that you keep away from sinful treats. If a colleague is handing some out, take a small piece and savor the bit, then ensure the box of goodies is placed at least a couple of desks away from yours.

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