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How To Avoid Stress Eating at Work

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Whether you’re in the office or working at home, stress eating at work can be a real problem. Have you gained weight over quarantine while working at home? Stress eating may be the culprit. Learn about what causes stress eating at work and some ways to avoid or replace that behavior.

It’s easy to turn to food for comfort when you’re stressed and overwhelmed. This can be a vicious cycle that makes matters worse: the more you eat, the hungrier you get; when you’re hungry, your stress level increases because now there is an additional need to figure out what to eat next. It’s hard enough at work without also having this added pressure of needing to make healthy decisions about eating too! Here are some tips on how not to fall into this trap. 

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What Causes Stress Eating at Work?

There are many different causes that influence what happens when you’re stressed and overwhelmed with work. One thing that might lead to your stress eating is that you’re feeling deprived – where you’re not getting enough of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs. There’s also a sense of helplessness when you don’t know what else to do but eat.

The first step is figuring out what exactly triggers your desire for food in stressful situations. Is it boredom? Boredom may cause people who suffer from depression or anxiety-related disorders (such as generalized anxiety disorder) to feel anxious and want something else to take their mind off of the stress or anxiety they are feeling.

Am I Stress Eating Because I’m Bored?

If you are a person who suffers from depression or anxiety-related disorders, boredom may be a trigger for stress eating. Boredom can make your symptoms of mental illness worse by making you feel anxious and uncomfortable. You also might not have the energy to do other things to take your mind off of your anxiety and so turn back to what worked in the past – food. It can help to find ways to spend more time engaging in enjoyable activities and spending less time idle.

Am I Stress Eating Because I Hate My Job?

A few years ago, I was procrastinating on working on one of my projects because I was scared it would take a lot of effort. I was crabby about this task. Instead of working, I was making snacks and planning the lunch run! I realized my fear and crabbiness about this project was an irrational belief and I replaced it with a rational one: “Even though this project is likely to take a lot effort, it’s also going to be fun and rewarding.”

I then identified the situations and tasks that were causing me to procrastinate. I made an effort to do those things so I could stop worrying about them! Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that you need to push forward, and stop doing avoidant activities to get around doing the thing you don’t want to do or the thing you hate.

If you really hate your job, that’s another story all together. Figure that out sooner rather than later, because I can tell you from personal experience, staying in a job that you hate is not good for you.

Am I Using Food as A Reward at Work?

Try not to do this. We sometimes will get through a particularly tough meeting and think, “Wow, that was stressful, I think I deserve a treat!”. Then maybe we stop at Starbucks for a cake pop and eat it in the car. (Yes, I’ve done this!)

Instead come up with some non-food rewards that you can give yourself for either stressful days or really productive ones. Try extra time with your favorite video game or Netflix show, a night out with your significant other, or a 10 minute meditation at your desk.

Alternatives to Stress Eating While At Work

If you’re finding it difficult to stop snacking on junk food at work and/or stress eating at work, try these alternatives:

  1. Make a plan to bring lunch from home. Often we make a decision to order out lunch when we’re having a stressful day. Take that option off the table! You should Disable your Venmo account, bring a healthy lunch from home, and let everyone know that you’re not interested in takeout anymore. Bento box lunches are great for people who like to snack, because you can pack a variety of healthy foods for the day.
  2. Stock healthy snacks. Keep some healthy snacks in your desk or in the work fridge. You won’t be tempted to hit the vending machine if you have other options. Seltzer waters are a great no-calorie treat. I also like individual packets of almonds or cashews, lean meat sticks for protein, or some gluten free crackers.
  3. Get a Fidget. Fidget Toys are all the rage with kids now, but adults can totally use them too. Calm Strips are a great tool to have something tactile to touch when you’re stressed. Stress balls are always a good time at the office too.
  4. Take a Walk. Step away from what’s stressing you out and take a short walk. Go around the block, go to the restroom, or do a lap around the floor. Chances are, you’ll be refreshed and less stressed when you’re done.

Do you like discovering new, healthy snacks? Check out Urthbox, they deliver healthy snacks right to you. Have them sent right to the office, and share with your coworkers!

What if I can’t stop eating at work?

We all have certain relationships with food and eating, and while for many there are small steps that can be taken (like those listed above) to reduce the amount of stress eating done at work, for others it will be much more challenging. Learning to control stress eating at work might require some additional help.

Emotional Eating, Overeating, Binge Eating, and other abnormal eating patterns can be classified as eating disorders, and can be treated with psychological or medical interventions. You can seek help for eating disorders from a therapist, or your doctor.

Please note that this blog is not intended to provide medical advice. Speak with a professional regarding your own personal physical or mental health.

Overeaters anonymous is a peer led program for those struggling with food addiction or unhealthy eating patterns. There are likely meetings in your area.

If you’re interested in talking with a counselor from the privacy of your own home, consider Online Therapy.

It’s important to see your doctor if you feel your eating patterns are not fully under your control. Your doctor may refer you to a counselor or dietitian to help address both the mental and physical side of emotional eating.

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