Writer and Nutritionist, Belinda Mann, investigates the relationship between stress and binge eating.

In the world of health and nutrition, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a holistic approach is the best way forward. Focusing on calories alone has long been seen as a defunct approach to wellness and weight loss as it doesn’t take into account the complexities of how different foods affect our hormones or the impact that our external environment also has on our biochemistry. Stress, for example, is a major player for consideration and studies are revealing the effect of workplace stress on our eating habits.

The topic of stress in the workplace is often discussed. British office politics dictate that we “Keep Calm & Carry On” but the result of not dealing with stress is that, in the long term, it can lead to occupational burnout (characterised by exhaustive fatigue, cynicism, and lost occupational self-respect due to chronic work stress). This stress can manifest within the body in many different ways including emotional and uncontrolled eating, especially in women.

Food is often thought of as just fuel, but we all know eating can be more than that. Emotional eating is on the rise and work-related stress seems to be a large contributing factor. A study of 230 working women found that those “experiencing burnout at baseline had significantly higher scores in emotional eating and uncontrolled eating than did those without burnout.” There are surprisingly few studies on this topic and I think that as more studies of this nature emerge, the trend between work-related stress and burnout increases, emotional and uncontrolled eating in women will become more apparent.

So the old adage “Keep Calm & Carry On” often manifests itself as “Keep Calm & later on eat a tub of Haagen-Dazs”. It’s not healthy on so many levels. The stress response has evolved from caveman times to help keep us safe from mostly physically threats that only use to happen very occasionally. When stressed our bodies call out for sugar and fat to fuel as in a physical sense so we can escape danger. That same response in the office environment is tragically out of place. Rather than running away from our boss or colleague, we tend to sit stewing in our chair whilst stress hormones, sugar and fat storm around our body.

So, what to do? Stress release is important – don’t let it build up. It’s often said that there is no room for feelings at work, but if they’re not dealt with they can take up space in your day and effect relationships. One recommended way to deal with stress is exercise – a gym session or even a walk can help substantially. As tempting as it is, try to resist the urge to raid the biscuit tin, as this only provides a short-term fix that leaves your body in nutritional debt in the long run – as these foods deplete the body of nutrients and tire out your adrenal glands (which produce the stress hormones) even more. So, by all means, keep calm, but de-stress and let go before carrying on.

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words by Belinda Mann