Lunch time or comfort break?

Perkbox a UK based employee benefits provider commissioned research into the incidence of comfort eating with male and female workers and found women are nearly twice as likely to comfort eat in order to deal with stress than men.

Almost 50 per cent of women surveyed said that stress makes them want to comfort eat compared with just 26 per cent of men.

So what kind of comfort food hits the mark for stressed workers?

It is no real surprise that new research confirms that it is the high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods that satisfy comfort food cravings. The science behind this shows that these types of meals and snacks fight stress by stemming the tide of stress-related hormones that are released when people are continually exposed to stress.

Of course, this way of managing stress comes at a high price as the extra pounds can pile on and waist-lines expand exponentially.

In a study undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers investigated the effects of comfort foods on stressed-out rats. The research team found that when rats exposed to high levels of stress ate foods high in carbohydrates and fat, an unknown component in the foods acted like a brake on the cascade of stress-related hormones,  that are related to the “fight or flight” syndrome.

Researcher Mary F. Dallman  of the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues said, ’There is no doubt that eating high fat and carbohydrate comfort foods cheers people up and may make them feel and function better.” 

‘However, habitual use of these foods, perhaps stimulated by abnormally elevated concentrations of cortisol as a consequence of underlying stressors, results in abdominal obesity,” they write. Unfortunately, this type of obesity is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.’

Where does that leave workers suffering from decision fatigue who eat the same lunch every day for often years at a time – especially if their food choices are sub-consciously made to help them deal with their work-related stress?

While it was noted by Perkbox’s research that men were less likely than women to turn to comfort eat they are more likely than women to turn to potentially harmful alternatives – such as coffee, nicotine and alcohol – to cope with stress.

Almost 1 in 4 of men will do this during times of stress compared to just 13 per cent of women. Chieu Cao, CMO & Co-Founder  of PerkBox said,

‘Relying on stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine – all of which, ironically, actually contribute to stress, tension and anxiety – is also a common but unhealthy method of stress relief. And it is especially interesting to see how much more of an issue this is amongst the male workforce.”

Cao continued,: ‘Overeating or turning to alcohol, caffeine or nicotine can have negative effects on our health. There are numerous benefits that businesses can offer which promote physical and mental health, yet are still strongly desired by staff. For example, exercise through the form of; office sports teams, free or discounted gym membership, free yoga classes and mindfulness are all ‘perks’ that play into healthy coping mechanisms for stress, yet are relatively inexpensive for businesses to set up.’

If your company has put in place activities to support better stress management it would be great to read about it in the comments box below. Alternatively, if you are struggling with your stress levels then book an obligation free discovery call with me to find out how you can better manage your stress and be happier in your time at work and away from work.




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