Stress Eating at Work: 5 Ways to Eat Healthier At Work
Eating at work can be a stressful situation in and of itself, especially if you share an eating space with coworkers and supervisors. Chowing down during a limited lunch break can also make you feel stressed or anxious, leading to unhealthy eating decisions. However, it is entirely possible to kick the stress eating habit and eat healthier at work.
Eating healthier at work starts with recognizing your bad habits and workplace stressors. It’s also crucial to drink plenty of water, eat breakfast, bring healthy snacks with you, and set aside time to eat. Preparing your meals ahead of time can also help you build healthy at-work eating habits.
This guide will address the causes of stress eating and offer multiple potential solutions to keep you fit, refreshed, and full while you’re at work. While it might be impossible to make work a completely stress-free environment, you can make your lunchtime a blissful, healthy escape from stressors and annoyances.
What Causes Stress Eating?
Stress eating, also known as emotional eating, affects about 1 in 4 American adults. It occurs when an individual experiences an overwhelming sense of:
It’s also possible to stress eat when you’re bored or overtired. Typically, the first signs of emotional eating are obesity or being overweight. Many people do not realize that they’re stress eating until they’ve gained a significant amount of weight or experienced weight-related health issues.
Often, emotional eating begins in childhood and carries on through adolescence and into adulthood unless treated early. As children, we often lack the experience necessary to make wise judgements and decisions. When we experience stress, it’s natural to scream, throw a tantrum, cry, or find other ways to release pent-up frustration.
However, these reactions are often punished, resulting in stressful emotions that don’t have a healthy outlet. When pushed to extremes, children with anxiety who are not allowed to express their emotions in a healthy way can develop bizarre coping habits. One of these potential malformed habits is stress eating.
If your childhood was marred by a lack of security, comfort, and regularity, you may be more prone to emotional eating. That’s because eating is one of the first things that a child learns to control. When consumed with overwhelming emotions, it can be easier to simply sit down and enjoy handfuls of tasty snacks rather than confront and overcome those painful feelings.
What Biological Factors Contribute to Stress Eating?
When a person’s stress response is triggered (also known as the fight-or-flight reaction), their body releases a flood of chemicals and hormones. This powerful biological cocktail initially causes feelings of hunger to dissipate, allowing the body to focus on more immediate dangers or stressors.
It can also increase a person’s heart rate and minimise their ability to process sensations of pain or discomfort. However, when the stress response is triggered repeatedly throughout the day, the body can suffer from excess cortisol production. This hormone can lead to significant weight gain, diabetes, and Cushing syndrome.
How Can You Recognize Stress Eating?
Recording your eating habits is a fantastic way to determine whether you’re eating because you’re hungry or if you’re eating because you’re feeling stressed out. Whenever you enjoy a meal or a snack, take a moment to write down what you’re eating and how you feel before taking your first bite. You may notice emotion-related trends in your eating habits.
For many American adults, workplace stressors account for a reasonable amount of their daily or weekly frustration or anxiety. Once you’ve determined that you’ve been snacking while stressed, you can begin to take the right steps to changing your eating habits and becoming an all-around healthier individual.
Fortunately, one of the best ways to quit emotional eating and become healthier is to drink more water and stay hydrated throughout the day.
Drink More Water
Up to 60% of the average human body is water. However, we’re constantly losing this water via our sweat, urine, and respiration. Sexual activity can also cause the body to produce fluids that drain the body of some of its moisture. If this life-sustaining substance isn’t replenished often enough, our bodies begin to suffer and experience a wide range of unpleasant symptoms.
The human body will fail and perish more quickly when dehydrated than when starved. The average person could only survive for about five days without water, which is about half the time it takes to perish by starvation.
Proper hydration is essential to nearly every biological function that sustains life, so the benefits of drinking more water cannot be understated.
Benefits of Proper Hydration
There are tons of benefits associated with drinking plenty of clean, fresh water. Consuming H2O is crucial to our health and continued survival. Proper hydration ensures that:
- Oxygen travels throughout the body
- The body can absorb and process vital minerals and nutrients
- Waste can quickly and effectively exit the body
- The body can regulate its temperature
- Urinary infections and kidney issues occur less frequently
- The skin is hydrated, plump, and free of blemishes
- Cognitive ability remains consistent or improves
If you don’t have a work-friendly water bottle, now might be the right time to invest in one. The Contigo Water Bottle has a spill-proof latch, a lifetime warranty, and it’s fantastically affordable. It’s difficult to find a better basic water bottle, though hot beverages are better suited to thermoses.
The cost of purchasing a new water bottle is far less than the cost of suffering from acute or chronic dehydration. Both types can put a tremendous amount of stress on your body, resulting in more sick days and a general feeling of malaise.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Recognizing the symptoms of dehydration is essential to preventing it. After all, it can be a challenge to avoid something that you’re unfamiliar with. After reviewing the following symptoms of acute and chronic dehydration, try to take a moment and reflect on moments that you’ve felt dehydrated.
If you can recognize or recall more than one or two instances of dehydration, it’s worthwhile to make a commitment to drinking more water and maintaining better hydration. Water is crucial to enjoying and improving your overall health, so there’s no better time to start replacing your afternoon soda, tea, coffee, or juice.
Let’s get into the symptoms of dehydration so that you know what to look for and avoid.
Acute dehydration tends to happen very quickly. It often affects those who are outside in hot, sunny weather. However, acute dehydration can also occur after:
- Periods of intense exercise
- Consuming diuretics (including coffee)
- Suffering from a fever
- Experiencing bouts of diarrhea
- Excessive alcohol consumption
This type of dehydration has a rapid onset and occurs in individuals who typically maintain an adequate level of hydration. When left untreated, acute dehydration can result in a wide variety of symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
- Dark, foul-smelling urine
- Mental fogginess or confusion
- Loss of balance
It’s vital to drink small amounts of water very slowly when suffering from acute dehydration. Swallowing too much water too quickly can result in vomiting or digestive upset. It’s also important to seek shade or cool shelter if you experience dehydration after spending time outside in the sun.
Chronic dehydration can be more difficult to diagnose than acute dehydration. This is because it occurs over weeks, months, or even years.
When an individual is constantly dehydrated, they may begin to experience the symptoms of chronic dehydration. Chronic dehydration often results in a more extreme expression of symptoms, including:
- Chronic urinary tract infections
- Chronic kidney infections
- Chronic bladder infections
- Chronic kidney stones
- Consistent and extreme thirst
- Chronic dry mouth
- Excessively dry skin
- Chronic headaches
As you can imagine, the entire body takes a toll when an individual doesn’t keep themselves properly hydrated. That’s why one of the greatest things you can do for your health and your mind is incorporate more water into your daily routine.
That said, starting the day off right can be nearly just as crucial. If you’ve been skipping breakfast, you may want to rethink your morning ritual.
Start the Day with Breakfast
About 25% of all Americans skip breakfast every morning. While this might not seem like such a big deal while you’re rushing out the door, it inevitably leads to painful hunger pangs that disrupt your workflow.
If you’re able to wake up an hour earlier than you currently do in order to make and eat a healthy breakfast, you’ll experience a longer burst of energy that lasts until the afternoon. Of course, due to long commutes or familial responsibilities, it may not always be possible to set the alarm an hour ahead of your typical wake-up time.
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy a wholesome and filling breakfast. If you’re short on time in the mornings, you can prepare some simple breakfast meals ahead of time and reap the deliciously nutritional benefits.
Check out some of the following breakfast ideas for a little inspiration and guidance.
Healthy Breakfast Ideas
While milk and cereal can be a filling breakfast, especially when accompanied by a cup of greek yogurt or a slice of whole wheat toast, it’s not a particularly exciting morning meal. If you’re not accustomed to eating breakfast, you may need to generate a little hype around your newly-integrated eating habit.
These unique breakfast ideas can help point you in the right direction. Besides, they’re all tasty, affordable, and straightforward, helping to save you precious time and money.
Egg and Avocado Muffin
If you own a skillet and a spatula, you can enjoy the creamy, protein-packed wonder of an egg and avocado muffin. Unlike dessert-like muffins, this breakfast treat is low in sugar and high in healthy fats and fibers. To enjoy this sandwich-like dish, you only need:
- Eggs or egg whites
- Olive oil or butter
- An avocado
- An English muffin
You’re welcome to add fresh spinach, tasty spices, or low-fat, low-sugar condiments and dressings. However, the base set of ingredients always ensures for a reliably delectable breakfast muffin.
Begin by slicing open an English muffin. If you have a toaster, you can select your desired settings and toast your muffin slices. If you’d rather use your skillet, be sure to heat it on a very low setting. Place your slices so that the nooks and crannies are face down on the pan. Check your muffin slices often to keep them from burning.
Safely remove the slices from your toaster or pan. If you’d like to add a condiment to your muffin, go ahead and apply the desired amount on both of the toasted slices. Be sure to avoid adding an excess amount of wet ingredients, as this will result in a soggy, sloppy breakfast muffin.
After you’ve dressed your bread, slice open your avocado and remove the pit. Use a spoon to scoop the avocado fruit out from the peel, or use a knife to cut the avocado into uniform slices. Be sure to remove the outer skin before layering these pieces on your bread. If you use a spoon, you can spread the avocado onto your slices.
Now it’s time for your egg. To keep this breakfast healthy, it’s a good idea to use either fresh or boxed egg whites. A metal or silicone pan-safe cookie cutter or egg shaper can help you achieve a perfectly circular cooked egg.
You should apply a tiny amount of oil or butter to your skillet and increase the heat to medium-low. If you enjoy scrambled egg whites, add air to your eggs by pouring them in a small bowl and whip them with a fork or whisk. If you’re more accustomed to fried eggs, you can pour the whites directly onto the oil or butter and let them cook.
When the eggs are no longer runny, transfer them to one of your muffin slices. Salt and pepper to taste and enjoy. This muffin can be wrapped in a reusable napkin or disposable paper towel for increased portability.
If you own a blender, you may want to take advantage of breakfast smoothies. These are easy to make, exceptionally nutritious, and completely customizable. Simply choose your favorite fruits and vegetables, your preferred type of milk, and a little protein powder to maximize the taste and benefits of breakfast smoothies.
There’s no way to include all of the wonderful breakfast smoothie recipes and ideas within the body of this article. However, there are thousands of unique combinations you can try.
We often become numbed or bored by our daily routines, especially if they’re relentlessly repetitive. Breakfast smoothies add an exciting variety that can make your mornings more intriguing.
Make-Ahead Parfait Cups
You can craft make-ahead morning parfaits with your favorite mug or a plastic disposable cup. Transparent cups are preferable because they allow you a front-row view of your parfait’s layered glory. This breakfast option is simple, healthy, and fantastically tasty.
To create, gather your favorite berries and yogurt and begin layering them in a cup. When your layers reach the top of the cup, cover the cup with plastic wrap or a lid. This will keep the fruit and yogurt from going bad overnight. Then, stick the parfait into the fridge and get some rest.
The greatest danger associated with make-ahead parfait cups is forgetfulness. You may accidentally forget about your tasty homemade breakfast if you’re rushing out the door. Setting an alarm or using colorful notes can help you remember to enjoy the literal fruits of your late-night labor.
Bring Healthy Snacks
In addition to developing a breakfast habit, you may also want to work on remembering to bring healthy snacks to work. If you’re not comfortable using a standard padded lunchbox, you can always invest in a stylish, adult-friendly lunch kit.
The Zojirushi Ms. Bento Lunch Jar Set is a fantastic alternative to children’s lunchboxes. It includes three vacuum-insulated food jars and a nifty carrying tote, ensuring that your food stays at a safe temperature and doesn’t suffer from air exposure. You can utilize the different-sized jars for various snacks to munch on throughout the day.
When it comes to bringing healthy snacks to work, the greatest challenge besides remembering to bring the snacks is choosing which ones to eat. Fortunately, there are hundreds of potential snack combinations to try and enjoy.
Tasty Work-Friendly Snacks
There are lots of different snacks that you could take with you to the office. Depending on your work environment, you may want to choose foods that require little or zero preparation. Some of the best and simplest work-friendly snacks include:
- Raw nuts
- Dark chocolate
- Raw granola pieces
- Unsweetened raisins
- Unsalted pita chips
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Unsweetened dried fruit
- Unsalted whole wheat crackers
All of these snacks are small enough to fit into even the tiniest lunch kits. They don’t require refrigeration, preparation, or heat. Therefore, they’re the perfect at-desk snacks for anyone, even those who find themselves constantly on their feet.
As with breakfast, it’s important to keep your work snacks varied to generate continual interest and excitement. Variety can also help ensure that you’re consuming adequate amounts of micronutrients. Overall, these snacks can help you enjoy a healthier workday.
But it’s important to choose your snack time wisely. Eating and working simultaneously can hinder your work performance and result in a more stressful lunch or snack break. Taking the extra few minutes to separate work from eating can do wonders for your stress levels.
Multitasking has its time and place. However, when you’re dealing with multiple stressors and impending responsibilities, multitasking can result in decreased focus and heightened feelings of anxiety or mental anguish. Trying to do too much too quickly is one of the best ways to achieve burn out.
To avoid this situation and keep your mental and physical health in optimal condition, you’ll need to separate working and eating whenever possible. You may also want to eat away from your desk. If your workplace has a comfortable outdoor seating area, you can always choose to enjoy some pleasant weather while you eat your lunch or a quick snack.
It’s crucial to separate your work tasks and your eating due to subconscious associations. Our brains are fantastically gifted processors that rely on patterns and previous experiences to make sense of the sensory input and stimuli. They make associations that can be difficult to consciously break or manipulate. For example, if you often feel stressed while sitting at your desk, you’ll have a more challenging time trying to relax and enjoy your lunch while at the desk.
Moving to a location that has no associations (or only positive associations) can help you find a little peace and lower your stress levels. You’ll also be able to focus on your meal and all of the wonderful flavors and tastes. The result is healthier, anxiety-reducing eating habits that help keep your workspace clean and crumb-free while reducing tension in your body and mind.
Preparing your at-work meals in advance can help you save time and reduce stress. That’s because pre-prepared lunches and snacks are easy to grab and take along with you in the morning. Rather than stressing to make it through lengthy morning-rush coffee lines and traffic just to grab a bite to eat, you can take it easy and enjoy the simplicity of pre-made breakfast and lunch.
Snacks are the easiest things to portion and package. You can reuse plastic sandwich bags to reduce waste and keep foods safe from going stale or getting moldy. Lunch can often be prepared and packed away before bedtime. If you’re planning on enjoying an afternoon salad, soup, or sandwich, you’ll do well to stick your premade lunch in the fridge before hitting the hay. Of course, you’ll need to remember to grab that lunch before heading out the door.
Even breakfast can benefit from a little advanced preparation. If you’re into breakfast smoothies, you can chop and freeze your favorite ingredients beforehand, keeping them clearly bagged and labeled in freezer-safe containers or bags. When the sun rises, all you need to do is chuck a handful of your favorites into a blender, whip them into a desirable consistency, and hit the road.
You may be surprised at just how much time and energy you save by taking the time to prepare your work meals in advance. Meal planning and preparation can become a weekly or nightly ritual that’s both comforting and therapeutic.
In addition to all of the activities and habits above, you can also choose to eat healthier at work by targeting the cause of your stress eating. Becoming more self-aware and mindful of your emotions and thought patterns can help you learn to naturally lower stress levels and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Emotional eating typically stems from poor coping habits that develop during childhood. Changing these coping mechanisms is vital to reducing the urge to eat when upset or concerned. Meditation and mindfulness can lower your body’s cortisol production, resulting in healthy weight loss, improved mental clarity, and an overall increase in fitness.
Some of the key tenets of mindfulness include:
- Practicing patience with yourself and with the world around you
- Trusting in your own emotions and intuitions to reveal deeper meaning and self-instruction
- Accepting that there are many things you cannot control
- Being present in the moment rather than worrying over the past or future
- Letting go of repetitive thoughts or frustrations
It takes constant vigilance to become a more mindful person. Taking time to recognize negative thinking or repetition thought patterns when they occur is often the first step to stopping them. When you can begin to remove yourself from your internal monologue and recognize poor behavior, you can implement coping techniques to alter your stress levels.
If you find yourself thinking about an upcoming deadline, to the point that it’s interfering with your ability to complete your work effectively, mindfulness can help. Simply recognize that you’re experiencing harmful and unhelpful patterns of thinking, and concentrate on the current moment. Feel the air on your skin and listen to noises in your environment.
Do not let intrusive thoughts enter your mind as you continue to concentrate on the present. The longer you are able to sustain this focus, the more relief you’ll experience from negative thinking. Mindfulness, as with the other items included in this guide, requires plenty of practice.
However, making meditation a habit can do wonders for anyone who suffers from anxiety or extreme bouts of stress.
Now that you’re aware of what stress eating is, how it develops, and how to tell if you’re guilty of emotional eating, you can take the necessary steps to break that habit and form healthier ones. You can eat healthier at work by replacing sodas and juices with water, starting the day with a healthy breakfast, and bringing healthy, easy-to-prepare snacks with you to work.
It can also be helpful to set aside time for peaceful eating and prepare your meals in advance. Finally, you can target the source of your stress eating by practicing at-work mindfulness as often as possible.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS
- Amazon: Contigo Jackson Reusable Water Bottle
- Amazon: Zojirushi Stainless Ms. Bento Steel Vacuum Lunch Jar
- American Psychological Association: Stress and Eating
- Healthline: What Does It Mean When Dehydration Becomes Long-Term and Serious?
- : Science Says Monotasking – Not Multitasking – Is the Secret to Getting Things Done. Here Are 8 Ways to Do It
- Mayo Clinic: Dehydration
- MedicalNewsToday: How do I stop stress eating?
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Why don’t more people eat breakfast? A biological perspective
- Portland State University: 7 Attitudes of Mindfulness
- Rehydration Project: Why is Dehydration so Dangerous?
- S. Geological Survey: The Water in You: Water and the Human Body
- WebMD: What Is Cortisol?
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