Why Hating Your Job Could Make You Overeat
American women are some of the most stressed out in the world. They're also the fattest. A new Finnish study suggests that those two things may be connected. The researchers found that women who suffer work burnout are more likely to eat emotionally and uncontrollably.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, surveyed 230 employed women aged 30 to 55 and found that 22 percent of them suffered some degree of work burnout: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and an impaired sense of professional accomplishment. It's that wearying feeling that your work is pointless, and you're no good at it anyway.
Those who experienced work burnout were far more likely to engage in "emotional eating," eating when stressed, anxious or upset, aside from when physically hungry. It's a kind of craving that, unlike hunger, comes on suddenly, and is often targeted intensely toward a particular food. Frequently ice cream and cookies. And very regularly, potato chips.
The women with burnout were also far more likely to engage in the similarly unhealthy, practice of "uncontrolled eating" -- when you can't stop eating, although your body, and even your mind, wishes you would.
The study was part of a year-long trial about healthy lifestyle changes. Twelve months later, the women without burnout had cut back on their uncontrolled eating. The women with burnout had not.
While several studies have linked emotional and uncontrolled eating to weight gain and obesity, the researchers actually found the opposite. At the start, half of the women with burnout had a healthy weight, compared to just a third of the women without burnout.
One of the researchers, Nina Nevanpera, told Reuters that the women with burnout had a higher level of education on average. For various reasons, more educated women have healthier weights. But if these women continue their habit of emotional eating, the researchers warn that there's a good chance of weight gain in the future.
It's also very possible that the types of women who are more likely to react emotionally to their jobs are also more likely to be drawn emotionally to food. One extensive meta-analysis found that an employee's personality was strongly related to burnout, especially his or her levels of self-esteem, emotional stability, extraversion, optimism and positivity.
Either way, it's nice to know that victims of work burnout cannot only blame their boss for their levels of stress, anxiety and depression, but also for the pint of ice cream that they're going to eat tonight.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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