Can a Desk Job Make You Fat?
Can doing the standard 9:00 to 5:00 at a desk every week make you overweight? Maybe working in a knowledge-based work environment increases our chances of gaining weight? There’s new research to suggest that yes, it could.
According to two studies by Canadian researchers Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput and Dr. Angelo Tremblay, the stress caused by meeting a deadline affects not only the food we eat, but also how we perceive our meal choices.
One of the studies, published in the journal Physiology and Behaviour had 15 women read an excerpt of text. They were then given a 45 minute deadline to draft a response by computer. Once they completed the task, the women were offered access to a free buffet lunch. A control group was asked to sit quietly for 45 minutes, and then given access to the same buffet.
The women who performed the computer work consumed an extra 230 calories at the buffet lunch vs. the control group who spent the 45 minutes doing nothing. Food logs kept by the study participants indicated the computer workers did not compensate for the lunch indulgence by eating any less during the rest of the day.
The group who wrote the computer essay also experienced mental and physical changes that the control group did not. They had higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, circulating in their blood, though they reported feeling no more stressed than the control group. The computer users ate more of everything at the buffet, not just fatty or carbohydrate rich foods, which the body tends to crave when stressed. The test subjects not only didn’t recognize they were under stress, they also didn’t register they were overeating.
A second, follow up study found that women who engage in similar knowledge-based work not only ate more lunch than a control group, but also saw their blood sugar levels fluctuate more significantly during the work period than the control group’s did.
Both studies give a strong indication that it’s time to pay closer attention to the impact desk jobs have on our eating habits. Here are a few tips on how to cope with desk job food cravings:
- Keep tempting food out of reach so you won’t be drawn to it when you’re under deadline pressure
- Keep a food journal handy to track your eating patterns
-Keep healthy snacks handy to keep your blood sugar levels stable when you’re not able to leave your desk for a break
-Step away from your computer when it’s time for lunch. This helps to break the cycle of mindless eating that occurs while you’re eating and staring at a screen.