I see patients concerned with their weight all the time. They’ve been cutting calories and exercising. They’re doing all the right things, but the pounds just aren’t coming off.
That’s because sometimes weight loss isn’t as simple as it seems. Many factors contribute to weight gain. Nutritional deficiencies. Sleep patterns. Most recently researchers have found a link between work stress and weight gain.
In a long-term, large-scale study, researchers periodically interviewed more than 10,000 participants about their levels of stress at work. People who reported having a high demand job along with little authority to make decisions and a low level of support were more likely to become obese. Intermittent stress at work increased the chance of obesity by 17 percent or more. Ongoing work stress increased the chances of becoming obese by up to 73 percent. 1
That’s quite an increase.
Why Work Stress Has Such an Impact on Your Weight
When I first saw this study, I was a bit stunned. But then I immediately saw that it makes sense.
Most days, we spend half the time we are awake at work, if not more. Many people that dislike their jobs feel trapped in them. After all, everyone needs an income. Even people that genuinely like their work may find that it is a source of regular stress.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure why work stress has such an impact on body weight. It may be related to hormonal imbalances created by ongoing stress. Or it could be that people facing high demands at work tend to make poorer choices when it comes to what they eat and how often they exercise. Most likely, it is a combination of these factors.
It would be wonderful if you could just walk away from your stressful job, but that’s not likely to be a practical solution. Fortunately, you aren’t helpless in the face of work stress.
How You Can Fight Back Against Work Stress
You can do many different things to counter the stress at work.
Certain kinds of exercise are especially helpful when work stress is high. Racquetball and spinning classes are both high intensity, aggressive workouts that give you the chance to burn through your stress. They will also help to restore balance to your hormone levels.
I’ve had patients see great results by talking with a therapist. A lot of people bristle when I make that suggestion. However, therapy can help you cope with your stress in a more positive way.
One of the findings in the study I mentioned earlier was that social support at work is an immense help. Take an active role in your workplace and see if you can set up a support network. It could help to increase productivity in the workplace, which should make your boss happy.
You could arrange a weekly lunch with everyone in your department, you could bring in a consultant to offer advice and training on building stronger relationships at work, or you start a monthly office newsletter that helps everyone stay better connected with each other.
Finally, when you are under stress it is often because you have to put more time into your job than normal. Usually, your eating choices suffer when that happens. Make sure you take a good multi-vitamin every day—it is especially important when you are under stress. The nutrients will help your body to stay strong and healthy despite the challenges it’s facing.
Work stress is difficult to deal with. It can undermine your health, compromise your happiness, and lead to weight gain. If you recognize the dangers and take steps to counter them, you can perform better at work without putting on unwanted pounds.
Mark Rosenberg, MD
Natural Health News
1 Gutierrez, David. “Work Stress Found to Promote Obesity,” NewsTarget. 9/7/2007
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