What we eat can be affected by stress

Work-life stress can have a marked impact on a person's eating habits, new research has suggested. Published online in Social Science and Medicine, the study found people may neglect the nutrition of themselves and their family as a result of greater work commitments and sacrifices caused by a tougher economy and more competition for jobs.

Katherine Bauer, Assistant Professor of Public Health and a Researcher at Temple's Center for Obesity Research and Education, discovered mothers in full-time employment provide fewer family meals and turn to fast food options more regularly.

For fathers, it was shown they spend considerably less time preparing meals than their unemployed peers and those in part-time positions.

With regard to work-life stress, it was found such pressures interfere with healthy eating habits to a similar degree for both parents.

Ms Bauer noted: "Our work underlined the need to take into account the competing pressures that so many families - especially those that are lower income - are experiencing."

Chartered Psychologist Dr Caroline Schuster comments:

"What we eat is definitely affected by how stressed we are. This research supports the fact that individuals' work situation can have a negative effect on their nutrition levels. It is particularly at times of increased stress that we need to eat well and keep fit. Stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline use significant amounts of our vitamin (C and B) and mineral (magnesium and zinc) reserves during emergency (increased stress), which are taken from the body's general reserve. So in times of increased stress we need an even better (than normal) diet, to maintain a healthy vitamin/mineral reserve, which will help prevent ill health.

Ironically, the first thing people often do when under stress, is to not pay enough attention to themselves, their current health state and in particular, their diet. A common problem I see when treating work-related stress, is people not taking a lunch break at all or taking too short a break or eating fast (dead) food. Re-educating people to take a lunch break and eat something healthy, needs to become more of a focus for health in the workplace. I have also observed that people who take lunch breaks and eat a healthy lunch at work, are more likely to maintain their good habits at home."