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Does work stress cause you to overeat? (Isabelle Limbach/Thinkstock)
Does work stress cause you to overeat? (Isabelle Limbach/Thinkstock)

YOUR LIFE AT WORK SURVEY

Does work stress cause you to overeat? Add to ...

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s Your Life at Work Survey, done in conjunction with Howatt HR Consulting. Click here to take our survey, measure your stress levels, find out your Quality of Work Life (QWL) score and determine whether you’re able to cope.

When we talk about the health of Canadians, a growing concern is the increasing number of people who are overweight.

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Employment and Social Development Canada reported in 2011 that 37 per cent of Canadian adults were overweight and 25 per cent were rated obese. That’s an increase from 2005 when the agency’s research showed 35 per cent were overweight and 24 per cent obese. While genetics can play a role, lifestyle choices with respect to what we eat and how much we exercise are a major contributor.

One factor that’s not getting much attention, however, is the role of food addiction, which some people can developed from a habit of using food to help them cope with stress.

Everyone reacts when under stress, but the behaviours they choose to use to cope ultimately impact their overall health.

WebMD reports that food can trigger the same reward and pleasure centre of the brain as powerful drugs like cocaine and heroin. They suggest that foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat trigger the brain chemical dopamine, which improves our mood.

Once the person experiences this sensation that triggers the brain’s pleasure reward system, they can start to use food as a way to make themselves feel better.

As with any chemical addiction, the problem is that the person’s body will adjust and the pleasurable feeling will decrease, leaving them to think that the only way to get the feeling is to increase their intake of the drug – or in this case, food – to make them feel better.

And, as we all know, the major consequence of taking in more calories than you burn is an increase in body fat and weight.

The Food Addicts Anonymous website reports that a person who is experiencing a food addiction will commonly report having uncontrollable cravings for food – even when they aren’t hungry – that result in eating foods high in carbohydrates, sugar and flour that metabolize fast and turn into sugar in the bloodstream.

The website explains that it is common for a person with a food addiction to experience decreases in their quality of life with respect to physical and emotional health.

In time, food addiction will result in a person putting on extra body fat that can increase their risk of physical health issues, such as heart disease, respiratory problems, and diabetes.

As well, food addicts often aren’t physically active, that can decrease their energy and have a negative impact on their self-image and self-esteem, leading to depression or other mental health concerns.

The Globe and Mail’s Your Life at Work Survey, done in conjunction with Howatt HR, examines how employees and employers can improve employees’ quality of life at work. Our findings so far suggest that both employees and employers have a role in facilitating a quality workplace, particularly with coping skills.

Employers can improve employee productivity, engagement and health by putting in place thoughtful human resources policies and embracing the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s 13 psychological health and safety factors that are part of the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

They can also appoint competent managers, keep workloads at manageable levels, actively promote a positive workplace culture and support employees by providing programs to help them learn new skills such as decision making and problem solving to cope with stress.

Each month, the Your Life at Work Survey adds a new quick survey to allow employees to self-evaluate their current health and behaviours. (There are previous surveys on work addiction and depression.) The goal is to help workers become more aware of their state of mind and help motivate them, and give them the tools they need to improve their quality of work life.

Included in the main survey this month is a food addiction quick survey, which will indicate whether you are at risk for a food addiction.

Similar to other types of addiction, a first step to recovery is self-awareness. If you score high on the food addiction survey and it suggests that you are at risk, you will need to decide whether you are ready and motivated to take control of your eating either on your own or the help of a professional.

Do you potentially have a food addiction? Take our Your Life at Work Survey, which includes a quick survey on food addiction.

Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt Consulting in Kentville, N.S.

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