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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward. Register your company for 2018 at www.employeerecommended.com.

When you're stressed, how often do you use food to help you feel better?

Mental health is influenced by how well you perceive you're interacting within your world. Those who view all stress as being bad versus a potential opportunity are more at risk for feeling overwhelmed, and in some cases may use food as a way to feel better.

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In 2014, The Globe and Howatt HR launched the Your Life at Work Survey that's still live today. It is a tool that you can use to measure your quality of work life. To launch this study we ran articles on topics that impacted mental health, such as food addictions. We included a short risk survey on each topic.

The items for this quick survey were developed using Dr. Robert Coombs' book Handbook of Addictive Disorders. Here are some findings from our food addiction survey that had 678 participants.

· The average score was 23 out of 40, which falls in the high-risk category for a potential food addiction.

· 80 per cent of participants fell in the high-risk category.

· 14 per cent of participants fell in the moderate-risk category and 6 per cent in the low-risk category.

· The top four items with the highest score from 0 (no concern) to 4 (serious concern) were: 3/4 crave bread and/or food high in sugar and salt; 2.8/4 notice food as a source of pleasure; 2.7/4 eat even when they don't feel hungry; and 2.7/4 struggle to control how much they eat.

· It appears that most survey participants could relate to the concept of food and stress.

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A high score doesn't mean a person has a food addiction; it indicates food may be a challenge worth exploring in more detail. Typically, an early indication that food is a problem is the lack of ability to control food intake habits. As well, higher levels of body fat can put a person at metabolic risk. If food is an issue for you, here are some tips to help you manage this challenge.

Awareness

If you're concerned that you may engage in mindless eating when you're stressed, take five minutes to complete the food addiction quick survey to assess your risk level for developing or having a food addiction. As well, you can benchmark your score against the average of others who explored their risk level.

Accountability

After we become aware that we may be engaging in mindless eating to cope with stress, the next step is to determine how strong the compulsion is to eat. If you can't change your habits based on a rational decision to do what's good for you, this may be a sign that you're at risk. Only you can decide to take control of your health. If you need support, that's fine; there are lots of options to help you to control your food intake.

Action

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Moving from mindless to mindful eating starts with focusing on one small decision at a time.

Create a daily food intake game plan – Define what you need to eat on a typical day. Eating a healthy breakfast, lunch, supper and snack each day makes sense. Preparing meals at home increases the likelihood that you'll eat healthily. One option is to sign up with a company that sends meals to your home in a box. The company provides the daily game plan so you don't have to think about it.

Remove food pressure – Changing food habits for some people feels like all or nothing. For example, "I can't eat sugar; it's bad for me." Mindful eating is being honest with yourself and acknowledging why you're eating. Eating cake at your grandfather's 90th birthday is fine. It's when you eat cake daily as a way to manage your emotions that it's harmful. Mindful eating is about eating for a defined purpose such as long-term health.

Mindful food intake check – Before you put something into your mouth, determine the value of the food for your body. How well would a car run if you put water in the gas tank? Mindful eating means being clear on why you're eating something and how it can help you before you put it in your mouth. This can help promote healthy daily micro food decisions. It's easy to manage one small decision at a time, such as picking vegetables over French fries or drinking water instead of a sugary drink. Mindful eating is about making a lot of small, good decisions.

Implement daily feedback monitors – Daily feedback keeps us on track and old habits at bay. We can track our daily food micro decisions for each meal and snack we eat in two columns. The first column is yes, good for me, the second column is no, not good for me. The goal is to train yourself to increase the number of checkmarks in the yes column. You don't need to be perfect, just aware and honest with yourself – one bite at a time.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

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Register today for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Award atwww.employeerecommended.com

Read more columns like this, and read about the winners and finalists of the 2017 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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