If you’re like many job-stressed Americans (an estimated 75% according to experts), you practice mindless eating because work takes precedence over your well-being. You hit the ground running, grab a Danish, and scurry out the door to work, sloshing coffee on your clothes as you rush to the office. Maybe you even skip lunch altogether or eat a taco while digging through piles of work at your desk. Perhaps in the evening you rush home and throw a frozen dinner in the oven in time to help the kids with their homework. The next morning, you hop on the (not so merry) merry-go-round and repeat the same routine until week’s end.

The Middle-Age Creep

The middle-age creep isn’t the jerk in a trench coat leaning in over your shoulder with his camera phone. It’s the added spare tire—usually caused by stress—that refuses to budge no matter how much you diet or exercise. Job stress can cause the fats and sugars to go straight to your belly. The fat deposits make you even more vulnerable to stress and your body secretes more glucose. That jacks up your craving for sweets and fat. And boom! Fat is stored in your belly again, throwing you into a hard-to-break chicken-egg cycle which adds to your stress level and can result in serious health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. What feels like a satisfying solution in stressful moments becomes a bigger problem in the long run.

So That’s Why I Crave Pizza!
Under job stress, your glucose levels spike to give you energy. The more glucose you release, the hungrier you are after the stressor. Do you want fries with that? A Yale University study found that under stress even insects like grasshoppers—that normally feed on protein such as grasses—switch to munching on sugary goldenrod plants. The sugary foods provide fuel to quickly feed their amped-up bodies in case they need to flee from a threat.

Job stress kicks in your cortisol production. Then your metabolism speeds up, and you, too, are more likely to seek out digested sugars, fats or carbs for a quick energy boost. No wonder you’re constantly on the search for pizza, bagels and donuts at work. Job stress makes it difficult, but not impossible, for you to maintain healthy work/life balance. Healthy nutrition, ample sleep and exercise are usually the first to go down the toilet. The more stressed you are, the more you eat, the more weight you gain and the more you skimp on exercise. Weight gain and lethargy are stress symptoms that weaken your ability to cope, making you more susceptible to daily work pressures.

Do You Grab, Gobble, Gulp, And Go?

If you’re like many frenzied workers, you grab, gulp and go without paying attention to your hunger or taste. Sometimes reaching for comfort food is such an automatic habit you don’t realize you’re doing it. Starches and sweets act like natural tranquilizers that calm you down in times of last-minute deadlines. When you’re slammed, you’re more likely to eat fattening, high-calorie foods and to feel like your eating is out of control. Fast foods, frozen dinners and comfort foods are convenient and appealing. When you’re work stressed, eating becomes a task to complete instead of an experience to enjoy. You’re more likely to eat quickly and to overeat without really tasting your food. If you gulp down a Coke, hamburger and fries so you can hurry back to the office, you’re stress eating, which only raises your stress level. You’re feeding your stress instead of managing it.

Rx For Junk Food Junkies

Try to steer clear of eating while standing, driving, on the run or watching TV. Treat mealtime as a singular activity with value in its own right. Sitting down, eating slowly, and chewing a few times before swallowing, paying attention to textures, aromas and flavors of your food help you to relax and enjoy your meal as well as aid in digestion. Plus, it gives your stomach time to tell your brain when it’s full, and you are less likely to eat as much.

During your next meal, sit down and give food your full attention. Think about how it was grown, how it sprouted from a seed to a vegetable. Pause before you start to eat. Notice the colors and textures while inhaling the aroma. Chew slowly and deliberately, savoring the texture and temperature of each morsel. Instead of tasting tuna salad, for example, discover the flavor, texture, and coolness of celery as it crushes against your teeth, the bursting tartness of pickles, and the blending of the tuna and greens. Sip your beverage and notice the sensation against your tongue as it slides down the back of your throat. Linger for a while after your meal and give your stomach time to digest the food and to tell your brain you have finished.

Simple Steps To Adopt Mindful Eating Habits

When you adopt healthy eating habits, it will become second nature, and you will automatically reach for the apple instead of the Danish. Here are 10 tips to help you make mindful choices:

1. Cut down on caffeinated drinks. Replace Red Bulls, Diet Cokes and Starbucks with bottled water, protein smoothies, fruit juices or herbal tea.

2. Eat complex carbs. Slowly digested high-fiber foods like whole grain breads, cereals and pastas will stabilize blood sugar levels.

3. Watch sugar intake. Shun simple carbs like quickly digested refined sugars that give you a fast serotonin high and a quick crash. Too much sugar can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels and poor concentration.

4. Introduce Omega-3 foods. Substitute high-fat meats with omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon and tuna to protect against heart disease and prevent surges in stress hormones.

5. Use low-fat dairy products. Fill your fridge with low-fat dairy products and yogurt to restore lost calcium and magnesium that your body uses up to fend off job stress.

6. Munch on healthy snacks. Instead of cheese puffs or potato chips, munch on raw fruits, nuts and vegetables such as apple wedges, celery and carrot sticks to produce additional stress hormones to offset stressors.

7. Avoid skipping meals. Skipping breakfast is a deal breaker. The earlier in the day you stock your body with nutritional foods, the more armored you are against stress as it comes throughout the day.

8. Portion meals. Avoid drinking from milk cartons, eating out of ice cream containers, or snacking from potato chip bags. Snacks and meals should be portioned on a plate or in a bowl—ideally smaller plates because studies show that you eat less when food is served on smaller plates.

9. Avoid strict deprivation. Dieting and depriving yourself of foods you enjoy backfires. Research shows that trying to control your weight by fad diets, skipping meals, rigidly avoiding certain foods, or ignoring hunger pangs raises your cravings.

10. Start slow. Avoid abruptly turning your dietary habits upside down. Introduce healthier foods slowly to increase your chances of success. Take it one meal at a time, replacing unhealthy foods with more nutritional choices such as serving baked chicken instead of fried chicken. Set limits on when you eat, only at three set mealtimes a day, and stick to them. Gauge your appetite by the clock, not by your emotions about a long hard day at the office.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: https://bryanrobinsonphd.com.