6 Ways Your Job is Making You Fat
Packing on pounds while climbing the corporate ladder? You're in good company: In a 2013 Harris Interactive survey of more than 3,000 workers conducted for CareerBuilder, 41 percent of respondents said they'd gained weight in their current jobs. Workers who spend long hours sitting at a desk (like administrative assistants) and have high stress levels (like engineers and teachers) were more likely to have gained weight.
READ: 5 Low-Fat Foods You Need to Stop Eating
The truth is, there are lots of reasons your work could be affecting your waistline.
"It really has to do with diet, physical activity, and behavior," says Katherine Tryon, a medical doctor with the Vitality Institute, a global research organization based in New York City.
Here are some potential factors, and how to steer clear of their consequences:
Hours of sitting
The most obvious cause of work-related weight gain is the lack of physical activity many employees get from (at least) 9 to 5, and in the CareerBuilder survey, workers pointed to "sitting at my desk most of the day" as the number-one reason for their expanding waistlines. Though it's true that research shows people who stand or walk throughout the day burn more calories, which can translate to fewer pounds gained over time, a 2013 British study failed to find a strong link between time spent sitting and obesity. The authors say that while sedentary behavior certainly doesn't help, there are clearly other factors fueling weight gain as well.
Your long commute
In addition to time spent at a desk, the average American spends 25.4 minutes commuting to work and then again to get home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the American Community Survey shows that 86 percent of workers commute by car. Those who take public transportation to and from work tend to have lower BMIs than those who drive or ride in a car, found a 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal, as do those who walk or ride their bikes. "Businesses need to think about ways to turn commuting into a healthy activity, like offering bike racks and showers to their employees," says Dr. Tryon.
Boss on your case again? Try not to freak out: High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can trigger fat and sugar cravings, and can also cause the body to hang on to fat and store it around the midsection. And a 2014 German study found that work-related stress is a risk factor for type-2 diabetes.
You may also feel like you need to forget healthy habits in order to get ahead, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, author of "Eating in Color." "Maybe you used to go for a walk at lunch but then you change jobs or get a promotion, and suddenly all eyes are on you," she says. "You may feel like your daily break from the office is no longer acceptable, so you put in the extra time and your weight suffers."
Employees who burn the midnight oil to meet deadlines or keep up with heavy workloads may also blame their restricted sleep schedule for excess weight gain. In a 2013 University of Pennsylvania study, adults who got only four hours of shut-eye a night for five nights in a row gained more weight than those who got eight hours, thanks to the extra meals (and higher-calorie foods) they consumed during late-night hours.
Adults who work multiple jobs, who start work early in the morning, or who commute longer distances are more likely to go without a full nights' sleep, according to a 2014 study also by University of Pennsylvania researchers. The authors suggest that flexible start times may help workers get more sleep overall.
Your lunch options
People who work in or commute through neighborhoods with a lot of drive-thrus are more likely to stop at them, and they're also more likely to have higher BMIs, according to a 2014 British study. In fact, the study group with the most exposure to takeout joints on the way to and from work was almost twice as likely to be obese, compared to those with who were least exposed. "If you don't have healthy lunch options nearby, you may need to make a real effort to prepare and pack your own food ahead of time," says Largeman-Roth.
Candy jars and freebie tables
In any office, there's someone who always keeps a bowl of candy out, says Largeman-Roth, and if you're a dieter or a binger or a stress eater, that person is the enemy. "We know that when you put something delicious out on prominent display, people are going to eat much more of it than if it was tucked away in a desk drawer out of sight." The same goes for the leftover desserts or doughnuts lurking in the kitchen, she adds. "If there's a common area for sweets and you know it's a weakness, you may need to steer clear and not let yourself be tempted."