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Binge Eating at the Office: Try Working It Out

September 27, 2012 By:
Elyse Glickman
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People who went away to college probably recall the “Freshman 15,” and not very fondly. This phenomenon, where college students gain weight during their first year, is not just traced to easier access to junk food, but also tied to their adjusting to the higher stress of the university environment.

They may eventually recover in time for their sophomore year, and take the weight off, but the perils of stress-related weight gain increase as more life chang­es occur in the post-graduate ­“real world.”

Many of us are guilty of seeking snack-related refuge in our office’s break room, or making a lunchtime exodus to the nearest mall or restaurant cluster — a popular excuse being we’re just so darned busy with work that we don’t have time to pack lunch. However, that thinking is a big reason why many people of all ages are packing on the pounds.

Dr. Richard Bedrosian, director of behavioral health and solution development for Wellness & Prevention, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, recently found that binge eating on the job can cost a company thousands of dollars, slowing down employee productivity and causing more absenteeism while it also costs individuals their health and youthful appearance.

Though workplace binge eating is increasingly recognized as a larger scale health and social problem, it is surprising we are only collectively acknowledging this problem now.

“We live in a stressed world to begin with, so when we have to be at work crushed with deadlines and feeling overwhelmed, our body is trying naturally to calm itself,” explains Denise Baron, a wellness and lifestyle expert with offices in Center City and New York.

“Office binge eating happens because many people in the office environment are stressed or dealing with adrenal fatigue issues. This touches off the craving for simple carbs to calm down, because our systems are chemically looking for more serotonin, the ‘happy hormone.’ ”

Laurel Greberman, clinical supervisor at the Renfrew Center in Radnor, Pa., adds that office binge eating takes on different forms that are as individual as what different employees are going through.

She points out it is not a social phenomenon; people often do it secretly because there is a lot of shame involved. Also, many workers don’t pace themselves well, either because of project deadlines or perceived or real lunch hour rules set by the boss or the corporate culture.

“Often workers go several hours without eating, and that sets one up for a binge episode,” warns Greberman. “Other workers ‘graze eat,’ where they constantly consume food throughout the day. We consider this mindless eating instead of mindful eating, where people stay present and aware of everything they are putting into themselves.”

Men or women? Who does it more? Greberman points out that “men binge-eat for the same reasons” as women, “even though it is a societal stereotype to focus on women doing it. While the actual numbers of men with eating disorders are not as high as women’s, they are equally susceptible.

“They use other means to cope with their issues, and externalizing their issues makes them less likely to binge.”

Greberman advises workers to be more mindful of their work schedule and set aside specific and appropriate times to eat. For example, he explains, if you have breakfast at 8 a.m. and it is now 2 p.m., you need to stop yourself for a sensible eating break.

If you put off eating, adds Greberman, you will overeat and throw the natural feelings of hunger and fullness totally off.

She also advises that those with task-masker supervisors should not be afraid to fight for their right for regularly scheduled food breaks.

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