Compulsive Eating in the Workplace

Compulsive eating occurs when an individual experiences a complete lack of control around food, and consumes excessive amount of it; either all at once, or by continuously grazing throughout the day. Compulsive over-eaters tend to obsess about food and eating provides a feeling of relief and joy. Unfortunately this sort of relationship with food vastly increases the individual’s risk of obesity. Most compulsive eaters will eat even when they are not hungry, not because they have a lack of willpower, or because they are weak, but because they have a psychological illness that compels them to use food as a tool to zone out and/or fill a void inside of them.

Compulsive Eating and the Risk of Obesity

According to The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, approximately 1% to 4 % of the total population struggles with compulsive eating, although this estimate may be substantially lower than the actual percentage because compulsive overeaters tend to be ashamed of their eating habits, and will go to great lengths to conceal them. There are many causes of compulsive eating, and some common ones include a lack of self-esteem, childhood abuse, chronic anxiety, depression and a negative body image. According to a new study a person’s job can also drive a person towards compulsive overeating and thereby increase their risk of obesity.


The study was led by Nina Nevanpera and conducted at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. For the study, Nevanpera and her associates examined 230 employed women between the ages of 30 and 55. Of the 230 individuals, 22 % reported feeling either exhausted by, cynical of and/or a sense of meaninglessness in relation to their work, and these feelings resulted in work burnout. The women, who reported work burnout, were much more likely to seek solace in food and they had higher scores on measures of emotional eating and compulsive eating. The researchers also found that the individuals who were burnt out had a much harder time following healthy lifestyle recommendations, then the individuals who reported work satisfaction. “Those experiencing burnout may be more vulnerable to emotional eating and uncontrolled eating and they have a hindered ability to make changes in their eating behaviour,” says Nevanpera.

Although this is the first study to directly examine the effects of work burnout on compulsive eating, the results really are no big surprise. Work burnout often results in continuous high levels of stress, and stress has long been associated with overeating. Occasional stress is not a problem and it is a completely natural human response. However, when the stress becomes chronic, it causes your adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol, and cortisol not only increases your appetite, it also increases your motivation to eat. If you are counting calories than chronic stress is your enemy because not only does it increase your desire to overeat, it also increases your preference for high-fat fast food and high- sugar junk food.

The results of this study suggest that controlling overeating is not simply a matter of counting calories and avoiding fast food. If you eat compulsively as a result of work burnout then you need to address the burnout and proactively reduce your stress levels, otherwise your likelihood for overcoming compulsive eating will remain slim.

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