It’s widely know that work can cause stress, sometimes to the point of burnout, but the fact that work can strongly influence our nutrition is a little less appreciated in society.
It’s interesting that work can cause both obesity and malnutrition.
There are people who receive very large meals at work, and are so stressed and tired that when they come home they don’t have enough energy or willpower to cook. So they resort to fast food, they order foods from restaurants, or eat various unhealthy yet calorie packed snacks or comfort foods. Which can lead, of course, to obesity and host of other health problems.
There’s yet another group who eats modestly at work, and is so occupied with work, even when they come home, that they stop thinking about food for extended periods of time. Which for them in short term at least can feel good, like they are so absorbed in whatever they are doing, that they ignore their need for food. And while there’s something romantic in that image, this can, over time lead to serious problems. People can become malnourished, lose a lot of weight, and – which happens much more frequently, become deficient in some key nutrients, most commonly it’s magnesium that’s lacking and vitamin D. Vitamin C can also be lacking in those who don’t eat enough fresh fruit and vegetables. In general, whatever their weight is, such overworked lifestyle is not healthy and over time can lead to negative consequences.
Stress and work habits, these are problems that workers usually need to adress somehow on their own. What interests us here are the issues that might interest their employer and their dietitian, if they choose to work with one. And these are:
a) it’s employer’s responsibility to provide workers with adequate, high quality meals at work, that will be a major part of their overall nutrition. For that reason employers need to be educated about the principles of healthy and balanced nutrition, or even better, if they are catering to nutrition of large number of workers, they should employ a dietitian who will take care about the food at work. This usually doesn’t happen for economic reasons.
b) In case of individual patients who visit a dietitian, and who have full time employment – the fact that they eat at work and usually don’t have much control over what their work meal will be, can present a big challenge for a dietitian seeking to create a complete eating plan for them. They will need to take into account that fact, and to plan around it, paying even closer attention to the rest of the meals over which workers do have control.
However, the challenge is not only in the fact that you can’t control (in most cases at least) your patients’ work meal, but also in the fact that workers have limited time and energy for preparation of food when they come home, especially if they have a long commute. For that reason, creating a good, sustainable nutrition plan for people with full time employment can be a very challenging task.
And guess what – this is the default task for any dietitian, as they usually deal with employed people, not with people who can dedicate their whole days to preparation of healthy meals. That’s why it’s of enormous importance that eating plans be realistic, sustainable and not too idealistic.
I’d appreciate comments of those who successfully managed to prepare eating plans for employed people.
Also I’d like to end this post underlining that root causes of obesity should better be searched for in our culture and society, and only later in individual choices or metabolic disorders. Work culture in particular can be a significant contributor not only to obesity, but also to unhealthy diets in general.