Recent research has shown that eating unhealthily at night can make people less useful and more withdrawn the next day at work. The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. “For the first time, we have shown that a healthy diet immediately affects our behavior and work in the workplace,” said Seonghee “Sophia” Cho, the study’s correspondent and assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.
Cho added, “It is relatively well established that other health-related behaviors, such as sleep and exercise, affect our work. But no one has looked at the short-term effects of an unhealthy diet.”
Basically, the researchers had two questions: Does unhealthy eating behavior at work affect you the next day? And, if so, why?
In the study, the researchers had 97 full-time workers in the United States who answered a series of questions three times a day for 10 consecutive working days. Prior to daily work, study participants answered questions related to their physical and emotional well-being.
At the end of each working day, participants answered questions about what they were doing at work. In the evening, before going to bed, participants answered questions about eating and drinking behavior after work.
In the context of the study, the researchers defined “unhealthy eating” as cases where study participants felt they were eating too much unhealthy food; when participants felt they had eaten or drunk too much; or when participants report having too many snacks late at night.
The researchers found that people who practiced unhealthy eating behaviors were more likely to report physical problems the next morning. Problems included headaches, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
In addition, when people report unhealthy eating habits, they are more likely to report emotional stress the next morning – such as feelings of guilt or shame over their diet choices. Those physical and emotional efforts associated with an unhealthy diet, in turn, were associated with changes in people’s behavior at work during the day.
Basically, when people reported physical or emotional exertion associated with an unhealthy diet, they were more likely to record a decline in “helpful behavior” and an increase in “withdrawal behavior”.
Assisting in behavior at work refers to helping colleagues and crossing extra miles when you don’t have to, such as helping a coworker on a task that is not your responsibility. Withdrawal behavior refers to avoiding work-related situations even though you are at your workplace.
Researchers also found that people who were emotionally stable – meaning people who were better able to cope with stress because they were less emotionally unstable – suffered fewer harmful effects from an unhealthy diet. Not only were emotionally stable people less likely to have physical or emotional exertion after an unhealthy diet, their behavior in the workplace also changed less even when they reported physical or emotional exertion.
“The big exception here is that we now know that an unhealthy diet can have almost immediate effects on work in the workplace,” Cho said.
Cho added: “However, we can also say that there is no single ‘healthy’ diet, and a healthy diet is not just about nutritional content. It can be affected by an individual’s nutritional needs, even when and how they eat it, instead of what they eat.
“Companies can help address healthy eating by paying more attention to the nutritional needs and preferences of their employees and helping to address those needs, for example through on-site dining options. This can affect the physical and mental health of their employees – and, extended, their effect at work, ”Cho said further.
The researchers also pointed to a multitude of research issues that could be addressed in the future.
“One confusing variable is that the way our questions are formulated, we may record both unhealthy eating habits and unhealthy drinking-related behaviors,” Cho said.
“It’s something we’re going to tease moving forward. And while we’re focusing on the evening diet, it would be interesting to look at what people eat at other times of the day. Are there specific dietary elements that affect behavioral outcomes – like sugar or caffeine content?” “Can there be positive effects of an unhealthy diet, for example when people eat comfortable foods that will cope with stress? This promises to be a rich area of study,” Cho concluded.