We’ve all been there: an important work meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning and an evening that necessitates burning the midnight oil to ensure we’re ready and prepared. In such states of anxiety, stress-eating generally ensues and sees us eat the entire contents of our fridge in an effort to keep working. We know we should be eating healthy, with plates of food that display a range of colours and leafy greens, but the reality is far from such meals. Typically, the wrappers and chip packets lining our trash betrays our momentary weakness.
As it turns out though, unhealthy dinners and snacking the night before an important meeting or work day can actually have an adverse impact on our productivity the next day. According to a North Carolina State University study, 97 full-time employees were recruited and interviewed three times a day for 10 days about their physical and emotional well-being before and after work.
In the evening, they were asked about their eating and drinking habits when they got home. ‘Bad’ eating habits pertained to those who said they overindulged in food or alcohol, or simply ate too much junk food before they turned in for the night.
The results were hardly surprising. Those who reported as such then experienced physical problems the next day, dealing with things like headaches, stomach aches and diarrhoea. Ugh, not what you want on the day of an important meeting. As well as the physical effects of unhealthy eating, the psychological effects had a huge impact on their performance, too. Those who indulged in a late-night feast reported declines in “helping behaviours,” such as helping their colleagues when they don’t have to. Instead, they tended to be more withdrawn from work-related situations, despite being present in the workplace.
As Seonghee Cho, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, explained: “For the first time, we have shown that healthy eating immediately affects our workplace behaviours and performance. It is relatively well established that the other health-related behaviours, such as sleep and exercise, affect our work. But nobody had looked at the short-term effects of unhealthy eating.”
So, next time you’re stressed and reaching for the junk food, take a breath and prepare something nourishing instead. Ok, easier said than done, we get it. But just remember that whatever you eat for dinner is going to have a big impact on how you behave at work the next day, so best leave the indulgences to the weekend when your attitude isn’t going to face the scrutiny of a workplace.