Is working making you fat?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Nov 4, 03:41 PM in and . Comments [2].

Eating at the computer

Have you noticed your weight creeping up since you started that new job? Do you have new responsibilities? Are you working overtime? Working could be contributing to your weight gain.

It’s not unheard of. A 2005 study (Helsinki) of 9000 workers demonstrated that 25% of women and 19% of men gained weight over a single work year. Researchers found that weight gain was associated particularly with dissatisfaction with work/life balance, longer working hours and higher job demands, fatigue and levels of stress.

An American career- builder survey held in 2010 found that 44% of workers reported they had gained weight in their current jobs.

This year, an Australian study looking at employment patterns and changes in body weight among 5124 young women showed that there was a lower likelihood of weight gain associated with fewer work hours. Heavy weight gain was less likely in women in stable part time employment than in those in fulltime employment.

So why are we gaining weight at work?

Some of the reasons for weight gain include:


Work related stress is a large contributor. Altered sleep patterns and fatigue also contribute to weight gain. Stress and fatigue can often result in employees snacking on high sugar drinks and snacks and emotional and mindless eating.

Being less active

Working long hours sitting at the desk and not having or making time to exercise can certainly cause weight gain. Many people are communicating by email rather than walking to colleagues’ offices to talk face to face. Taking the lift can also mean employees are less active.

Skipping or having inadequate meals

Skipping meals can lead to snacking, eating out of vending machines and drinking excessive calories in the form of creamy or sugary coffees. Inadequate protein at lunch can led to after noon slumps and can result in appetite changes leading to hunger. This in turn can lead to afternoon snacking on the wrong things – sugary drinks and snacks. An ideal lunch is a balance of proteins and carbohydrates.

Eating at the desk

A 2010 study by the University of Bristol found that those who eat at their desk are more likely to become fat. Researchers concluded that distractions during meals lead to people consuming more food, which makes them gain weight.

Social eating

Some workplaces encourage employees to bring in cakes and treats for colleagues to share. The constant temptation of the tin of sweets can be too much for some. Work parties, meetings with coffee and biscuits provided and working lunches are all situations which can lead to eating just that little bit more than you had planned.

Ways to combat work related weight gain:

Weight gain at work isn’t inevitable.

Here are some strategies you can put into place to try to avoid piling on the pounds:

  • Plan ahead. Always plan for the meals ahead. Pack an adequate lunch with a good balance of proteins and carbohydrates. Make the effort to use any cooking equipment, such as the microwave, provided. Don’t be tempted to have something quick and easy. Include snacks to have at the ready for times when you feel you may be tempted to hit the vending machine or office goodies. Lower calorie foods like vegetable or slim soups, fruit, low fat yoghurt, carrot sticks or a small handful of nuts should be included in your snack pack. If you find your problem is that you snack more when you get in from work or are eating convenience foods due to working long hours, plan your evening meals as well. Try a slow cooker.
  • Stop snacking due to boredom. If you find your mind wandering, it’s time to get up and get some fresh air and get active. Go for a walk, have some water,recharge.
  • Set aside time in day for eating. Always leave your desk and make time to have your lunch. Never eat in your car.
  • Try to be more active at work. Take the stairs instead of the lift, walk to co-workers offices instead of using email to ask simple questions.Try to have a 15 minute walk at lunchtime and try to include a walk on the way to and from work.
  • Drink plenty of water. Take care with added sugar in coffee and tea. This can add plenty of calories. Try to cut down or use and artificial sweetener.
  • Get plenty of sleep and address your workplace stress issues.


International Journal of Obesity.Lallukka T, Laaksonen M, Martikainen P, Sarlio-Lähteenkorva S, Lahelma E. Psychosocial working conditions and weight gain among employees. Int J Obes 2005.

Prev Med. 2011 May 1;52(5):310-6. Au N, Hollingsworth B. Employment patterns and changes in body weight among young women.

Tags: Weight, Workplace Health

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


  1. Working from home can take this to a whole new level. I’ve even had to resort to not buying snacks at all because I just know that every time I go and get myself a cup of coffee I’ll be grazing…

  2. I find the best thing to do when working at home is to think like you are out in the workplace…prepare your lunch and snacks before hand and have them ready to avoid grazing. Make sure you also have your lunch away from where you work. Of course, not having those snacks and treats in the house to begin with is the best tactic. Its a good idea to prepare a daily schedule when working at home. This should include an active break time, where you go for a walk or do some exercise. Its tempting to do other things in the break or even work right through lunch but its important to have that time away.

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