Unhealthy eating at night can affect your work performance the next day, a new study has found.
Researchers at North Carolina State University sought to learn whether unhealthy eating affects people at work the next day, and, if so, why. To find this out, they asked 97 full-time employees a series of questions three times a day for two weeks, or 10 consecutive workdays. Before work, participants answered questions related to their physical and emotional well-being. At the end of each workday, they answered questions about what they did at work, and in the evening, before bed, they answered questions about their eating and drinking behaviours after work.
The researchers defined “unhealthy eating” as instances when study participants reported feeling they’d eaten too much junk food, too much food or drink in general, or too many late-night snacks.
They found that unhealthy eating at night was associated with physical problems the following morning, including headaches, stomach aches, and diarrhea. It was also correlated with emotional strains, like feeling guilty or ashamed about diet choices. These outcomes were in turn associated with changes in how people behaved at work throughout the day.
When people reported negative physical or emotional effects related to unhealthy eating, they were more likely to be withdrawn and less helpful at work as well. They reported higher levels of “withdrawal behavior” meaning “avoiding work-related situations, even though you’re at your workplace,” and declines in “helping behavior,” meaning “helping colleagues and going the extra mile when you don’t have to, such as assisting a co-worker with a task that is not your responsibility.”
“For the first time, we have shown that healthy eating immediately affects our workplace behaviors and performance,” says Seonghee “Sophia” Cho, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. “It is relatively well established that other health-related behaviors, such as sleep and exercise, affect our work. But nobody had looked at the short-term effects of unhealthy eating.”
She added, “The big takeaway here is that we now know unhealthy eating can have almost immediate effects on workplace performance. However, we can also say that there is no single ‘healthy’ diet, and healthy eating isn’t just about nutritional content. It may be influenced by an individual’s dietary needs, or even by when and how they’re eating, instead of what they’re eating.
“Companies can help to address healthy eating by paying more attention to the dietary needs and preferences of their employees and helping to address those needs, such as through on-site dining options. This can affect both the physical and mental health of their employees – and, by extension, their on-the-job performance.”