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Which Bad Habit Sabotages Your Diet Most: Big Stress or No Sleep?

Let's all stop stuffing our faces for a second and find out.
Which Bad Habit Sabotages Your Diet Most: Big Stress or No Sleep?
Image credit: Peter Dazeley | Getty Images

By now, most of us are aware of the link between being stressed out and stuffing your face. In tough times, many of us turn to cookies to try to chase away a bad case of “I’m freaking out!”

Well, the Journal of Applied Psychology has just published a study that says a worse enemy to your waistline than stress could be your up-all-night TV binging habits. In two studies of more than 200 workers in China, researchers found that the real difference maker in healthier diets is getting plenty of Zs.

Related: 10 Effective Ways to Beat Stress

"We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table, as manifested in eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of healthy food," said study co-author Chu-Hsiang "Daisy" Chang, associate professor of psychology at MSU.

"However, another key finding showed how sleep helped people deal with their stressful eating after work," she continued. "When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day."

Related: 12 Habits to Dramatically Improve Your Sleep

In the two studies of workers in high-stress positions, researchers found that when workers are in bad moods, they eat to compensate. Speaking with MSU Today, Yihao Liu, co-author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Illinois, explained that eating is “[U]sed as an activity to relieve and regulate one's negative mood because individuals instinctually avoid aversive feelings and approach desire feelings,” he said.

But for long-term relief, Chang and Liu found that the best way to curb negative feelings and negative eating is to put down the bag of chips and pull up the covers.

“A good night's sleep can make workers replenished and feel vigorous again, which may make them better able to deal with stress at work the next day and less vulnerable to unhealthy eating,” Chang explained.

Related: The Impact Of Chronic Work Stress On Your Employees

So are nap pods better than a box of donuts for office morale? Sounds like it.

“Food-related perks may only serve as temporary mood-altering remedies for stressed employees,” Chang said, “and failure to address the sources of the work stress may have potential long-term detrimental effects on employee health.”