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Your late night snacking may be hurting your work performance

Pizza out of the fridge
Photo: cream_ph/iStockphoto

Raleigh, NC — Unhealthy late night snacks and dinners may adversely affect work performance the next day, a recent study led by a researcher from North Carolina State University shows.

Researchers asked 97 full-time workers to answer a series of questions three times a day (before starting work) about their physical and emotional well-being, (after finishing work) about their on-the-job activities, and (at bedtime) about their after-work eating and drinking behaviors. This was repeated for 10 consecutive workdays.

The researchers defined “unhealthy eating” as eating or drinking too much, eating too much junk food, or having too many late-night snacks. They found that these behaviors led to the participants experiencing feelings of guilt or other emotional strain related to their diet choices, as well as physical issues such as headaches and stomachaches the next morning. Those strains, in turn, led to decreased job performance, such as being less helpful or more withdrawn, the next day. However, participants with higher emotional stability had a better ability to withstand those strains.


“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,” researcher Seonghee “Sophia” Cho, an assistant professor of psychology at the university, said in a press release. “The big takeaway here is that we now know unhealthy eating can have almost immediate effects on workplace performance.”

Employers can help their employees address healthy eating, Cho added, by paying more attention to their dietary needs and preferences and then addressing those needs, such as through onsite dining options. “This can affect both the physical and mental health of their employees – and, by extension, their on-the-job performance.”

The study was published online March 25 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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