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Work burnout tied to "emotional eating" in women: study

(Reuters) - Women who are fed up with their jobs may be more likely to turn to food for comfort in times of stress, according to a Finnish study.

The study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those who reported work burnout were also more likely to have a habit of "emotional" eating, or eating when stressed, anxious or down, rather than just hungry.

What's more, they were more prone to "uncontrolled" eating -- the feeling that you're always hungry or can't stop eating until all the food's gone.

"Those experiencing burnout may be more vulnerable to emotional eating and uncontrolled eating and have a hindered ability to make changes in their eating behavior," wrote Nina Nevanpera of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, who led the study.

"We recommend that burnout should be treated first and that burnout and eating behavior should be evaluated in obesity treatment."

The findings are based on 230 women ages 30 to 55 who were part of a clinical trial looking at healthy lifestyle changes. All were employed, and at the start of the trial they completed surveys on job burnout and eating habits.

Overall, 22 percent of the women had some degree of work burnout. As a group, they scored higher on measures of emotional eating and uncontrolled eating.

On top of that, women who did not have job burnout at the study's start tended to cut down on uncontrolled eating over one year. But, on average, the burnout group failed to make that change.

"Work permeates our lives," said Sherry Pagoto, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a clinician at the university's Weight Center.

"People may be in a job where they're unhappy, or a marriage where they're unhappy, and eating can become one of the few pleasures in their lives," added Pagoto, who was not involved in the study.

There was no obvious effect of burnout on the women's weight, however. At the outset, half of the women reporting work burnout were normal weight -- compared with a third of women reporting no burnout.

One reason might be education, Nevanpera said. Women with work burnout generally had a higher education level, and education, in turn, was linked to lower weight.

Still, she added, emotional eating is a potential risk factor for becoming heavy in the future. And it's not particularly healthy, since stressed-out people are more likely to reach for chocolate or fast food than an apple.

Pagoto agreed that addressing sources of stress in general was important, adding that big stress triggers in life may make it difficult to lose weight and keep it off.

When people are not overweight, emotional eating is still not a good idea, she said. "It's reinforcing a habit that's not healthy." SOURCE: http://bit.ly/yeSCiv

(Reporting from New York by Amy Norton at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies and Bob Tourtellotte)

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