A recent study by the United Kingdom’s Oral Health Foundation has found that stress eating at work is causing a lot of cavities in the nation. It seems that in times of high stress, such as during the workday, people are reaching for unhealthy snacks loaded with sugar and fat to help calm their nerves. Unfortunately, while sometimes effective, this stress eating is taking its toll on people’s waistlines – and their teeth.
“The main problem is the stress hormone known as cortisol,” says Dr. Allison Lesko, a dentist in Fort Collins, Colorado. “When cortisol is released, we feel hungry, and eating sugary and fatty foods quells that hunger.”
The good news is that other foods that don’t contain high amounts of bad fats and sugar can have the same effect – but those foods have to be available.
“It’s easy to reach for a candy bar if that’s what’s in the vending machine at work,” says Lesko, “which is why it’s important if you find yourself binging on comfort foods to pack your own healthy snacks.”
Lesko recommends stocking your office with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, crackers and dairy products, all of which are filling but won’t attack your teeth and your waistline like a doughnut or cupcake would.
“If you have healthier options on hand, you’ll be less likely to reach for whatever is in the break room,” she says. “But it still may be worth asking whoever stocks the snacks to provide some healthier options if all they’re providing is junk food.”
As for other stress-busting options, there are healthy ways to beat the pressure that don’t involve eating, such as taking a brisk walk, listening to a few minutes of soothing music, doing some yoga stretches or deep breathing exercises, and even diffusing some calming essential oils.
“We can’t eat every time we get stressed at work, or we’d never stop eating,” Lesko says. “The trick is to find something that calms you down without being too obvious. It would be difficult to stop a meeting and go for a jog. But you could discreetly do a breathing exercise or even some stretching if you’re on a conference call.”
If you still do reach for that chocolate when the going gets tough, Lesko says to remember to brush your teeth afterward, or at the very least rinse your mouth out with water, so those cavity-causing sugars aren’t sitting on your teeth all day. And if you find yourself gritting or grinding your teeth in a moment of frustration, speak to your dentist about being fitted for a mouth guard.
“Grinding your teeth has no calories, but it can cause your teeth to crack or break, so you definitely aren’t doing your body any favors doing that,” Lesko says.