Unhealthy eating behaviours at night can make people less helpful and more withdrawn the next day at work, says a recent study. This is the first study to analyze the short-term effects of unhealthy eating and show how eating habits immediately affect workplace behaviours and performance.
The findings published in the Journal of Applied Psychology aim to answer two questions: Does unhealthy eating behaviour affect you at work the next day? And, if so, why?
Around 97 full-time employees in the United States were included in the study and were made to answer a series of questions three times a day, every day, for ten consecutive workdays to observe the changes in their behaviour and performance.
The study participants answered questions about their physical and emotional well-being before they went to work and answered questions about what they did at work at the end of the day and their eating and drinking behaviours after work late at night.
"Unhealthy eating" was described by the researchers as situations when study participants felt they had eaten too much junk food, when they had had too much to eat or drink or when they reported indulging in too many late-night snacks.
The study revealed that people who engaged in late-night unhealthy eating behaviours were more likely to have physical problems like headaches, stomach aches, diarrhoea, etc., the following day coupled with emotional strains like feeling guilty about their poor choice of diet. The researchers concluded that the combined physical and emotional strains are linked to people's performance in their workspace. A decline in "helping "behaviour and an increase in "withdrawal" behaviour was noted in these people.
Interestingly, researchers also found that people who were emotionally stable and coped with stress suffered fewer adverse effects from unhealthy eating, and their workplace behaviours were also less likely to change even when they reported physical or emotional strains.
"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," said Seonghee "Sophia" Cho, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.