More Work Equals More Weight, Study Shows

An Australian study published in the International Journal of Obesity tracked 9,000+ middle-age women’s weight and working hours over two years. Unemployed women gained the least amount of weight while women working part-time, full-time and full-time+ gained increasingly more weight, respectively.

Researchers speculate that the more time participants’ spent working, the less time they spent preparing healthy meals, grocery shopping and exercising. I know from my own experience that managing a family, career and personal health can be quite challenging and stressful.

In fact, I was first inspired to join Thich Nhat Hanh for a retreat in 1997 when I felt overwhelmed and burnt out from attempting to do it all. Working at Harvard and raising my two sons was a great joy and still, I was so stressed.

We all internalize this struggle differently. For some, exercise and sleep are the first things compromised during a busy week. And for many, healthy homemade meals give way to processed and hurried snacks as well as fast food when life gets hectic.

These tendencies invite weight gain and wreak havoc on our health.  My pattern of constantly going without recharging had taken its toll by the time I found the flier for Thay’s retreat on my doorstep that fall, almost 16 years ago. Ready for a change, I signed up.

At the close of the one-week retreat I telephoned my husband to tell him I’d touched nirvana. As Thay bid us goodbye he said, “Many of you may have touched some peace here, but if you return home and do not continue to practice, you will lose it all.”

The practice he taught us wasn’t magic. We didn’t learn to insert more hours into the day. Instead we learned to use the hours we had with care, focus and wonder. Each task was enlivened – from washing dishes to drinking a cup of tea or eating an orange.

When I came home I noticed my efficiency increase. I could accomplish my work better because I was focused and then devote my full attention to my family.  I spent less time worrying and there was less chatter in my head.

It is quite a balancing act, being a woman in today’s world and mindfulness is my tool-kit. In it I find relaxation, inspiration and energy. I’ve shared some of my favorite at-work exercises on the Savor blog: 2-minute relaxation meditations, efficiency techniques and in-office movements to get the blood pumping. We’ve talked of healthy desk-drawer snacks and nourishing on-the-go breakfasts. But the pivotal piece is focused attention, which helps to increase our awareness of what is going on in each moment.

When we enter the present moment deeply we access insight. We see our options and our patterns plus understand how they affect us. So before you start cleaning out the pantry and packing healthy breakfasts (both of which are great!)—enjoy a moment just to breathe.

Breathing in, I acknowledge all my stressors
Breathing out, I release them, to focus on my breath.

Breathing in, I am fully aware that I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I am fully aware that I am breathing out.


Whether you are seeking less stress or less weight, all the necessary conditions for this change are already present in your life. Stop and breathe to recognize them – and then seize these healthful, restorative opportunities. 

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De-Stress Instantly at Work

Photo Credit: Caitlinator


Very interesting study. I imagine that part of the weight gain when working full-time relates to our tendency to copy through food too--you know, find a little pleasure and "restoration" through the drive-thru or fridge at certain times of our day. Meditation is certainly a much better way to center ourselves though!

Absolutely Kristen, emotional eating fuels many thoughtless snacking decisions. I find it very helpful to breathe deeply three times at the onset of a craving to align my body & mind. Then I am able to seek clarity - what is this craving really about? WIll eating this food actually offer me the nourishment, satisfaction, relaxation... I'm looking for?

~ Lilian

It's so hard to find time to do anything much when you work hard, but your wise advice pays dividends, Lilian