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Eating Late Might Be Ruining Your Productivity

If you’ve been indulging in unhealthy eating habits at night, you might be hindering your productivity during the next day. You are what you eat – and so is your productivity, new research suggests.

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Productivity is more than a modern workplace buzzword. When your productivity is lagging or dragging, it’s hard to find the motivation to power through tasks on your to-do list and work efficiently. But it isn’t all about motivation; sometimes, it’s in what you’re eating. If you’re feeling sluggish, uncomfortable or just plain unwell in the morning, you might want to blame your late-night snacks. 

According to recent scientific research, it turns out that what you’re eating in the evening might be shaping how you feel – and how productive you are – the next day. Here’s what you need to know to improve your focus, your efficiency and how you feel while you’re at work.

Unhealthy habits at night have a lasting effect

A recent research study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology examined eating patterns and their impact on how well individuals work the next day. 

The study’s authors collected self-reported diary data from 97 employed individuals over two weeks. During each day of the study, participants were asked a series of questions three times per day on workdays (or 10 of the days in the two-week period): before work, at the end of the workday and before bed. 

The pre- and post-workday questions dove into participants’ physical and emotional well-being as well as what they accomplished during the day and how they felt about their productivity. Before heading to sleep, the final questions asked participants about their post-work eating and drinking habits. 

All of these questions revealed that some participants turned to “unhealthy eating” when they headed home after work. The mornings after indulging in not-so-healthy habits, those very same participants reported that they experienced unpleasant physical effects (or physical strain, as the researchers phrased it) the next day. They experienced everything from headaches to stomach aches to diarrhea. But that wasn’t the only negative impact – they felt bad emotionally too. Unhealthy eating appeared to be linked to feelings of  guilt, according to what the participants reported during the study. 

Those who indulged in the evenings also self-reported that they weren’t so productive or friendly at work either. They were less likely to mention “helping behaviors” during the workday while writing in their diaries, and they reported less assistance for their coworkers. These same participants also reported being more likely to avoid work-related situations, a form of procrastination. 

All in all, these findings suggest that there might be a connection between what you’re eating and how you feel – both emotionally and about your work. And choosing unhealthy foods just might lead to a host of unpleasant effects in addition to reduced productivity.

The guilt of eating unhealthy food plays an important role

While the physical discomfort caused by choosing unhealthy foods certainly could’ve played a role in the reduced productivity of the study’s participants, their emotions also played a role. As the study explains, unhealthy choices decreased the quality of the participants’ work performance – but the physical effects had a direct effect on their emotions.

It turns out that the guilt we associate with unhealthy behaviors just might be what makes unhealthy eating so damaging to productivity. The group that self-reported experiencing the most significant physical strain also reported that they felt more emotional stress. Specifically, they reported feelings of guilt or shame about their eating habits. 

What kinds of unhealthy foods did the study’s participants feel so guilty about eating late? Well, it’s impossible to tell. Because they self-reported their choices, the phrase “unhealthy eating” was defined as eating too much junk food. The researchers categorized unhealthy eating as eating too many junk foods, too many unhealthy snacks, eating or drinking excessively and having too many late-night snacks before bedtime.

The more negative emotions the participants experienced after their unhealthy eating late at night, the more their productivity suffered. All around, whether in avoidance of their work or their physical discomfort, feeling bad about their choices led to adverse effects. 

But this means the research also suggests that you might be able to combat the effect of unhealthy eating with your mindset. The study’s authors summed it up: “… employees with higher emotional stability tended to experience less negative emotions and fewer physical symptoms.” If you were to make unhealthy choices at night, but you didn’t feel any guilt about doing so, you just might not see the same decline in your productivity the next day. 

What this means for your habits and your productivity

The findings from this study show that what you choose to eat at night can shape your performance at work the next day. While it’s tempting to indulge at night – especially after a stressful day or when you’re facing cravings – doing so could leave you feeling worse for the wear. It can also lead you to be less motivated and more prone to avoiding your tasks (or procrastinating). 

But this doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself when you get home from work. If you are going to eat after dinner or before heading to bed, what you choose matters. Opting for lighter, nutrient-dense snacks will help you feel good about what you’re eating, even if you are snacking late.

Overeating also played a bit of a role in the guilt and physical strain the study’s participants experienced. If you do choose a less-than-stellar snack, keep your serving size small. This may help you combat any of the negative emotions that can potentially affect your productivity.  

Learn more about how you can fine-tune your diet to enhance your productivity straight from an expert. You can also whip up energizing, brain-boosting lunches with ingredients that’ll improve your focus. And it’s always a good idea to fuel your brain – and keep it healthy – with omega-3 rich foods like fatty fish.