How many occasions at work call for cakes?
- Birthdays (your own and everyone else’s)
- Fridays (it’s the last day of the week)
- Wednesdays (in order to have something to look forward to in the middle of the week)
- Mondays (leftover cake from the weekend)
- Chinese New Year
- Charity days
- Cake sale days
- Winning a tender
- Losing a contract
- Too much stress
For some employees the never-ending supply of cakes turns into constant eating. The lure of the sticky, sweet things in the confined space of an office, all available between 9am and 5.30pm, is just too much for our will-power and self-discipline. We find ourselves eating cakes and chocolates all the time.
Science also has a role to play in encouraging us to satisfy ourselves with sugar and cakes. When we are stressed, the hormone ‘cortisol’ is released into the bloodstream and tells our brain that we need energy as soon as possible. The quickest way for us get energy is to eat carbohydrate rich food - cakes, chocolate and sweets. Hence the stress caused by difficult work issues, or by uncomfortable feelings such as anger, sadness, frustration and loneliness can be lowered, in the short term, by cakes and chocolate. Sugar does actually make us feel better by stimulating the pleasure and reward centre in the brain. When we digest sugar it produces the same sensation as when someone smiles at you or gives you a compliment or a reward. No wonder we just want more and more of it.
So now the downside. How many of us have put on a few pounds within the first 6 months of starting a new job? This escalates to an extra stone within the first year, finally stabilising at a few stone heavier than when we started work. And it's not just a simple case of weight gain. When we eat cake, we are releasing refined sugar into the body too quickly. This increases the amount of insulin in our blood stream, which convinces our body to store fat rather than burn it. The increase in refined sugar affects our blood sugar balance, which is one of the biggest factors in mood swings, depression, anxiety and emotional outbursts. Ironically, having too much sugar lessens our ability to cope with stress in the long term.
If you can recognise this addictive link between stress and sugar, it may be worth retraining your mind and body to remove the sugar and address the stress. Consider the reasons for eating cake in the first place. Ask yourself the following questions to check out the causes of your stress?
- Do you enjoy your work?
- Do you have too much to do?
- Do you have too little to do?
- Are other people around you stressed?
- Do you have trouble concentrating?
- Do you get easily frustrated and angry?
- Would you like more rewards?
Eating cakes and sugar might be a way of superficially shielding yourself from the intensity of the distressed feelings caused by some of these concerns. Rather than eating more cake, it can be helpful to articulate the situation. Talking about how you feel and what options you have is a healthier, more productive way of dealing with difficult situations. Talk to your family, friends and professional support agencies such as the Employee Assistance Programme.
If you are a manager who brings in cakes for the team on a regular basis, think about why you're doing this. Are you trying to articulate positive messages, such as “I like you, and I know you do a tough job” or maybe you want to say “thanks for winning that tender”. Or are you trying to cover up difficult messages to the team, such as: “I know this work has got harder and harder” or “I know we are short staffed, please don’t complain” or “please don’t give me any hassle today, because I’ve bought you cake”.
Sometimes cakes and sweets are used at work to say things to people that we are fearful of saying directly. Whatever the reason, at your workplace, for eating cake - think about the destructive stress-sugar-stress cycle and ask yourself what the real message is behind the gift of cake.