Not Hungry? It Could Be Workplace Stress

We have previously discussed how stress at work can influence various aspects of your health and contribute to symptoms such as exhaustion and sleep disturbances. In this post, we focus on the guts of the problem: How stress at work can influence your appetite and contribute to unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, and stomach cramps. 

stress at work can influence your appetite and contribute to unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, and stomach cramps

As in our previous posts on the topic, we draw evidence from a large-scale analysis that crunched the numbers from 79 research studies across several decades. They break down workplace stress into to 7 basic sources:

Interpersonal Conflict: Negative workplace interactions such as disagreements, arguments, or bullying

Lack of Control: Inability to determine how or when job tasks are performed

Organizational Constraints: Things that prevent employees from completing tasks and performing their job effectively; often a lack of necessary information, tools, time, materials, or authority

Role Ambiguity: Ambiguity about job role and responsibilities—specifically when expectations, standards, tasks, duties, or other responsibilities are not clearly established

Role Conflict: Ambiguity about job role and responsibilities—specifically when inconsistent or conflicting role information is given by one or more customer, coworker, manager/supervisor

Work Hours: Number of hours spent working within a given period of time

Workload: The amount of work required of an employee, factoring both physical and mental effort


Stress and Appetite

The relationship between stress and appetite is complex. Most people are aware of the fact that stress can make you hungry. While there is definitely evidence to support this phenomenon, repeated exposure to stress over time often increases activity of the hormone Leptin, which suppresses your appetite. About 1 in 5 people get less hungry when they are stressed out, and it is probably because they experience frequent stress in their lives.

  • The strongest predictor of reduced appetite is organizational constraints. People who lack the resources to do their job effectively tend to lose their appetite.
  • Interpersonal conflicts are the second strongest predictor of reduced appetite. Negative workplace interactions don’t make you want to eat.
  • Work hours and workload are moderately related to reduced appetite.


Stress and Digestive Symptoms

  • Organizational constraints are also the strongest predictor of unpleasant digestive symptoms.
  • Interpersonal conflicts are also second strongest predictor of digestive symptoms.
  • Lack of control, role ambiguity, and role conflict are much more strongly related to digestive symptoms than they are to appetite.
  • Work hours and workload are also moderately related to digestive problems.


Organizational constraints and interpersonal conflicts seem to be especially important to your stomach’s wellbeing. It is unclear from the evidence why some factors are more strongly related to digestive problems than they are to appetite, but it could be related to how frequently the different types of stress are experienced.

Work hours and workload do have a moderate influence on your stomach but how much you work, and how hard you work, are much less important than having the right resources and getting along with the people around you.

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