Sitting at a desk for hours at a time can be both mentally and physically draining, and according to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, more than two in five full-time workers say they have gained weight in their current job, with women reporting higher levels of weight gain than men.
Most blame their weight gain on sitting for the majority of the day, feeling too tired from work to exercise, and eating more because of stress. Sound familiar?
In my case, I went from being a fairly active student who exercised regularly and was on my feet a lot as a part-time waitress and bartender, to working full time as a writer, which meant I was suddenly spending eight hours or more each day just sitting at a desk.
Working from home also meant I no longer had to commute to work, and while this technically should have freed up more time in my schedule for exercise and healthy eating, the reality was a bit different.
Long story short, it got to the point where I was so out of shape that even climbing short flights of stairs left me breathless and people who hadn’t seen me in a while were congratulating me on my pregnancy (I wasn’t expecting). It was at this point that I realized I was going to have to make some serious lifestyle changes.
The first and most important thing I had to acknowledge is that while it’s not impossible to stay physically fit when you have a desk job, it does mean you’ll have to work a lot harder at it than someone in a more physically demanding line of work.
So if you’re looking for effective ways to combat your less-than-healthy work habits, here are three important things you should start doing today.
1. Don’t ignore your stress
In addition to affecting your mental wellbeing, stress can have a huge impact on your physical health too, and research shows that it can contribute to gastrointestinal problems and heart disease, and may even slow your metabolism.
Interestingly, the CareerBuilder survey found that workers who reported lower stress levels also reported less weight gain, so if you’re looking to lose weight, finding ways to manage your stress and achieve a better work-life balance should be your first step.
Start by figuring out what your triggers are and how you can avoid or better manage the resulting stress. For instance, you might feel most anxious when you have a hard deadline coming up, in which case you could try to break projects up into smaller chunks to avoid a last-minute rush.
Or, if your stress levels tend go up towards the end of the week, making an effort to get plenty of rest and exercise on days you know will be particularly stressful can help you cope.
2. Change your snacking habits
Even if you’re health conscious during mealtimes, it’s easy to pack on extra calories throughout the day without even really thinking about it, especially if you’re prone to stress-eating.
This is not to say that snacking is bad, and in fact, research shows that the right type of snacking can help you control your appetite and avoid overeating later on. However, it is important to make conscious decisions about what, when, and where you eat.
First of all, try not to eat at your desk, as studies show that this type of mindless eating can cause us to overeat. Instead, make an effort to leave your desk and sit somewhere peaceful where you can focus on your food and enjoy the different flavors and textures without being distracted.
Secondly, if you know you’ll be snacking throughout the day, pack healthy snacks that will satisfy your cravings without filling you with empty calories and harmful chemicals.
High-protein snacks such as nuts along with raw fruits and vegetables are best for giving you an energy boost at work, but it’s best to portion out your snacks beforehand, as even healthy snacks will cause weight gain if you eat too much.
3. Make exercise a priority
Aside from helping us stay physically fit, exercise can be a huge stress and anxiety reliever, so while you may not feel like you can fit exercise into your already-busy schedule, the truth is that if you want to avoid workplace burnout and stay healthy, you simply can’t afford not to exercise.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but when it comes to weight loss, consistency is extremely important. Fitting in just 20-30 minutes of high intensity interval training each morning before you go to work can actually be more effective than working out for two hours at a time once or twice a week.
What also helped for me was finding a form of exercise I actually enjoyed. Whether it’s running, yoga, body-weight training, dancing, swimming, or playing a sport like tennis or basketball, find a way to get moving that will be enjoyable rather than a chore.
Once you realize just how much of a difference exercise can make in your life, it will become just as important to you as eating or sleeping. You will make time for it, even if that means getting up a bit earlier, turning your commute into a workout, or fitting in some exercise during your lunch break.
Featured photo credit: Photo by Christopher Campbell via unsplash.com