As a writer who deals primarily in work-life balance issues, I reserve a special place in my heart for health issues — specifically getting and staying healthy.
In an office environment, the pace is often slow and temptations are ever-present.
Perhaps your goal is to lose weight or maintain a healthy level of fitness.
If so, how do you keep your focus strong and navigate the pitfalls of sedentary work and endless occasions for “treats?”
More than Self-Control
When I landed in the workforce as a 22-year-old college graduate, I had more goals than just professional ones.
One of my biggest personal priorities was maintaining my 50-pound weight loss, and I thought that with parties and all-nighters behind me, it would be breeze. Oh, how sadly wrong I was.
While all-night studying was obsolete, similarly absent was walking to class, biking across campus and moving from building to building throughout the day.
Instead, I had ownership of one exclusive work-room to which I walked from my parked car, and there was a break-room often littered with doughnuts, birthday cakes, and sweetened coffees along the way.
I knew that I either had to radically modify the way that I approached my lifestyle, or I would re-gain the weight.
What I discovered was that the trap of office-related weight gain is a mindless blend of boredom, lack of self-care, and availability of junk food.
While willpower is important, maintaining a high level of activity and fitness with a desk-bound job has more to do with re-organizing the big picture than with exercising that elusive virtue of self-control.
Ten Questions to Enhance Willpower
Cues, reminders present in our day-to-day life to follow a pattern, trigger the acting-out of habits, and in order to ensure clean eating and sufficient activity, a total overhaul of the smallest parts of your job are required.
Answer the following questions for yourself as you consider the tiny routines that create poor eating habits and inactivity, so that maybe you can give willpower a little break:
1. What is Your Morning Routine?
Eating the clichéd “balanced breakfast,” which contains protein and slow-burning carbohydrates, stabilizes your blood sugar so that cravings are not only mitigated, but your mood and energy are also dramatically improved.
2. Do You Go to Work Prepared?
Pack your own lunch and snacks. When you eat at work or at a restaurant, not only are the portions uncontrolled, but commercialized foods are often laden with “extras” such as salt, sugar, and oil to improve taste (not to mention the mystery chemicals and colors).
I am not advocating all-organic-all-the-time perfectionism. Instead, do your best to balance meals out with home-prepared food.
3. What Are You Drinking?
Instead of imbibing liquid sugar such as soft drinks (even diet ones) coffees with sweetened creamers, try switching to black coffee, unsweetened tea, and (most importantly) water.
Establishing a bottle of water as your go-to beverage can dramatically eliminate calories from your daily intake of fat and sugar, as well as provide your body with the vital hydration that will downplay food cravings.
4. What Is Your Meal Routine?
We can train ourselves and our bodily processes. For example, eating at the same times each day can be very helpful in establishing effective cues for hunger.
Having pre-planned, repetitive meal times creates a pattern that your body begins to follow, such as eating at 12:30 instead of snacking all morning when you’re not actually hungry.
5. Where Do You Eat?
Eating at your desk could be perhaps the most detrimental habit you have.
Even having lunch at your desk can undermine your efforts to lose or maintain weight, because not only is the eating mindless, but you are also associating your work station with food. Compartmentalize your workplace into working, eating and socializing.
6. Do You Feel Hunger?
Hunger can announce its arrival in many ways — growling stomach, low energy or maybe even irritability for some people.
One of my helpful practices is planning dinner as early as possible, so that I do not have too many meals or calorie-heavy snacks throughout the day as I wait for a large, late dinner.
7. Do You Take Walking Breaks?
If you are desk-bound for your work, it is easy to lose track of how long you have been sitting. At least every half hour, stand and/or walk around your office space.
Other ideas for incorporating more locomotion into your day include: park as far from your workplace as possible if you don’t actually walk there, take stairs instead of elevators and take the “long routes” around your office.
8. Are You Actually Working?
While this may seem like a redundant question, I have often found that when I am truly engaged in my tasks, I wait to eat until I experience the aforementioned “true” hunger.
Somehow, a keen, intrinsic interest in what I am doing effectively bypasses bored snacking. Instead of testing your willpower, experiment with pure engagement (solid time spent working on meaningful projects) so that boredom is not an issue.
9. How Can You Politely “Say No?”
What I have discovered is that people are not offended when I decline treats, as long as I keep the focus on the other person and not on myself.
Offer effusive thanks. Exclaim over how beautiful/exciting/wonderful the event is. Heartily congratulate people who are celebrating. Most importantly, do not over-explain in a way that implies that everyone else is making poor health choices.
10. Can You Get Others Involved?
If you really feel that your office could use a health makeover and that there may be interested colleagues, consider starting a fitness incentive program at your office.
Not only are there countless apps that can track group activities, but entering into a health enterprise with a team improves your sense of community and meaning as you attempt to reach your goals together.
Thanks to these habits, I have maintained my 50-pound weight loss without going on radical diets or high-octane exercise programs.
It’s not about perfectionism or rigidity — in fact, exercising excessive willpower without other tools and habits can sabotage efforts at losing or maintaining weight. Living with balanced health is about moving from extremes to moderation — the only problem is that in 21st century first world countries, excess is the new moderation.
Refresh your perspective. Keep the focus on what’s important at the workplace — meaningful projects, relationships and personal growth. Minimize temptations so that your willpower is not depleted each day.
Most importantly, make yourself and your health a priority, so that you can be the most energetic, productive and stable person — in work and every else — that you can possibly be.