Gaining weight seems inevitable when your daily commute is 20 steps from the bedroom, you complain every time you step outside that it’s too bright, and the email onslaught and relentless buzzing of your phone drive you a little bit closer to drinking at 10 in the morning and working until the wee hours.
Working from home is awesome until the struggle gets very, very real.
I’ve been working from homes and coffee shops around the world since October 2015, but the problems of lack of movement, snacking like Pac-Man, and wondering “Who needs sleep anyway?” affect me just the same. I’ve managed to keep my weight and pant size steady throughout–from Paris to London to Tokyo–and it wasn’t because I sat on a yoga ball or used a 500-dollar standing desk.
The Majority of Tips You Read Are Dumb
“Remember to get up every 15 minutes to stretch.”
“Do air squats every hour.”
“Go for a walk every hour.”
“Actually, you know what? Buy this expensive standing desk.”
These tips suck. Don’t get me wrong, the message behind them is fine and noble. They’re quick and dirty tips and anyone can do them.
They’re just cringeworthy because they don’t really address the root of your problem, which in this case, is not having a habit of moving your sweatpants-wearing ass enough. The extra pickle here is, those issues themselves often run deeper than that and are hard to place in a neat little box for everyone.
What if someone doesn’t move enough because they’re an extreme workaholic to the point of “forgetting” to eat (which is crazy to me) or leave their desk for 10 hours? And if it’s that, “doing air squats” just turns them into a workaholic who skips meals and maybe occasionally gets up to do air squats…if they remember to.
And just what would those 20 air squats do anyway? I suppose any movement is better than nothing, but the reality is, no one has ever gotten in shape from occasionally doing 20 air squats, without concerted effort elsewhere. If regular exercise and movement aren’t already part of your day, these tweaks set unrealistic expectations. They’re not enough to help you see results that you actually care about (e.g. weight loss, smaller pant size, seeing changes in the mirror, etc.) to make you stick to them. You do, unfortunately, end up possibly getting more neurotic.
So great, you’ve distracted yourself to avoid the real stuff that help you maintain (or lose) weight: not eating more calories and junk than you need, committing to an exercise routine, knowing your priorities to minimize stress, and going to sleep at a reasonable hour–you know, the boring-ass basics.
What about willpower?
Yeah, willpower can help you get started on something, but no amount of willpower can make you love doing air squats if you don’t truly see the point of doing them. Ergo, you can’t directly relate your effort of doing air squats to seeing actual improvements in your life.
All of this means that tips like sitting on a yoga ball instead of a proper chair because it’s supposedly better? Waste of your brainpower.
Here’s what you can focus your energy on instead.
Strategy 1: “Fix” Your Morning Routine
Routine is a powerful thing. A good routine at the very start of your day? Fuck yes, even better.
That’s because all of the actions you take when you wake up can be the difference between a positive and negative mindset that ripples out to the rest of your day. It’s the difference between “What a nice day, everything is nice, this is nice.” and “OH GOD, EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE! *drink*”
When you’re in control of your emotions and time, you build a “I did something good for myself” mentality and want to keep that momentum. You’d be less likely to spiral into unhealthy thoughts like, “I’m going to go ahead and inhale this entire cheesecake because I did that dumb thing for Bob even though he should’ve done it and I ‘deserve’ this.”
So starting tomorrow morning, take notice of how you go about your morning. Notice your own sequence of events and your mood. Maybe you get up and the first thing you do is reach for your phone to check email and social media because, well, it’s routine at this point. Take note of that social media-checking reflex. And then, maybe your mood nose-dives into the pits of Mordor as you scroll through the endless electronic cries for HALP, and now your morning turns sucky. Note that, too.
Eventually, you start to notice all the little things, like checking your emails first thing, that ruin your morning, so your first task is to CUT THAT SHIT OUT. A huge indicator is when you sigh or feel anxious or really unenthusiastic about something. Replace that thing with something else, like reaching for a journal (I use a Five-Minute Journal), opening a meditation app, or doing anything that’s more focused on self-care.
Of course, when you’re a nomad and always moving around, your morning routine has to play off of your environment. Still, I found that once you’ve built a powerful routine at home, certain parts of it will always stay with you (you just need to spend a few days rejiggering your environment for it) no matter where you go. For example, I always drink my coffee (duh), but what mainly changes place to place is that I have to figure out how to acquire it. I still write in my Five-Minute Journal and work on my own writing for an hour or two before I work on other things.
Strategy 2: Change How You Think About Walk Breaks
If I simply told you to go take a walk because you should, you’d probably nod and agree, then secretly tell me to piss off.
Because, again, if you don’t see the true value in actually taking a walk, but instead feel like you’re being asked to lie naked on a bed of spikes, guess what? You’re going to hate doing it. So what if you reframe your perspective of what a walk does for you so that the benefits are much more immediately appealing to you? Here’s what I mean.
I can get maybe two or three hours of productive work, including writing, before I feel like I have to squeeze my brain like the last bits of a toothpaste tube to get some remaining use out of it. When I get to that point, I take walks as a way to, sure, get up and move more, but mostly because it lets a half-baked thought percolate and also helps me discover new approaches to a problem that got me stuck. All I needed was a break!
In other words, a walk is necessary for me to keep being creative, and that makes it much more important to me. I remember reading something similar in psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct. A student of hers thought of exercise and walking as a way to build up willpower and mental energy to take on the day’s tasks. That meant much more to him as a business owner than someone telling him, “It’s good for you, I promise!”
Instead of just telling yourself to walk or move more because “sitting too much is bad”, think of walking in terms of something that makes you give a crap.
Strategy 3: Set Up Your Food Environment for You to Win
I pretty much go to the fridge about 50 times a day, but jokes on me because I don’t have much in there! It’s on purpose, of course.
Here’s the thing: you can’t snack if you don’t have anything to snack on in the house. That does mean, however, that if you don’t have tempting foods at home, the real fight starts and ends at the grocery store.
A few rules for shopping here then:
- Use the “Fuck Yes Rule” here: Will what you want to buy really, really make you all giddy and happy to eat in 20 minutes?
- Don’t go to the store hungry. Just don’t do it. If you do, chug a bunch of water before you go to the store and have a mint.
- For things that are on sale, ask yourself, “Would you really eat/buy this thing normally if it weren’t on sale?”
- Don’t let your brain convince yourself that you can portion control–you probably won’t about 80% of the time. Just keep those snacks out.
If your family has snacks around, request that they are kept out of sight in the cupboard. It turns out that if you can’t really see food out in the open, like on the kitchen counter, there’s less of a “trigger” to want to eat it.
Strategy 4: If You Have to Snack, Eat “Buffer” Foods
Despite my sort of earth-shattering tip of keeping junk food out of sight, you might still be tempted to snack on something. Instead of denying yourself, go for it, but with “buffer” foods.
They’re not really cheat foods, but they’re close enough to satisfy your fiendish cravings and let you still feel good about the choice you’ve made. A piece of fruit you really enjoy, maybe a few Hershey’s Kisses, or a tablespoon of peanut butter are examples of buffer foods.
The idea here is to just eat the minimum amount for you to feel satisfied because I’m sure that Toblerone really wasn’t as absolutely divine as the first two to three pieces.
Strategy 5: Be Aware of Why You’re Eating Something
Mindless eating is a real problem. It happened in the cubicle farm for me, and it happens at home just the same. I did realize, however, that snacking was just a form of avoiding actual work for a few extra minutes and a lame way to relieve boredom.
So ask yourself if you’re noshing because you’re actually hungry or just want to snack for the sake of snacking. More often than not, you’re just bored or trying to procrastinate. When you realize this, it may be time for you to re-assess your priorities for that day or maybe go for a walk to clear your head.
You’ll notice that I didn’t tell you, Go exercise, duh dummy! That’s obvious, and everyone knows it, but if you’re not already exercising regularly, I can’t sell you on it in 300 words. Instead, if you really have a goal of losing 10 pounds and haven’t mastered your exercise routine, I encourage you to sign up for my emails below. You’ll get my free guide on how to help you overcome that feeling of “laziness” to start doing something, including exercise.
Featured image by somegeekintn.
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