Strategies for Staying Healthy at the Office

Whether you work remotely from your own home,  or on the 28th floor of a downtown skyscraper, staying healthy on the job can be challenging.  People who work in an office tend to box themselves into a small space around their desk and computer.  They often share eating spaces with others, work under office black and whitefluorescent lights, don’t get fresh air or natural sunlight most of the day, and are often in a hunched, sitting position most of the day staring at a computer or talking on the phone.  Office jobs provide many benefits, too, and if you picked the right industry for yourself, then you’re probably very happy with your actual work.  People who work in office environments usually co-work with a team with which members often share talents, drive and/or or passion.  Office and team environments can be healthy in that it presents us with challenges, which become learning and growth opportunities.  Mentally, this keeps us sharp.

The problem with the office is that it can literally sabotage your health in ways you are completely unaware of.  And if you are aware, it can be difficult to find resolution.  Sit tight here and listen up. Or better yet… prop your monitor up, get out of your chair, and read the rest of this while standing and stretching your neck side to side:

SABOTEUR #1  SITTING

Unlike teachers, first responders or those in hospitality or parks & rec, an office job means that you are sitting for most of the day.  And when you’re not sitting at your desk, you’re either sitting in a meeting, sitting at lunch, or sitting in traffic.  And what do you do when you come home after a stressful or busy day?   Sit down for dinner and then sit on the couch?  If you work out of an office, you may be completely unaware that all that sitting is making you tired, sluggish, and prone to injury.  Your posture is taking a big hit for nearly 12 hours a day, if not more.  If you play a sport or try to work out after 12 hours of sitting, your joints will have zero mobility and your muscles will be tight from lack of flexibility.  What happens then?  What if you sit all week and then decide to go play some sand volleyball with friends on the weekend or take your son, daughter, niece/nephew (etc) out for mini golf?   Oh boy.  There goes your back again.  Still blaming your mattress?

Not only does your posture and joint mobility take a hit, so does your metabolism.  If you don’t believe me, think about this:  you don’t move, spend physical energy or contract your muscles for 3/4 of your day.  What do you think happens when you stop requiring the metabolic process to adjust to higher levels of energy?  That’s right… it adjusts to low levels of energy.  This sucks because when and if you do go and workout, lift weights, or perform a physical activity, your body is actually going to struggle even more to adapt and adjust, which can lead to more harm than good (muscle tears, back pain, adrenal fatigue).   The result of a slower metabolism also means that you are not processing nutrients into appropriate levels of energy.  So if you left college and took a desk job but kept eating the same way you did when you were walking all over campus and playing sports, the chances are: you got fat.  When your body stops using energy, but you keep piling it all in, where does it go?  If you’re sitting all day, it’s not going out, that’s for sure.

Solution:

  1. Get up every 20 minutes and walk around.  Do some stretches, do some lunges, and maybe go downstairs for fresh air and take the stairs back up.  This requires no more than 5-10 minutes of your time.

  2. Get a standing desk that you can switch back and forth to for sitting and standing.  Also, keep a Swiss Ball at your desk and use it for a chair or to do stretches on during breaks.  If you can’t get a standing desk, then do what I do at home:  get a stool and prop your computer up on it. Done. Solved.

  3. Yoga.  And guys, don’t give me any crap about this.  Yes, you can stand up and do some stretches without losing your man card.  I promise.  Try this one:

yoga for back

 

 

SABOTEUR #2  LIGHTING

An office job likely means you’re sitting under fluorescent lights all day, and if that’s not bad enough; you’re staring at a computer screen that whole time too.  What does this mean?  As humans, we depend on the sun to regulate our rhythms.  With the invention of the light bulb, we’ve been able to seclude ourselves more and more.  Without regular exposure to the sun, our natural circadian rhythms get thrown off track.  This messes with your hormones, and without opening another can of worms here, I can say that for men, and women alike, this leads to disrupted digestion, irregular periods, mood swings, low testosterone, low HGH and decrease abilities to respond to stress (such as noise levels or unpredictable events).  Also, guys?  Man boobs.  Yes.  Moobs.

Other problems related to fluorescent lights that they have been proven through several studies:  vision problems, headaches and migraines, eye strain, cortisol suppression and obesity.

Solution:

  1. No rocket science here, get outside.  Like my earlier suggestion, take regular breaks throughout the day and go outside.  Walk around.  If you can, move your desk near a window.

  2. Shut your computers and electronics off an hour before you go to bed.  Don’t use lights and lamps, but light a candle if you’re at home.  There’s a reason all earth creatures have a night/day rhythm, so stop trying to hack it.  It’s there for a reason

  3. Get a natural spectrum table lamp for your office.  Lamps, such as this one, help increase natural lighting which helps keep your own unique body chemistry regulated and adjusted.   It also enhances your mood and increases your concentration levels.

  4. Bring a plant  to your office.  Plants can decrease the interference of light noise and enhance the air quality around your desk and office.  You can name it.  And every time someone comes to you and asks for something, you can just say “You’ll have to request that from my assistant,  Lucinda.  Do you want me to leave her a message?” and point to your fern sitting in the corner.  Adding humor can always counteract the depressing, energy-draining effect of fluorescent lights.

indoor plants

 

SABOTEUR #3   OFFICE FOOD

I had a few office jobs before launching into the fitness & health industry, and believe me this is the one thing that sticks out in my memory.  My first experience with an office job was when I was still in college and I worked on a gubernatorial campaign.  It was fun, but not your average office, so when I moved to D.C. in 2002 one thing really stuck out to me in contrast.  They cater everything!  There’s an excuse everyday to have something catered at the office, whether it was morning meetings, lunch meetings, someone’s birthday, celebrating the end of a quarter, the Redskins won a game- whatever!  Holy crap everyone wants to find an excuse to use company dollars on “free” food!  Then on top of that, every receptionist and administrator had to have a candy bowl.

Admit it,  we will make up any excuse to eat free cake and drink free beer.  Anything we can come up with to put on the corporate tab should be utilized to its full advantage capacity.  Anything we can write off on taxes, get a discount on, be reimbursed for- or you name it – we find it, and we celebrate it.  Meetings, working late, birthdays, holidays, quarterlies, promotions, retirements, sales quotas, or “because it’s Friday.”

When you are noshing on catered food at the office more than twice a week – or hell – just once a week, then you’re allowing yourself to be sabotaged.  Catered or delivery office food is nothing for your belt loop to brag about.  The reason this becomes such a repetitive issue is that people look at something that’s “free” and are unable to decline it.  IT’S FREE!  Free means that if you don’t take it or consume it, then you’re stupid!  Well guess what that “free shit” is going to cost you later.  Go ahead- guess!  I don’t have to tell you this, you already know it.  The problem is that even though you know it, you can’t bring yourself to say no.

Solution:

  1. Reverse the statement:  “Free means that if you don’t take it or consume it, then you’re stupid” to “You’re stupid if you think that anything free should be consumed”.

  2. It’s so true that you get what you pay for.  If you’re racing everyone to the conference room to get dibs on the bagels or pizza because it’s FREE and if you don’t hurry, then everything will be gone then remember this one statement in your head:  I am willing to undo every effort I make towards my health and fitness for a cheap slice of pizza.  (dose of perspective)

  3. If your office has a refrigerator, then keep a few things there for these exact situations.  Label them, put your name on them, whatever.  Keep some snacks or things at your desk.

  4. Don’t act like it’s a pain in the ass to pack and carry your lunch or snacks to work.  This excuse will never fly with me.  If health is a priority, then you won’t make excuses.  If not, then just be honest with yourself and think about making some more realistic goals.

 

SABOTEUR #4  HAPPY HOUR

beer-bellyIf you’re trying to cut a few L-Bs, then consuming beer and wings after a full day at the office pounding out reports and phone meetings is like giving your body a double whammy Tyson-like blow to the metabolism.  Not only did you spend the entire day spiking your cortisol to record numbers by editing budget reports and trying to hit a deadline, but you’re going to “relieve” that stress by knocking back alcohol and eating pub food now.  That is to your metabolism and hormonal regulation as coffee and sleeping pills are to your circadian rhythm.  You stay productive by sitting at your computer all day, never taking breaks, skipping meals, and probably holding your breath most of the time and then when you get a chance to step away, you “make up” for it all by shoveling fried food and alcohol into your system.  It’s a soothing mechanism.  That’s because the gliadins in most of those foods and drinks release the same chemical chain that opiate drugs do.  These lead to hormones such as dopamine being released into the system.

And then there’s the socializing aspect of it all, too.   Merely spending time with people outside of the office has its benefits for sure.  And just like fried food and beer, the laughter and socializing can release endorphins as well.  So it’s no wonder we all look forward to the office happy hour.  But the downside of everyone punching the clock at 5pm sharp on a Wednesday (I don’t really know… I’m just guessing… Wednesday it is) and walking over to the tavern/bar/dive/club/food trailer is that your team is cultivating this trend by ignoring its outcome:  poor productivity.  Yep!  You’re not gonna have an office team zip-zooming around with happy emotions and endless energy for too long if you’re promoting, and living a craptastic lifestyle such as alcohol and bar food.  You add that in with a group collection of late nights, working weekends, travel, office politics, group conflict, deadlines, budgets and sitting all damn day and you’re speeding towards the end- both personally and professionally.   If you can prove to me how shitty food, poor sleep, mental stress and a collection of craptastic attitudes = productivity, then I’ll wipe my ass with poison ivy.

Solution:

  1. Organize a company or team workout instead of the usual happy hour.  Make it a goal to get your team together to do something active instead of hitting the bar and ordering cheap, fried pub food.  You can bond, and catch up on projects, and socialize just the same over a walk around a nearby trail, or meeting up for a game of disc golf after work.  Create a bucket list that everyone can pitch an idea to so that everyone is considered and gets to share an activity they enjoy.

  2. Don’t go.  Really!  You don’t have to go.  Did you know that?  How much work is being discussed over buffalo wings, $1 drafts, and a loud pub playing ESPN at 120 decibels?  Honestly?

  3. If you want to cut loose and unwind after work, but don’t want to miss out on the socializing, then go to the happy hour and limit yourself to one drink and don’t order the crappy food.  Set up guidelines such as:  (a)  One alcoholic beverage for every 2 large glasses of water, and (b)  instead of cheap appetizers just order a healthy-ish meal (burger no bun, side salad or grilled veggies) and ask them to pack up 1/2 of the order for you to take home and finish later.

SABOTEUR #5  CLIENTS

If you work in an industry where your job and professional reputation depends on client relationships, no matter the kind of client, you likely spend a good portion of your work time traveling, attending meetings off-site, and entertaining.  Ohhhh…. yeah.  Entertaining.  That’s the key word.  You can’t build a good relationship with clients without some form of entertainment, and that requires you to investigate and know what the competition is doing.   So if you or your boss found out that the biggest competitor just gifted your premier client with a country club membership, then you gotta do better.  Essentially, we are all politicians right?  Well this is going to add a bit of struggle to your health or weight loss goals because entertainment (in business) usually comes in the form of food, drinks, parties, and/or anything high-society or exclusive.  And because that whole lifestyle is defined by how fancy, how elaborate, and how gourmet your deliverable is, you’re going to be exposed to situations where lots of late nights, eating and drinking are taking place.

This is what happens:  a client is in town for a conference so you set up a dinner “meeting” with him/her/them.  Client meetings are not really meetings.  They’re dinners. Or nightclubs, or parties, or golfing.  But you get to write if off as an expense (re:  saboteur #3 Free!!!  Free = go wild!) so you make the best of, not only your clients’ time, but your time.  *Wink. What’s that mean?  It means:  the best whiskey in town,  the most exclusive club in the city with table service (alcohol, smoked-out rooms, loud music), and the most expensive steak restaurant with award-winning menu items.  And you have to try everything because – hello you get to write it off and duh, you will probably never encounter this moment, this sauce, this pie, this rare vodka (insert whatever) ever again.  Well, this just happened:  you defined your success  (and maybe a little bit of your happiness and self worth) with a list of food and alcohol.  (*golf claps*)  And when you look down at your growing midsection or have a bad day because you didn’t sleep well (again), then remember where your “success” is taking you.   Remember that your lifestyle choices create your health, and your physical, emotional and mental health determines the health of your relationships with others (family, kids, friends).  If you’re making more choices in your lifestyle that lead to poor health than you are making towards good health, how long do you think you’ll be around?  How patient do you think you’ll be when your kid has a bad day at school and is extra whiney?  How connected will you be to your partner if you don’t have energy, your joints hurt, your back hurts, you’re tired or you don’t feel sexy?

Solution:

Define Success:  Get out a piece of paper (because seriously… you need a break from the computer okay) and write down what success means to you.  Then ask yourself if you’re doing anything to support or create your defined success.  After you mull that over, ask yourself this:  Can I cultivate good relationships and expand my reputation professionally in other ways?  You know the answer is “yes”, so begin writing down ways you can continue being a rockstar without having to eat and drink your way into an early grave.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Start picking activities to entertain and meet with clients, mentors, peers, investors (etc) that don’t have to involve food and alcohol.  You can impress someone without those things.  The goal is to make them feel good and build trust, so try this:  skydiving, hunting, museums, or city tours.  Choose an activity that’s special to your city (or wherever you’re visiting) like hiking trails, lakes/rivers, sports teams, musicians etc.  In fact, you can really set yourself apart by not following the lead of everyone else and going to Ruth’s Chris.

  2. You don’t have to drink beer or eat nachos just because you’re at a hockey game or concert.  In fact, contrary to what you may think, you may create a much bigger impression on someone by opting OUT of negligent behaviors and thus build a much higher level of trust.  Why?  Who would you trust your investments in more:  (a)  the person who shovels fried calamri into his/her face like it will no longer exist the next day, and takes you club hopping until 3am even though they’ve got to be at the office at 8am…  And then drives home despite having spent nearly 5 hours drinking alcohol, or (b)  the person who redefines ‘thrill’ and ‘entertainment’ by offering you a good time at a sports game, explains that they don’t really drink if they know they’ll be driving (and/or because drinking clouds their brain, interferes with sleep quality and productivity- boom!), and opts for healthy menu items while talking about their family and asking you about theirs?  So really-  who are you trying to entertain when you take clients out:  them, or you?

  3. Reread #1 & 2.

 

SABOTEUR  #6  COWORKERS

Coworkers can be assholes. Especially if you’re on a “diet” and encounter that awkward situation of explaining you don’t eat processed food and everyone stares at you in silence for 10 seconds.  Or you turn down an invite to happy hour because you’re training for a 5k with your husband.  Or… cue the record-scratch-frozen-in-time reaction from a room of 20 people when you decline a piece of the boss’s birthday cake.  When did it become so extreme and ‘weird’ to eat a healthy diet and workout?  Why do we feel insecure and outcasted for making healthy decisions?  We shouldn’t.  YOU shouldn’t.

office-space-cake

Coworker comments can lead to peer pressure.  No one likes being the odd man out, or the outcast because they’re not partaking in everything all the other hyenas are doing.  So we find ourselves not speaking our truth, hiding our intentions, and thus succumbing to the social pressure within our office environment simply to skip and avoid all that uncomfortable crap.  What happens is this:  you fall off the wagon (again), you gain the weight back and/or you start getting those headaches again, your concentration levels drop and your back pain returns, you feel like crap and your patience level has dropped significantly.  And for what?  To save yourself from social uniqueness? Oh, and just so you know, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice.  You’re doing everyone else a disservice by not promoting a healthy lifestyle.  By not leading by example and promoting ways to reduce headaches (and thus missed work, and thus productivity).  By not sharing with others that they don’t HAVE to eat pizza in order to feel like they’ve “scored” another win on the company dime.

Even though comments can make you feel uncomfortable, or you may feel judged and outcasted, the truth is you can’t really blame your coworkers if you fall off the wagon.   No one owns your feelings but you, and no one forces you into any decision ever in life ever- but you.  So if this saboteur is a glaring one for you then keep in mind; this isn’t 8th grade.  Peer pressure only exists when you let it exist.  Don’t let “peer pressure” be the reason you gain 15lbs, or have to take pain medications.  That’s really, really stupid.

Solution:

  1. Own it!  Don’t hide it.  When you act insecure or behave like you have something to hide, then you will receive even more teasing and more peer pressure.  Be matter of fact when they put you on the spot.  “”Yes, I usually try to avoid anything processed.  I removed sugar to lose some weight and then noticed my blood pressure dropped so much I don’t have to take my medications for it anymore.  So now I’m managing my health by not eating processed food.  It’s pretty cool.  Even the inlaws are doing it”… bla bla bla or whatever you want to say, but that’s a prime example of OWNING IT.   Do you actually think they can respond to that negatively?  Heck no.  You- 1, Coworker-0.

  2. If you don’t want to own it, then just don’t explain it.  Why do you feel like you have to explain?  If you decline and they ask “why?” or try to mock you by making condescending jokes about “being on a diet”, then simplify the situation with zero explanation or defense.  If they ask why, then ask THEM why.  “Why are you eating it?” and if they say they’re eating it because its delicious, yummy cake, then you can say “well good, then you can have my piece,” and let that just be… that.  If they’re mocking you, “Oh look guys, Jeremy’s on a diet.  Someone get this stud a salad, he’s too good for pizza day,” then a simple “thanks! dressing on the side!” goes a long way.  Don’t act offended, and don’t BE offended.  Did you make food and lifestyle choices to impress other people or be accepted?  Or do you make lifestyle choices in order to be healthy, fit, strong, and energetic?  Which one?  And guess what… while your coworkers are all taking hormone replacement drugs and viagra in a few years, you’ll know who the “stud” is.  (that goes for you, too, ladies).

 

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NEXT UP:  STRESS

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Stay tuned for my next installment about stress.  This can be a huge office saboteur to your health and fitness goals, but stress is such a multidimensional topic that I cannot simply fit it all into one section of this article.  Be sure to subscribe by email to receive that post when it arrives, as well as many others.  And, as always:  sharing is caring.  If this was helpful for you, or approve this message, comment and/or link me.  Stay healthy everyone!

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