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It can be tough to stay fit and healthy when you’re working a desk job. It doesn’t matter if you’re spending 8 to 10 hours a day at an office, or if you’re working from home. Staying in shape when you work at a desk can be quite a challenge. I’m sure you’ve heard about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. We weren’t designed to sit for hours at a time and some health care professionals now refer to sitting as the new smoking. Sitting for long periods of time has been associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome, both of which bring with them a slew of health concerns including increased risks for heart disease and stroke. It’s just not a natural state for a species that evolved for tens of thousands of years as hunters and gatherers.
We’re not designed to sit all day. Because of that staying healthy if you sit in an office all day can be a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’re working in an office, or from a desk at home. If you spend the majority of your time sitting down, you need to take a proactive approach. After all, there’s only so much you can do outside of working hours. It’s important to do what you can while you’re at work.
Throughout this guide, we'll take a look at diet, exercise, and mindset. By combining these three approaches, you have the best chance of seeing results and sticking to a healthy lifestyle.
The healthier and the more active you can be at work, the less you have to worry about it in your time off. That means you have more time to have fun and enjoy with your loved ones in the evenings and on the weekend. Does this mean you can do and eat whatever you want outside of the office? Of course not. But it does give you more options and a bit of leeway to indulge in a treat or spend a Saturday binge watching Netflix.
Does this mean you need to spend all your working hours standing, walking around, or doing chair exercises? Of course not. The goal is to strive for balance. Small changes and healthy habits can make a big difference in how you feel.
Let’s dive right in by talking about your diet and how you can make sure you eat healthy at the office.
Sticking To A Healthy Diet At The Office
What you eat has a big impact on how well you feel, how fit you are, and even how much you will get done at work. When you eat a big lunch of food that's not that good for you (think pigging out on pizza or the Chinese buffet down the road), makes you come back ready to take a nap in the early afternoon instead of finishing up a big project. And those pick-me-up, sugary snacks you get out of the vending machine only make you feel better for a little while before you crash from your sugar high. In other words, eating food that's good for you and sticking to a healthy diet is important. But working in an office, or even from your desk at home doesn't make it easy to eat well. In this chapter, we'll discuss sticking to a healthy diet at the office. Let's start by looking at the importance of eating healthy and the challenges it brings in a little more detail.
The Importance Of Eating Healthy
There are a lot of great reasons for eating healthy. By choosing the right foods, you greatly improve your chances of staying healthy and keeping your weight in check. When it comes to your job, eating healthy even helps you perform better. You have more focus and energy when you fuel your body with healthy fare instead of junk.
If you want to stay on top of your game and have the energy to make it through even the longest of work days, you have to choose carefully what you put on your plate and in your cup. Eating healthy, well-balanced meals is the goal here, particularly at lunchtime and of course breakfast.
The Challenges Of Eating Healthy At The Office
Sadly most offices and break rooms are stuffed with unhealthy food options. You have the vending machines, the box of donuts on the break table that your boss brought in, and of course lots of takeout and fast food options for lunch. Hunting down healthy food in and around the office can be a bit of a challenge.
We already talked about some of the challenges you face in an office environment. There’s the temptation of unhealthy food brought in to share like that box of donuts, birthday cake, or the pizza party. The temptation of having free junk food is bad enough on a good day. When you're stressed, bored, or tired and looking for a way to make it through your workday it gets worse. It's hard to be good and hold out until you can cook a healthy dinner at home when the vending machine full of chips, cookies, and chocolate beckons. You know the sugar or salt will give you a quick burst of energy. Or how about a quick trip to the coffee cart for a sugar and caffeine filled treat. Both are short term solutions that will do more harm than good in the long run. But they are also tempting and close by.
Just being aware of these temptations will help you maneuver around them. But it doesn’t have to stop there. I have some tips for you that make eating healthy and avoiding the office junk food trap easier.
Tips For Eating Healthy At Your Desk
Your best policy when it comes to sticking to a healthy diet at work and in general is to be prepared. That’s what most of these tips have in common. It’s much easier to resist temptation if you’ve either just eaten a healthy and delicious meal, or you know you have an option within reach that’s good for you.
Start with a healthy and filling breakfast. If eating early in the morning doesn’t sound appealing and you usually just run on a cup of coffee, pack yourself a healthy snack that you can eat at your desk when you are
ready for your first meal. Eating something good for breakfast instead of skipping it will keep you from making bad food choices at lunch. Eggs or a whole grain dish like oatmeal are both good breakfast choices that will keep you full until lunch time.
Next, let’s talk about lunch. We’ve all had heavy, greasy, fast-food type lunches and we’ve all had days when we’ve overindulged. You know you don’t feel good by the time you make it back to your desk. You feel sluggish all afternoon and it’s hard to get much of anything done. A light and healthy lunch is a much better option. If you are lucky and have healthy options at the restaurants around work, that’s great. But for most of us, that can be a little hard and possibly expensive. Packing a lunch is often your best bet. If you make it yourself, you know exactly what goes into your food and thus into your body. Packing a lunch may seem like a bit of a chore at first, but it won’t take you long to make it part of your getting-ready routine. Salads, wraps, sandwiches, and even leftovers from dinner make great healthy lunch options. In a pinch, just grab some sandwich meat, cheese, nuts and fruit.
If you do have to eat out for lunch, make a choice of where to go and what to order early in the day, before you get too hungry and desperate. It’s easy to look up menus online and won’t take you long to come up with a few healthy lunch choices you can pick on those days when you’re not bringing your lunch.
With a filling breakfast and a healthy lunch under your belt, it should be pretty easy to make it until you get home for dinner. If you’re a snacker, eating only three healthy meals per day can be a bit of a challenge. The cold hard truth though is that you don’t need snacks once you make it past the toddler years. Eating no more than three meals should be just fine most days and it allows your insulin levels to drop naturally. Make it a goal to get out of the habit of snacking all day, even if it is on healthy
That being said, you should keep a small stash of healthy emergency food at your desk. You never know when you may be stuck at the office longer than expected, or you oversleep and have to head out without your healthy breakfast. Those are the days when you’ll be most tempted to hit the vending machine, or order in some Chinese takeout. Having a few healthy options including water, energy bars, fruit, nuts and whatever other healthy, shelf-stable fare you can think of will be priceless to help you stay on track.
Speaking of water, as you get into this healthy eating habit, drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help keep you hydrated, full, and on track with your healthy diet. Instead of grabbing a candy bar when you feel that afternoon slump, go get a glass of water or a cup of tea or coffee. When your stomach grumbles before it's time for your next meal, fill it with a cup of hot herbal tea. It works. Give it a try.
We'll talk about mindset in a lot more detail in chapter three. For now, start to think of food as fuel for your body. You want to perform well at work and just feel better in general. In order for that to happen, you have to pick the right fuel for your body. Make it a habit of thinking about that with every meal or snack you have. If it isn't good fuel for your body, skip it.
I mentioned this briefly at the beginning of this chapter, but it’s worth repeating. Plan ahead as much as you can and get into the habit of sticking to that plan. Pack your meals if you know you’ll be away from home, so you have full control over what you eat. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure when it comes to eating junk and becoming overweight. Or you may say an ounce of preparation prevents a pound or two from creeping on the scale.
Last but not least let's get real for a minute. Sticking to a healthy diet is something you should aim for most of the time, the key phrase being "most of the time". Don't beat yourself up over the occasional piece of birthday cake at the office, or indulging at the office Christmas party. Life is a balance and eating well is part of that. Indulge every now and then, but aim to eat healthy most of the time.
Just make sure it's "every now and then", not every day, or multiple times per week. I'm not giving you permission to pig out all the time. You know
better than that. Eat well, choose your food wisely, and you'll see great improvements in your health, well-being, and even productivity at work. Now that we’ve talked about diet, let’s take a look at what you can do about working out at the office.
Working Exercise Into Your Workday
Yes, you can exercise throughout your workday and even get a bit of a workout in right at your desk. Will it replace the gym? Of course not. What the tips and exercises I will share with you in this chapter will do is help you move a little more, ease the tension in your body, get the blood moving for better mental focus, and help you feel better and stay healthy.
Of course, a little workout during lunch will help on those days when you can’t make it to the gym or go for that morning run. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Why do we need to worry about exercise in the first place? We are told that it’s important to move around more and work at least 60 minutes of physical activity into our busy days, but what are the actual benefits of working out?
Exercise is good for you. Our bodies were designed to help us move around. Evolutionally speaking they are designed for hours and hours of walking to gather food and hunt. They are not designed to sit in an office chair, car, or the couch. Moving around for at least an hour a day helps us offset some of the damage we’re doing to ourselves by spending too much time sitting down. It’s not good for our back and squishes our organs. Exercise also helps us burn some of the extra calories we're taking in through the food we eat and the drinks we drink. Take that pumpkin spice latte with extra whipped cream you treated yourself to this morning. Your body may not need all those extra calories and you need to burn off some of that sugar. Moving around more at the office will help you do at least some of that.