Inactive at your desk all day? Eating a mountain of carbs for lunch? Not enough hours in the day for you to find time to exercise? There are numerous reasons why your day job could be adding inches to your waistline and making it harder for you to stay fit and healthy, and with the average UK work week now one of the longest in the EU, the situation is only getting worse.
So, is your job making you fat? And short of giving it up and retraining as a yoga teacher, what changes can you make to fight the desk-jockey bulge?
Read on to discover the many diet pitfalls that come with working full time, and how to safely navigate around them and emerge looking fabulous.
The daily commute
With most of us spending the majority of our working day in the seated position, it’s a mystery as to why we’re so willing to do the same on the journey to the office. All that time spent in the car, bus, train or tube is yet more time when you are not using up any energy. Your morning commute is in fact an easy way to kickstart your day with some serious calorie burning. If you normally get the bus to your station stop, cut it out and walk instead – you may need to set off from home a bit earlier but the benefits of a brisk 20-minute walk every day will soon start to show. Better still, think about whether you can walk, bike or even run the whole way to or from work, turning your entire commute into a workout.
The Americans get blamed for everything, but in this case it’s deserved. Thanks to the coffee boom which started in Seattle and spread across the developed world, many of us now feel slightly bereft if we walk into the office without our tall, wet, mocha cappuccino. What your morning caffeine injection actually represents, however, is as many as 500 extra calories that you consume in the morning and then sit on all day. If the thought of giving up your morning coffee brings you out in hives, then start off with small steps – swap full-fat milk for semi-skimmed or – even better – skimmed and you automatically knock off hundreds of calories. Then, if you can bear it, think about trying a herbal tea instead – not only will it help you lose weight, it will also reduce your caffeine dependency which, we promise, once you’ve got through the shakes, really will start making you feel better.
Have you ever considered how little you move around during the eight (or more) hours you are tied to your desk? It’s a sobering thought. Even those precious moments when you get up to walk to the photocopier, bathroom or water machine adds up to very little or no physical activity during the day. Although you can’t start running around the conference table, with a bit of effort you can at least get your muscles moving. Try and make a point of going for a walk at some point during the day, even if this just involves taking the long way round to your favourite lunch spot. If you don’t have to leave your building to get food at all during the day, its even more important for you to make time to get outside and see some daylight – put your out of office on for 15 minutes and do a few laps of the car park.
Lunch on the run
The days of clocking off at 1pm to enjoy a long, leisurely lunch break are well and truly numbered. According to a survey by supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, 43% of us eat lunch at our desks (55% in London) while another 20% go no further than the office canteen. Meanwhile, the same survey found that 78% of people choose the humble sandwich as their main meal at lunchtime. So, basically it’s a carb-fest while checking your Facebook page to see what your ex-boyfriends got up to last night. It may be hard to pull yourself away, but you will really feel the benefit of getting up, stretching your legs and venturing far enough away from the office to find some decent food. Try and avoid carb-heavy snacks like pasta and bread; go for protein-laden salads or sushi instead if you want to keep the pounds off and stay awake during the long afternoon ahead.
Back pain is one of the main causes of sick days in the UK, and if you’re immobile or in agony, you’re not going to be doing any exercise. The chair you use, the height of your desk and the size of your screen can all impact on your posture which, if you’re getting it wrong, can have a serious effect on your back and neck. Your office should offer a work space assessment – take them up on this and make sure that you follow the directions to sit properly and have the correct equipment to protect your body.
Not drinking enough
Drinking enough water – which prevents fluid retention and keeps hunger at bay – is one of the building blocks of staying fit, healthy and slim. However, those little plastic cups dispensed at the water cooler in your office are hardly conducive to getting your eight glasses a day. Dehydration means you are unable to concentrate, feel fatigued and prone to headaches. The sense of listlessness will mean making it to the gym at the end of the day is highly unlikely. Buy a bottle of water keep refilling it throughout the day or, better and cheaper still, bring in a full-size glass from home and keep it topped up on your desk.
We all get stressed at work from time to time but for many people the daily grind can take a severely heavy toll. When you suffer from chronic stress, rather than just a very busy day, your levels of cortisol increase, causing your metabolism to slow down. This gives you that sluggish feeling and means that you are likely to gain weight even where you diet remains the same. Stress also leads to cravings for salty, fatty and sugary foods, even though these are the last thing you need to make you feel better. On top of all that, excessive stress can also impact on where you store fat in your body; high levels of stress have been linked to increased levels of abdominal fat. Be sure to eat proper meals at regular mealtimes, always have healthy snacks with you at work and get help to relax – try yoga or Pilates as a way of getting some space and calm.
Work takes up all your time
Most of us are able to accept that, unless we win the lottery or inherit a fortune, we’ll be spending the majority of our time slogging away to earn a living. What is harder to deal with is the amount that work continues to encroach on our spare time, making it much more difficult to eat well and exercise. Be strong; out-of-office hours should be sacrosanct, so turn off your smartphone, leave your laptop at the office and use this time to do a yoga class, go running or serve up a home-cooked meal.