Is your job making you fat?
Ken and Stacey Lloyd believe it is.
The father-and-daughter team living in Los Angeles – he's a consultant, she's a health writer – say it starts with the commute, a sedentary time when people snack to ward off stress or boredom behind the wheel.
If you don't commute, and work from a home office, the refrigerator and chip-filled pantry are all too close. When commuters hit the office, they spend the day tempted by food – doughnuts and cookies sitting on tables, leftovers from somebody's party brought in to share, ever-present candy jars on desks, lunches with colleagues or clients, and, of course, the birthday cake to celebrate somebody's special day. In their book Is Your Job Making You Fat?, they refer to this office food fest as "the peer-pressure cooker."
Indeed, they note that in the first few months of taking a new job, research suggests we're likely to gain 15 pounds. And it doesn't necessarily stop there: As we continue in a job, more weight is likely to be added. Studies also show the more hours we work, the more pounds we are likely to put on. It's the same with the commute, by the way; the longer the commute, the more the weight gain.
Perhaps other factors are the cause, you might think – after all, we live in a time of fast food restaurants and obesity, so the cause may not be our job. But they point to how jobs have become increasingly sedentary, without the continual walks to the photocopier and colleagues' offices that were common just a few decades ago. Stress is up, and weight gain correlates with stress. Overwhelmed with work, we skip meals and then end up taking in more calories through thoughtless snacking or eating at our desks with our mind not on what we're consuming. And, of course, there's that daily commuting drama, with its unhealthy consequences.
"The average employee sits 65 to 75 per cent of the day and works with food spread around. It's the perfect storm for weight gain," Stacey Lloyd said in an interview.
Most of us aren't paying attention. The pair share many sobering statistics to jolt us to action, including the fact the average desk has 400 times the bacteria of the average toilet seat, thanks to all our munching. They say you need to apply the same techniques you use at work to solve business problems to this critical issue of health and survival.
Their obvious conclusions: You need to get moving. You need to stop eating mindlessly.
If you commute, park a reasonable distance from the office so you can get some walking in. Lace the day with movement, getting a sit-stand desk and replacing some e-mails with a walk to the potential recipient's desk. Buy a pedometer – studies show that getting one leads to increasing the number of steps in a day by 2,000 (toward the 7,000 to 10,000 steps hailed as a goal). Hold stand-up meetings, which actually seem to increase creativity.
"Ask yourself while working: 'Could I do what I'm doing now by standing or walking?' Take a phone call; you can do that while standing up. That e-mail to the person down the hall? Get up, fidget and walk. You can burn 20 calories by just standing up," Ken Lloyd said.
Adopt some weight-loss goals, to keep you on guard against the candy bowl and its accompanying temptations. Write a contract with yourself to reinforce your commitment. Perhaps that commitment might be to shun free food and eat only what you purchase yourself. Putting a cost on eating reflects the fact there is a definite cost to your health when the stuff is unhealthy, they note.
If it's your own candy bowl, no need to throw it out; just replace the candy with something that is healthier. If you're a boss, reconsider the notion that you should reward employees with food. "We're not dogs. We don't need to be rewarded with food," Stacey Lloyd says.
Manage stress so you don't turn to food, applying meditation and breathing techniques. Politely decline the free food offered at work, or limit your intake – cut that muffin in two or decline to fill your plate. Turn down dessert, even if the rest of the office team is shovelling it in. "You handle peer pressure all the time at work. You are your own boss. If your peers are eating, you don't have to. Your peers don't control you," he said.
As for the commute, reduce stress (and associated snacking) by leaving earlier. Consider whether your commute could involve walking or biking, at least for part of it. Approach your boss to see whether you can change the hours you commute or work from home one day a week, to reduce time spent in the car.
Watch what and how much you eat en route. Do you need the daily pit stop for unhealthy food or is there a substitute? And exercise. Their book has a series of exercises that can be done while sitting in the car, as passenger or driver. They aren't cardio workouts but the low impact exercises can burn some calories.
Nodding is an exercise – nod yes 10 times, then shake your head no 10 times, repeated for five cycles. Another suggestion: Push your shoulder blades forward, holding them in that position for five to 10 seconds before bringing them back and relaxing. Repeat 10 times. Or just shrug your shoulder 10 times, take a deep breath, and repeat for five sets.
Rethink your commute and your habits at work. "The only thing fat on your job should be the paycheque," Stacey Lloyd insists.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter