BUSY? WE THOUGHT SO. HERE'S YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO INTEGRATING HEALTH INTO YOUR ON-THE-GO LIFESTYLE.
The stresses stemming from your work life can lead to a downturn in your health and an increase in your waistline. It can feel impossible to maintain a healthy routine when you are buried under work and overwhelmed by expectations and obligations.
In college, I worked at a weight loss center for two years, which completely changed my outlook on eating and stress management. Before that job, I was barely making time for exercise, had no idea if I was eating the right foods and ended up consuming too many snacks filled with sugar and empty calories. By my junior year, the freshman 15 was in full effect, brought on by the stress of having to write a 100-page paper for a notoriously difficult journalism class. I was so accustomed to eating out and snacking as a response to my stress that I had no idea how to shed the weight.
My habits began to change shortly after becoming a weight loss consultant. I had one-on-one meetings with clients every day (primarily women 30 to 80 years old) to review their food diaries, discuss their stresses and strategize how to overcome their challenges so they could succeed with the program. Most of these women had gained weight due to years of stressful work conditions, unhealthy relationships and emotional baggage. The majority of our clients had at one time been slim, but most had been battling their weight for years. Although we helped hundreds of women meet their weight loss goals, I also watched many more drop out of the program and return to their old habits.
Through this experience I learned a lot about the connection between stress and weight gain. I became determined to help myself and others develop better habits. The majority of our clients came into the center with 50 or more pounds to lose, feeling lethargic, moody and miserable. Don’t let this be you!
It can feel impossible to maintain a healthy routine when you are buried under work and overwhelmed by expectations and obligations.
I want to encourage young women to make healthy changes now. Pay attention to nutrition labels and be aware of what you’re putting in your body for the betterment of your future! These women didn’t plan to be heavy or unhappy, but they never established healthy habits and lost themselves along the way.
Having worked primarily with women, I’m used to hearing conversations about weight, stress and exercise. I know how frustrating these topics can be, especially when you’re slammed at work and feel like there’s no way to stick to a routine. Therefore, I’ve developed three strategies that will help you manage your stress and maintain your health in any work-related environment.
1. FUEL YOURSELF THE RIGHT WAY
You should be starting your morning with a hearty breakfast (the biggest meal of the day) and not allowing for major gaps between meals. Coffee does not replace a meal. When you wait too long to eat, your blood sugar levels spike, which leads to mood swings, irritability and feeling ravenous. This creates a cycle of over-eating and unnecessary “grazing” throughout the day.
Packing your lunch and planning ahead is the solution. You should pack small meals and snacks to enjoy every 2 to 3 hours that are high protein, low carb and low sugar. Protein keeps you fueled for longer since it takes the body longer to break down. Avoid packaged snacks and focus on eating small servings of food straight from the source. Get started with these great ideas for portable, high-protein snacks!
When buying your groceries, don’t only look at the calories. Pay attention to sugar, fat and carb content as well. While yogurt can be a great snack, certain brands are packed with 18 to 24 grams of sugar per serving, while others have less than 4! You are spoiled for choice with so many brands available today, so make sure to compare ingredients and find the healthiest ones.
2. COMMIT TO MOVING YOUR BODY REGULARLY
Did you know that stress spikes your cortisol hormone, which leads directly to increased fat production in the belly? (YIKES!) This is your body screaming at you to get up, get moving and get a grip on that stress!
I know it’s not easy to fit in exercise as a busy working gal, especially when you want nothing more than a glass of wine at the end of the day. I used to hate exercising and I could never figure out how to make time for it. Even though we know that exercising releases natural endorphins that keep us energized and more focused, it seems to be the first thing to go when we’re stressed.
The best thing you can do is to make exercise a part of your daily work routine. When I was working in downtown L.A., my most effective routine was to get up earlier, have a quick shake, get to the gym and bring a change of clothes so that I could head straight to work. Sure, it’s difficult to wake up at first, but your body will adjust to the sleep cycle and you’ll naturally be more tired at night. Early exercise feels great because it wakes you up and boosts your metabolism to burn more calories throughout the day.
Another helpful strategy is to pack your gym clothes and go straight to the gym after work. If you’ve planned your meals for the day and have eaten every few hours, you should have the energy to head straight over to your workout. It’s not a good idea to go home first, because you’ll likely get comfortable and lose your motivation.
If the gym isn’t in in the cards, search circuit training workouts on Pinterest and see what you can do from home. I’m a huge fan of Neila Rey, whose website provides free nutrition plans and workouts that you can do anywhere (love the ab circuits)! They are super easy to follow and new ones are posted every week.
Think about what you truly enjoy doing and try matching your workout to your mood. Try out new classes, recruit friends to join you at the gym and get yourself outside.
If you hate exercise all together, I’ll bet you haven’t found something that’s a good match for your lifestyle. Think about what you truly enjoy doing and try matching your workout to your mood. Try out new classes, recruit friends to join you at the gym and get yourself outside. Don’t get down on yourself if you fall off track. You’re trying! Refocus, re-strategize and take advantage of the moments in which you can sweat, play and move your body.
3. GET A GRIP ON THOSE OFFICE HAPPY HOURS, LUNCHEONS AND TREATS!
Just because the people around you eat out every day doesn’t mean you should, too. Eating out is one of the easiest ways to gain weight because you are less disciplined and can’t control how the food is prepared. Restaurant food is soaked in oils, sauces and additives that typically make healthy food quite unhealthy. You have little control over what you’re getting, and it’s easy to stray from the items that you know you should be eating.
The point of happy hours and office lunches is to enjoy each other’s company, socialize and network…right? It’s not necessary to always get a drink or down a bucket of fries. If it’s an occasion, go for it, but you’re going to be faced with these situations regularly throughout your career, so it’s best to formulate a strategy now.
Bring a lunch even on days that you know people will be eating out, and eat right before or after the occasion. Commit to the 2-hour snack plan so that you aren’t going into a restaurant feeling famished and tempted by delicious aromas. Think about the amount of butter on those potatoes and the sugar in that margarita (would you down a Snickers bar after lunch? That’s often the sugar equivalent of a boozy cocktail). I’m not saying you can’t splurge for special occasions, but consistently eating out this way is not wise.
If you weren’t prepared to have to go to lunch or a happy hour, go for a side of lean protein or roasted veggies and eat your own food when you get home. I’m a huge advocate for keeping a protein bar in your car (I recommend Quest or ThinkThin) so that you’re sustained on days that you end up running around.
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The point of following these steps is to instill healthy habits now so that you’re equipped to handle your stress and manage your weight for the rest of your life. Young women are burdened by the stresses of building a career and maintaining a social life, and it’s very normal to turn to food for comfort, enjoyment and distraction. I believe in treating yourself and celebrating your accomplishments, but I also believe that it’s important to establish non-food rewards as well.
It’s no secret that millennials love brunches, wine and happy hours—so implementing good habits during the week will help offset the fun you’re having during that precious time off!