Health & Wellness Articles

How to Avoid On-the-Job Weight Gain

Avoid Packing on Pounds Behind Your Desk

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Even if you love your job, it may be killing you.
Australian researchers found that men sitting at their desks more than six hours a day are nearly twice as likely to be overweight than those who sit for less than 45 minutes a day. While women fared slightly better—spending on average 20 more minutes on their feet at the office than men—researchers conclude that a sedentary job is a major health concern for both genders.
And it’s no secret that sedentary jobs (and lifestyles) have contributed dramatically to the accelerating obesity rate of the past 20 years. Put emphasis on the word ‘dramatically’—a study conducted by the University of Chicago in 2001 found that a worker in a sedentary career may end up with a Body Mass Index 3.3 units higher than someone in a highly active job. If you’re 5'5" this can mean an increase in weight from 140 pounds to 155 pounds!
Now that you’ve heard the bad news, let’s turn to the good news… 
You CAN love your less-than-active job and be fit. Here’s how:
  1. Be sure to eat. It’s easy to slog through a day of meetings, e-mails, and phone calls to discover at 4 p.m. that you haven’t eaten since breakfast. But, your body needs energy to get you through the day. Make it a priority to have a healthy and tasty meal—along with 1-2 healthy snacks. It is not a sin to opt for such shortcuts as microwave meals, as long as you read labels to avoid items with excess calories and sodium.
  2. Compensate, compensate. Get physical to compensate for your sedentary workday. Join a gym, take an early morning run, or find time for fitness fun with your family. Buy one or two pieces of home exercise equipment that will allow you to exercise no matter what the weather.
  3. Rework your network. Chances are, your friends and co-workers need help with their love handles just as much as you do. So, try some new activities that don’t revolve around food. Organize a bi-weekly volleyball game, walk during lunch, or play a quick round of mini-golf after work. 
  4. Bring your buddies on board. While you’re coaxing co-workers to modify those after-work habits, see if you can’t involve them in a friendly get-fit challenge during work hours. By sharing healthy potluck lunches, exchanging recipes, and providing moral support, you’ll find that getting in shape can be a team-building triumph. (You might even check with Human Resources or management to see if you can involve them in a fun or meaningful way—since healthy employees save $$$.)
  5. Don’t eat due to boredom. Blacklist the office vending machine by stashing strategic healthy snacks (apples and almond butter, low-cal energy bars, nuts, or hummus and pita bread) that will give you a lift without adding to your waistline. If you know that occasionally you’ll fall—and most of us do—pick out ahead of time the items you can live with so that your dip doesn’t become a dive. Keep water at your desk; it’ll give your hands something to do when you’re stressed and will divert you from eating when you’re not really hungry.
  6. Vary your routine. We all have them— those daily social rituals, like heading upstairs to the cafeteria for a mid-morning latte and muffin. You can still have those items…but make it sometimes, not all times. If you want to change your life in big ways, try some small changes, like substituting a yogurt and black coffee with skim milk half the time. You’ll save about 470 calories (660 vs. 160)! (And you’re taking the stairs up to the cafeteria, right?)
  7. Lose the technology. Modern advances are great, but do you control them or do they control you? As much as possible, take advantage of opportunities throughout the day to get up and move! Deliver that memo in person, sit on a stability ball at your desk to improve your posture, park at the far end of the parking lot for a brisk walk to your building. You’ll be surprised how quickly minor changes can improve your energy level and help you get fit.
  8. Choose wisely. Whether you normally go out for lunch or eat in the cafeteria, try to make your meal choices conscious ones. Learn how to eat out wisely, and remember how much better you feel come mid-afternoon when you eat healthy. If you find that your cafeteria or workplace doesn't offer healthy choices, check with the person who’s in charge of food service—you may be the person who tips the balance to get better options!
One in five Americans is obese; three in five are either overweight or obese. But sitting at a desk doesn’t have to mean you’ll be just another statistic! Incorporating these simple strategies into your workday will bring you one step closer to being a healthier, more energetic you. 
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About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Member Comments

  • stand up when at your desk doing work - 11/17/2015 3:29:42 PM
  • I manage to sneak in exercise by commuting on my bicycle (it has assist because I have a disability that might cause me to suddenly not be able to pedal anymore). I don't use the assist unless I absolutely have to. I chose to find a place to live within 30-45 min biking from my work and doing the commuting this way helps me use some of the commuting time in exercising, it helps me feel better in the morning and when I get home I don't need to worry about having to get to a gym. But if you have a super long commute, maybe you can get a bike to bike to a further bus stop or have your car or your ride share pick you up and park the bike there? I find if you use lots of locks and especially a mix of them (not only a U lock or only a big cable but both) the risk of it getting stolen (especially an old and maybe painted bike) is very small. - 12/18/2014 2:44:04 PM
  • MTDIAZ5555
    I can work out til the cows come home, I can not eat right. I get stressed and go straight to the carbs... Chocolate, bread, it. THis is sabotaging my diet. Any suggesting? How do you deal with the stress of the day ?? - 11/11/2014 4:41:17 PM
  • It's helpful if you can prevail on your company to begin a wellness program. - 11/11/2014 7:36:01 AM
  • I am much hungrier at work than at home. For one thing, I eat three meals when at work, and two when at home. I also have more sleep when I am at home. I am working toward having another career (at 75!) that will eventually bring in money and I can quit working away from home. I will be able to control how much I sleep better. And I will be helping people to overcome their unwanted pains and feelings. Feel free to mail me if you want to hear about it! - 11/10/2014 9:11:12 PM
    I would add another one. Avoid the staffroom or lunchroom. If your workplace is like mine, there are treat days. Nearly every day when I walk in there, there is a table full of high carb, high sugar delectable treats. When I complain, I get told to just not eat them. Not so easy when you are suffering from an eating disorder. - 11/10/2014 11:00:34 AM
    I worked so hard to lose weight but at this new job nobody knows that. They're always urging me to eat because I can "totally afford it" while giving me a once-over. Let's have an article for dealing with food pressure at work. - 11/10/2014 10:21:17 AM
  • Good tips - 8/7/2013 9:08:42 AM
  • Great article. Wouldn't let me save it. - 8/4/2013 5:39:28 PM
  • They left out - avoid the breakroom! My co-workers are always bringing donuts, cookies, cake... etc.. for all to enjoy. - 8/4/2013 11:58:00 AM
  • I found this article very helpful. I wish I had seen it sooner. Recently I have passed up sweets at work on the counter. I was even extra careful about what I consumed at the fair. - 8/4/2013 9:30:45 AM
    good article and i do some these already. since i started back at work 3 months ago, i have been walking to the bus stop to get work and back from bus stop to home. it takes about 22 minutes back and forth, adds up to 44 minutes walking everyday; not counting the weekends.

    salad, fruit, water or turkey sandwich is all good, when working at a desk job. slowly losing weight and i like, not going to bother with the scale. - 8/4/2013 8:39:13 AM
  • Thanks for the advice! I work with kids (substitute teaching during the school year, working at a summer camp now) and am constantly surrounded by treats. It's really difficult to say no to a cupcake when you have a smiling six year old giving it to you! - 6/25/2013 1:21:47 PM
  • I have a desk job working from home. I have a treadmill desktop... love it. I work and walk and hardly notice the time goes by and 16,000 steps later? ahhhhh - 6/25/2013 10:17:09 AM
  • Funny enough, I lost more weight after getting my (mostly) desk job! I think part of it actually had to do with having more defined times for eating. When I was spending most of my day at home, I ate whenever I felt like it, and I could easily cook myself up a big lunch. Now that I'm at work, I always eat a light breakfast to start my day, I pack a portioned snack or two, and my lunch is typically lower calorie than something I'd make at home. That said, I also walk a minimum of 1.5 miles as part of my commute every day and try to take the stairs as much as possible. - 10/21/2012 9:57:16 PM

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