If you are like many Americans, you spend more of your “awake” time at work than you do at home. At home, I can control my environment. I don’t keep calorie dense foods in the house. I read food labels and use a food scale to help me determine portion sizes. I have a personal trainer who comes to my house five days a week—rain or shine, whether I am in the mood or not. And, I have my husband—a guy who is religious about good nutrition and physical fitness—to serve as my live-in health coach.
But, at heart, I am weak. I love, love, love to eat, eat, eat. I eat when I am stressed out and I eat when I am relaxed. Eating right does not come naturally to me. I have to work at it. I do like to exercise, but when I get busy, it is usually the first thing to fall off of my “to-do” list.
Sometimes, I spend long periods of time working out of my home. During those times, I am physically fit. Sometimes, I travel to work long hours in remote workplaces. What I have learned is this type of work-life makes me fat. Let me give you some recent examples:
- I travel to a different time zone to work on a fascinating and challenging assignment. The flight is delayed. I am hungry. I am in the Continental Airlines lounge. They have cheese and crackers. So, I eat cheese—lots of it. Why? Because it is there.
- My flight is delayed. I arrive at the hotel after 11 pm and, guess what, I am hungry again. There is nothing to eat at 11 pm except what is in the mini-bar. Hmmm. What’s there? A container of cashews and a container of peanuts. I choose the cashews. It is only after I have shoveled many dozens of the tasty nuts into my mouth that I read the label: 90 calories per portion—a portion is 5 (that’s right 5) cashews. OMG…
- I give myself permission not to work out on the first travel day. After all, I can only get 7 hours of sleep and I need eight hours minimum to feel even remotely human.
- I have 30 minutes to get ready in the morning. I ordered oatmeal—pretty healthy? But it came with (and I ate) milk and brown sugar.
- Now, I am at the office. It is 11 am. It is too early for lunch, but I am hungry. So, I go to the vending machine. Here are my choices:
- The top two rows are various types of potato and corn chips.
- The next couple of rows are cookies and sweet rolls.
- At the bottom are some corn nuts (I love corn nuts), and some candy bars.
- Ok, I am good. I didn’t get anything from the vending machine…do I get any points for that? Probably not because the company has arranged a “potato bar” for lunch. The potato was, no question, the biggest Idaho potato I have ever seen in my life—this was a potato on steroids or maybe it was genetically engineered to be humongous. I bet it weighed 2 pounds. The toppings were all in trays. They included huge mounds of butter and sour cream (not low cal, low fat). There were also containers of (the most delicious) shredded beef, Tex-Mex beans, and shredded cheese. And, just in case you couldn’t ingest enough carbs via the potatoes and toppings, there was also a bowl of potato chips and dip. Now, I must admit there was a bowl of raw veggies. It was sitting on a counter behind the table with the potato bar.
- I would like to use the stairs to go to meetings on different floors, but there is a warning sign by the staircase that says you can’t exit the stairwell once you have entered it except on level one…some sort of security thing (definitely not a health thing). Maybe there is a way around this, but I am too busy to find out.
- It’s close to 7 pm when I leave work. I am tired and I am hungry. I call room service. Do I need to tell you the rest of the story?
Sound familiar? If so, I am not surprised. The typical American workplace is not designed to keep us healthy. Our workplaces and our work habits are making us fat:
- We work obscenely long hours.
- We have long commutes.
- We are surrounded in the workplace by high energy density foods.
- We have no time to exercise—before, during, or after work.
- Doesn’t matter because we are too tired to exercise anyway.
- We have workplaces that are designed to help us avoid any type of physical activity (except for our typing fingers—mine, by the way, are quite thin).
- When we fly across time zones for work, we have an excuse to eat more and exercise less—we are tired and the airlines treat us like cattle.
There are better scenarios out there. In a post to follow, I will explore the concept of a workplace that is healthy by design. This is a workplace where it is easier to walk up the stairs than take the elevator. There are apples and carrots in the vending machine instead of candy bars and potato chips. In this type of workplace, “work-life balance” is an expectation, not a slogan.
Lest you think it is too expensive or too inefficient for American companies to have a healthy workplace, let me remind you that those of us susceptible to developing diabetes, heart disease, and other related conditions when we get fat and out of shape will cost you a ton of money. We are a part of the reason why your health insurance costs are so high. And you know what that does to the bottom line.
Perhaps a little less productivity, a little less stress, and a little more work-related body movement might be cheaper in the long run. Think about it.