With my passion for Self Care I’ve read with interest a couple of Social Work Tutor’s posts lately. The ones about social work making us fat. The problems he lists are ones I hear stated lots of the time from a range of professionals so I think they are worth exploring. In one of the posts he asked for solutions and, as ever, I’m someone who wants to promote solutions rather than problems. My main interest in the area of nutrition is not dieting. I agree that if you are a weight you are happy with then why diet. We have too many people telling us what size and shape we should be. But the reality is that if you are carrying a bit of extra weight you are more likely to develop health problems. It’s not inevitable but statistically it is more likely. My area of interest around nutrition is the impact on our productivity and our productivity is directly related (along with other things) to how effective we are in whatever job we undertake.
The problem with not eating a healthy nutritious diet is that it does have an impact on how well we perform. Think of athletes – they are all over their nutrition because they understand and accept the impact a poor nutritional intake has on performance. And mental performance is equally affected by poor nutrition just . like physical performance is. Your body and brain will be sluggish if you are not getting it right. A lot of us live in a caffeine and sugar ‘spike and crash’ cycle and like anyone addicted to anything (because that’s what it is) we crave the thing that gave us the hit. So, we reach for the sugary snack or the extra shot espresso.
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads the things I write that the ‘cure’ I propose is to be organised and prepared. Nowhere is the maxim ‘fail to prepare – prepare to fail’ more applicable than in how we eat.
Let’s take a look Social Work Tutor’s 6 excuses for why social work has made us fat. Oh, but firstly let me explain fundamentally what it is that is making any of us fat. It’s a simple equation of calories in and calories out. You eat more calories than you burn off you put weight on (the exception being health conditions and medication side effects). You are fat because of how much you eat. You may well make some bad choices at work as a consequence of what’s available to you or because of being underprepared. You may well turn to comfort food when under pressure. But these things are your choices and are under your control. When I’m talking to people about being organised I use a phrase that David Allen uses in his ‘Getting Things Done’ book. If you don’t control it – it will control you. You need to actively engage with your nutrition and not simply leave it to chance. Let’s have a look at those 6 excuses from his blog.
One: We never know what time we’re going to get finished or how early we might have to start tomorrow.
He suggested in his blog that this means it’s difficult to work out, compounded for those who have family. Yes, that can make it difficult. But, the first point I’d make is that several studies have concluded that weight loss is primarily about diet not about exercise. Somewhere in the region of 80% diet, 20% exercise. This is because lots of food is calorie dense. Stick your tracker on and see how much exercise you need to do to burn off a chocolate bar! It’s huge. So exercise doesn’t compensate for a poor diet. In terms of self care though exercise is important. However, you don’t need a gym membership, or be able to get to a class, to work out. When you get in, if the kids are still up, stick them in their pushchair and go for a walk. Getting out for some gentle exercise and taking in some fresh air is a great antidote to a stressful day. On a weekend go out for a run with the children in the pushchair. I see loads of people do this at the Parkrun I go to. There are loads of body weight only routines that you can do at home in the smallest of spaces at any time of the day without any equipment. Check out YouTube and a myriad of websites for examples. If you can go for a walk at lunchtime – even just for 10 minutes – do it! There’s evidence that 20 minutes gentle exercise (walking) outside promotes productivity in the afternoon! Next!
Two: Catering facilities in social work offices are a joke
So don’t use them. Be prepared. Take things to work with you to eat. The best snack foods in the world just need picking up as you leave the house. Bananas, apples, oranges (although they get a bit messy!), plums, pears, nectarines. Try bags of sugar snap peas, carrot sticks. All great, all easy. Get yourself sorted on a Sunday. There are loads of things we assemble in our house on a Sunday ready for the week. We make couscous salad, rice salad, pasta salad. It keeps for days in the fridge. Couple it with a bag of salad and some protein (tin of tuna, feta cheese, boiled eggs (hard boiled on the Sunday) and you can rustle up a salad in 5 minute on a morning from these pre-prepared items (or even the night before). A salad which will take you 5 minutes to eat, at your desk, in the car, wherever you are. Invest in a cool bag!
Three: Our jobs are so busy that we hardly get any time for lunch at all
Check out what I say above! I’m not a fan of sitting at my desk replying to emails while I eat – but I do do it when I need to. Not having a lunch break doesn’t stop you eating something pre-prepared and healthy while you work. Even a whole meal sandwich of eggs and salad is easy to eat while you work. Take a bite, chew and type, take a bite, chew and type. I don’t advocate this as it’s not good for you. But, not having time for lunch is not making you fat. If you’re getting fat it’s down to bad choices not no lunch. And if you’ve got time to duck into the garage or corner shop to grab something unhealthy then you have time to eat your pre-prepared salad or sandwich.
Four: Our jobs are sedentary
They are but your life doesn’t have to be. And as I say above, research has shown that weight loss is predominantly about what you eat and not how much you exercise. An average man can eat about 2500 calories and an average woman about 2000 calories without weight gain. If you are eating a healthy nutritious diet that’s a good number to go at. There’s about 80 calories in an egg and hardly any in mushrooms. So you could have a 3 egg mushroom omelette for breakfast for 275 calories. There’s about 200 calories in a tin of tuna. So have this and a salad (let’s say 150 calories for a whopping salad) and you’ve had 350 calories for lunch. We’re up to 625 calories for the day so far. Give yourself 1000 calories for dinner – which is loads – and you’re still only up to 1,625, leaving 775 calories for a man and 375 for a woman for some fruit and healthy snacks. You could even fit a snickers in instead and you are still within the calorie count for the day. Anything under the calorie count has the potential over time to result in weight loss. Add in even a small amount of exercise on as many days as you can and you promote more weight loss. It’s a long haul but so is living with heart disease, diabetes and a range of other health conditions. Make time for exercise now or ill health later – your call. And when I say exercise I don’t mean marathon running or being a gym bunny. I mean a 20 minute walk or a one mile run a few times a week (to get you started at least).
Five: Emotional eating is real!
It is! And I, like most people, reach for a snickers, or similar, from time to time! But, the more healthy pre-prepared options you have at your disposal the more you mitigate against the disaster of the chocolate fix! The difficulty we have here is that our stress response tends to drive us to sugary and fatty foods. Nowhere is the maxim ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ more appropriate than here. You can give in to your emotional response and eat badly or you can prepare for what you know is likely to happen. My go to is peanut butter on rice crackers. Both can be kept safely in a desk drawer or car. The peanut butter gives me the fatty hit that I want and the rice cracker (or crackers!!) fills me up! It’s not low calorie at all but it’s nutritious. So, I’ve spotted my problem and created a solution that’s not the best for my weight loss but is better than a processed sugary option.
Six: There are always cakes and sweets in the office
…..that you don’t have to eat. Again, this is about preparation. Will power during the day is available to you only in a finite amount. It is harder to stay strong as the day goes on but, it is in your hands. Be prepared and you can win this one. Take healthy snacks to work with you. Have better options in your desk draw and car. It won’t always work but it will work sometimes.
So… what’s making you fat is what you eat not your job. The 6 things above are excuses not reasons.
As one of my favourite web sites Daily Stoic says
“It’s simple and it’s true. You are what your choices make you, nothing more and nothing less.”
Be prepared and you will, at the very least, do better, than if you weren’t prepared.
Personal responsibility is hard work but it yields results time and time again over time.
If what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to do something different…..