What I’ve Found Works Well for Staying Well at Work

I don’t sit well in an office. Every hour or two my legs start to ache, and I have to get up to stretch and move. When working all day in the library during college I would take a tea break, go and walk around the book stacks, or switch to sitting in a different section. Sitting in an office all day, that’s not always possible, especially with fixed hours. I’m also generally a healthy eater – and I like creating my own meals (which is again not always possible when working in an office). So here’s what I’ve found works (in terms of not being tired, not gaining weight/getting out of shape, and not feeling so cramped) from past office jobs (and continues to work for this one):

– Exercise every morning before work, with a combination of cardio, strength-training and stretching. In Guangzhou I did abs in the morning and biked to work. Working in Bishkek that’s not possible (especially in winter), so I get up a half-an-hour earlier and the first thing I do is exercise. Exercising in the morning increases metabolism and gives you an adrenaline kick (basically better than coffee). Since I haven’t had consistent access to a gym since I left the states, I started collecting exercise routines from YouTube. LiveStrongWomen and ToneItUp generally have good workouts with cardio-strength-stretching balance. I do a lot of legs (lunges!) and core, because that’s what bothers me the most while sitting if I don’t work out in the morning. My dream is one day I’ll be able to rollerblade to work))

– Breakfast! One odd habit a lot of Americans have is eating a ton of refined carbs for breakfast (Cheerios, anyone?). If I just eat carbs, then my blood sugar crashes around mid-morning and I feel really, painfully hungry before lunch. So here too I try to balance. My favorite winter combination is a small bowl of oatmeal with half a banana, cinnamon, an egg white, a table spoon of peanut butter (almond butter would be better, but…Bishkek), and a slice of baked squash on the side. I eat breakfast at eight and am usually still fine by lunchtime. Though it might seem counterintuitive (and a terrifying thought for the female population) to eat fat in the morning, I find a bit keeps me really full; my blood sugar doesn’t crash, and I’m certainly not going to go down to the cafe and buy samsa (which seems to be the only thing on offer).

– But, if you do get hungry – healthy, filling snacks! I have a small stash of almonds, dark (85%) chocolate and dried dates in my bag. Sometimes I bring an orange for mid-afternoon or a pear for post-work. In summer I add cucumbers of sliced bell peppers. Again, I think the key is moderation (and not loading up on blood-sugar-crashing carbs). If I’m hungry, about six almonds will fill me up, or one or two squares of dark chocolate. One thing that always seemed really off to me when I worked in my college book (book and snack…) store was that some of the (overweight, not-so-healthy-looking) administrative staff would always come in around ten am to buy a diet soda and bag of chips. Strangest habit – and how unappealing a snack it seems compared to sliced peppers and almonds or fresh tea and fruit.
*I was trying to find an article I’d come across last week (in The Atlantic?) suggesting that people who snack on small amounts of dark chocolate consume less at meal times (due to feeling more satisfied beforehand). Instead I cam across this (and other similar lists), which basically suggests most of the foods I’ve written here are “appetite suppressants”, aka naturally high in fiber/fat/protein/flavor/vitamins and minerals.

– Take breaks and stretch! When I worked in a six floor building before I used to take breaks and run up and down the stairs. In a university administration building with a central staircase that isn’t exactly possible. So sometimes I go in the (closed) hallway by the restrooms and stretch a bit or do lunges. Every day that I can I bike (sadly not in Bishkek) or take a walk during lunch, for 20-40 minutes. I have co-workers who work straight through the lunch break, but at one o’clock I come back to the office refreshed and rejuvenated, which means I’m more awake and alert all afternoon. According to Quartz/The Atlantic, “The Perfect Recipe for Productivity [is to] rest 17 minutes every 52 minutes”.. Work just on work stuff when you work; then switch and spend ten minutes taking a mental break by checking personal e-mails, reading Atlantic articles, chatting and doing lunges down the hallway))

– I skip bread (and most refined carbs) at lunch. This is partially because I have ‘wheat sensitivity’, but also because I’ve discovered that bread and rice and the like don’t make me feel very full, and I get lightheaded and dizzy about two hours after eating a meal that’s mostly starch. From my year in Yunnan my TFC teammates and I also discovered that rice causes a lot of Caucasians (particularly females) to gain weight, especially around the midsection (though it had apparently no effect on our Chinese co-workers and students). American co-workers of mine in Guangzhou complained of long-lasting constipation – which let up as soon as they stopped eating rice at every meal. In Guangzhou I got fresh soy milk (or mung bean, which was amazing) and two guava fruit for lunch most days, or brought vegetables and tofu to eat before biking. Here we have fixed four-dish Turkish meals in the canteen. I eat the meat, vegetables and soup, and skip everything else. Or I buy a small packet of sunflower seeds, and eat it along with a piece of fruit and a carrot or a cucumber while I take a longer walk.

– And last, I bring my own coffee and water to work. Instead of having my cup of French press with breakfast, I bring it to the office and sip it throughout the morning. French press with stevia, cinnamon, ground cloves or a teaspoon of baking chocolate and a splash of milk – perfect. I’m usually already fairly awake after exercise, and this way I also don’t have a mid-morning caffeine crash. Sometimes instead of coffee I bring fruit or peppermint tea with lemon and honey. I bring my own bottle of water for the afternoon, which ensures that I stay hydrated (and thus more alert) and that I drink less coffee and tea, both of which are often loaded with sugar (when we order coffee from the requisite chai room, it always comes with three sugar cubes on the saucer – which is I think close to the total recommended daily sugar intake for adults).

So in short – exercise before work, stretch your legs often, and go for filling (and tasty) whole foods like nuts, fruits and vegetables over starchy snacks and sugary drinks. For me at least this works pretty good in terms of staying in shape, feeling alert all day, and still having energy after work.

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