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Tuesday, 05-September-2006
Beliefnet - By this point, there’s little I can tell you about successful weight loss that you haven’t already read somewhere else a thousand times. It’s a mantra you could repeat in your sleep: eat less, make healthier choices, get more exercise. But let’s face it, you’re busy, and even though you’ve sworn a thousand times that you’ll lose the ten pounds you’ve gained since you started this job, between the doughnuts at every meeting, the vending machine down the hall, and the long hours at the office, it feels like the deck is stacked against you. So, here are some tips to help you regain control of your nutrition and your weight.
In general, the culprits behind weight gain at work are no different than those that trigger weight gain anywhere else. These include:
• Too much stress
• Too much food or the wrong foods
• Too little exercise or physical activity
Too Much Stress
What does stress have to do with weight gain? According to researchers, plenty. Although you may not realize it, your body responds to stress on a physiological level. When you are under stress, your brain signals your adrenal glands to release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol, in turn, causes your body to release glucose and fatty acids into the blood stream in order to provide energy to the muscles. (Remember the old fight or flight instinct? Cortisol makes sure your body has the energy it needs to do one or the other.) High levels of stress lead to high levels of cortisol in the body, which in turn leads to increased appetite and fatty deposits (particularly around the hips, trunk, and stomach).
To counteract stress, we often crave comfort foods, like carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have been shown to affect the brain (and therefore your stress level) in a way similar to that of another chemical naturally produced in your body: serotonin. Serotonin regulates many of our feelings, including pain, sleep, mood, and hunger. Eating carbohydrates increases our serotonin levels and makes us feel calmer and less irritable. Unfortunately, this pattern can often lead to emotional eating (eating in response to emotions instead of hunger). In fact, researchers say as much as 75% of all overeating is caused by emotions.
So, what can you do? Try changing your response to stress. Instead of seeking comfort in a food, find a pleasurable activity. If you’re at home, try getting a massage, visiting a friend, reading a book, interacting with pets, or playing with your children. If you’re stuck at the office, find a quiet place and sit with your eyes closed, breathing deeply. You’ll be surprised how recharged you’ll feel after just 10 minutes.
Too Much Food or the Wrong Foods
Grabbing fast food for lunch or, even worse, skipping it entirely? As you already know, these are dietary no-no’s when it comes to your weight loss plan. But a busy lifestyle doesn’t have to mean an unhealthy diet. Here are some tips to help:
• Eat breakfast! According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), a recent study found that adults who eat breakfast were 50% less likely to be obese than those who did not.
• Buy fresh produce and carry it with you so you always have a healthy snack on hand.
• Switch from butter to low-fat margarine, or try using jelly or spreadable fruit on your toast instead.
• Use non-fat or low-fat dairy products.
• Salad dressings are notoriously high in fat and calories. Try using just one tablespoon of dressing on your salad.
• When you buy meat, choose the leanest cuts. Trim any visible fat before cooking.
• Reduce your intake of fried foods. Swap a baked potato, squash, or yam for those fries, or bake your chicken without the skin on.
• Reduce the portion size of your dessert, or better yet, try replacing it with fresh fruit.
• When eating in a fast food restaurant or cafeteria, try ordering a lean roast beef or grilled chicken sandwich, and no supersizing! Also, order items without cheese and omit or go light on the mayonnaise.
• Space your meals evenly throughout the day, approximately every three to four hours. Try switching that afternoon candy bar to one of the following:
o Microwaved low-fat popcorn
o Whole wheat crackers with peanut butter
o Fresh fruit, plain or with reduced fat cheese
o Non-fat or low-fat yogurt
o Carrot and pepper strips with a low-fat dressing or bean spread
o Mixed nuts and dried fruit
o A fresh fruit yogurt smoothie
Too Little Exercise
You already know exercise is good for you, but between the demands at work and home, there’s simply no time, right? Wrong. Here are a few ways to work exercise into your workday:
• Park a little farther away from the office than you actually need to. Use the same trick when keeping appointments or running errands. A little extra walking every day can make a big difference.
• If you’re tied to your desk because of your phone, get a headset or use your cellphone. This will allow you to walk around as you talk. But be courteous. Make sure you don’t disrupt your coworkers’ activities.
• Have meetings on the run. Discuss business during an afternoon or noontime walk, run, or jog.
• Hand deliver a message or document instead of using email or the phone. These few steps can help you accumulate more physical activity by the end of the day.
• If you have a sedentary job, take a break every hour to get up, move around, or stretch.
• If your office has or is near a gym, use it! Make it easy by keeping workout clothes and an extra towel at the office.
• Take “brain breaks.” Need a minute to think something through? Trying to compose a letter or an email? Take a short walk around the block or up one or two flights of stairs. Exercise helps improve blood flow to your brain, which can help you think.
• Tell your boss and your coworkers what you’re doing. Don’t just disappear. They will likely support your physical activity breaks when they see your improved energy level and productivity. Some of your coworkers might even join you!

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