Telecommuting made me gain 30 lbs in 6 months. HELP me stop the spread!
May 3, 2008 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Please help me stop the butt spread and weight gain related to my 12 hour/day telecommuting computer job before I am relegated to a muumuu.

Six months ago I was a fit young woman. I worked in consulting at an office with a light commute. Healthy, refreshed after a good night's sleep, energetic, size six...

Six months ago I was offered an amazing telecommuting consulting job, where I sit at home on my couch with my laptop for 12 hours and eat takeout all day. I haven't time to cook, I don't have a proper desk or chair, and my body is falling apart.

In six months I've gained thirty pounds and I'm getting pimples. And my awesome clothes aren't fitting. And I have cellulite and rolls. And I wake up every morning, weekend or not, at six am because I telecommute on EST which messes up my clock. And I'm always tired and addicted to caffeine. I also have become sloppier.

I LOVE my job. The hours are horrible but they fly by each day when I'm in 'the zone' and the pay is incredible. In this economy I feel very blessed, but my body is rebelling and I feel gross, even though my hubby is super sweet and claims to be into the spread.

I'm not devastated at this point about my physical appearance, but it's the type of spread that won't stop spreading. And I'm only in my mid-twenties. And genetically, I'm prone to spread. And next year commences baby-making so I really, really need to get in shape, for health's sake as well as vanity. So here are my questions:

1) What kind of chair/desk setup might alleviate butt spread? I swear my perky tush has actually flattened (as well as widened) from all of the sitting. I've heard of these expensive bouncy ball chairs, and I'm willing to try them. Also anticipate back problems in near future, too, so this isn't all about vanity. :)

2) What kind of exercise can I do in ten minute increments at my house that can help me get in shape?

3) How can I reset my clock on the weekends so that I can actually get eight hours of sleep?

4) What do y'all do to unsludge if you telecommute? I really want to be fit again, there just doesn't seem to be enough time.

5) What snacks/cooking arrangements do you utilize? Maybe I should get a crockpot or something...

6) Any other advice???

THANK YOU HIVE MIND! You've come through for me and my friends many a time! :)
posted by citystalk to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
WALK!! Get a pedometer - I recommend the Omron HJ-112 (20 bucks at Amazon). Plot out a couple of courses around local blocks that take about that long - aim for about a thousand steps in that time - and do one whenever you can manage a break.

Hell, I'd even claim a couple of them as work time. I find short walks throughout the day really useful for keeping my brain focused and especially for thinking through ideas and brainstorming.
posted by Naberius at 9:54 AM on May 3, 2008

Doh! That long and that time, referring to about ten minutes. The idea being every hour and a half or so, if not more, take a ten minute break, get out of the house and walk.
posted by Naberius at 9:55 AM on May 3, 2008

If you don't have time to cook, you might want to sign up for a meal service. Many meal services provide healthy foods. You could go prep them yourself at a dinner club, order frozen meals or order ready-to-assemble meals.

I wrote a (self-link) article on home office isolation a while back. It gets a lot of traffic. However, I think the suggestions overlap with your situation. You might want to look at working offsite for part of the day. A lightbook might help with your energy and waking schedule.

You might also want to hire a personal trainer. I just started working with one. She's amazing. It took a while to convince myself that I'm worth the money...but I'm so worth the money!
posted by acoutu at 10:00 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, I work from home too. In fact I'm sort of working right now! I managed to avoid butt spread and feel pretty okay about things by doing a few things.

- no one has to eat takeout. Unless you are working every waking moment, you have time to make food that is a bit more nutritious and better for you and reheatable in small portions (which, while you're working is actually faster than takeout) think burritos, lasagna, pasta, salads, cut fruit, smoothies, etc. If you really want to manage weight, start counting calories and getting on the scale every morning. I use the Google 15 to keep a loose running average of my weight and as long as it's in a decent midrange, I don't change things up too much
- standing desk. You don't have to do this all the time, but it's a good way to get in a different position and get your leg muscles a little more active. I literally just did this by putting my laptop on top of a few weighted shoe boxed on my work table but you can do anything, doesn't have to be fancy. I work from bed other times, so it balances in terms of sloth
- exercise plan. In addition to going to the pool regularly I also take time off to do stretches and walk around outside [take a quick walk to the post office or to the store, or just go outside and rake leaves etc] and I find that the moving around helps make my brain work better

In short, you need to prioritize. I'm sure working at MeFi could take every waking hour of my day if I let it, and I have a heightened sense of responsibiltiy that makes me feel like sometimes it's THAT important, but at the end of the day, it's not as important as me being happy and healthy [long view, natch] and not feeling burnt out so that I can continue to have a life in addition to work. Put another way, your job pays well and that's great and great that you like it, but if you look at that money as "here citystalk, we are going to pay you a lot of money so you can get a fat ass and out of shape..." would it be worth it? No, it would not. Learning to prioritize a good job with your own needs and desires for a well-rounded life is going to be one of the hurdles you come up against, but being aware that you HAVE choices [repeat: no one HAS to eat takeout, period] will help make this easier.
posted by jessamyn at 10:03 AM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

(1) What kind of job is this? Maybe you can change the place/way you do it to a healthier pattern?
(2) "I haven't time to cook" is a crock, because even if you do work 12 hours per day... that leaves a lot of time. So you do have time. You most definitely do. Cooking doesn't have to be a three hour banquet. It can be twenty minutes.
posted by rokusan at 10:07 AM on May 3, 2008

Just sit on one of those big gym balls they have, it will require that you put the effort into maintaining your balance and posture, which won't do that much but it will add up.

Walking is good, its unfortunate that you can only get away for ten minutes at a time, and not condense some of them into an hour break. I would suggest you invest in a jump rope and hit it hard for for 10 minute stretches, its not running but it burns calories almost as well and doesn't require a crazy amount of space or equipment.

No more take out, buy some bread and whatever you want and make a sandwich in the evening after you clean up from dinner, there is your lunch for the next day. For snacks (grazing is bad, just because you are near your refrigerator doesn't mean you should be there all the time) I would suggest fruit or easy vegetable, like baby carrots or celery, apples, berries, whatever you like, they are a better source of energy, and much healthier then the crap that comes pre-packaged.

A crock pot is nice because you can put all the ingredients in before you start work and basically have dinner ready when you are done without having to pay attention to it, baked beans, pulled pork, and lentil soup are all fairly easy options off of the top of my head. It is not super awesome for snacking, and you dont really want to be eating soup all day everyday anyways, so stick with veggies.

For caffeine, switch to tea, especially green tea (brew it yourself, not the snapple kind), its less pep then coffee, but it full of anti-oxidants and fluoride as a fun bonus, other then that drink a lot of water and pee a lot, you should be aiming for half a gallon a day, it will flush out your system.

I dont really know how to help with your sleep schedule, I guess wake up early on the weekends, and have sex then go back to sleep for a bit? Or you could go for a nice walk somewhere scenic in the summer months before it gets too hot for th day.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:12 AM on May 3, 2008

If you're working on EST, that means you should be able to clock out early. If you're on the west coast and done at say 3pm each day, schedule an hour or two of exercise before dinner, from 3pm-5pm. Take a long walk, go to the gym, ride a bike, or do something else to get your blood moving and some calories burning. It should also help you sleep better at night if you exhaust yourself every afternoon.
posted by mathowie at 10:14 AM on May 3, 2008

Create a home office.
A treadmill with a laptop setup. Working and walking. Simultaneously. Netrunner might fit the bill. (Warning: This page is a good example of the 'Seen on TV' informercial style of design)
The bouncy ball chairs are probably not as expensive as you think, and quite a lot of fun. Get an exercise ball first, try it out, and then the stand for it? Maybe $80.

Get yourself a rice cooker. The old style, where it has 'on' and 'off', and it shuts itself off automatically when the liquid is gone. Use it to start cooking whole grains - quinoa does very nicely. A good ratio is 2 cups water/vegetable stock/meaty stock, etc to 2/3rds of a cup of whatever your grains are. (This will also give you delicious polenta veryvery fast.)
The nice thing about this is - you will always have some pre-cooked whole grain to build on. There was a great quinoa recipe posted in AskMe a few days ago. When I have done the precooking, it means that I can have something delicious and not too terribly bad for me within about 3 minutes of walking in the door. And that's the key. That and salads, which are just about instant when you've got your fruits and veggies.

Join a local CSA, if you have one. You won't have to think about going to the store for produce, it will just magically happen in a box for you. You may have to work your schedule to go pick it up.
posted by msamye at 10:16 AM on May 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

eat takeout all day

There are two things wrong with that: takeout and all day. Don't do either of those things.

If you really don't have time to cook (sorry, but rokusan is right: you do) then just do big batches on weekends and freeze them in meal-sized microwaveable portions.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:17 AM on May 3, 2008

The problem with 10 minute workouts in my untrained but general understanding is that they don't go into anaerobic levels so the muscles don't have much to recover from.

The weight plan that I'm on essentially uses my leg muscles as fat-burning pumps -- 30 minutes+ of deep cardio leg work (treadmill or the bike) leaves the muscles starved for carbs, which they are free to reload from my ample fat deposits, with assistance from the liver for the conversion from fatty acids (dumped into the bloodstream by my fat cell buddies) to the blood sugars that the muscles are looking for to reload.

It's also important to raise your Basal ("resting") Metabolism. The first thing I do every day these days is take a half-hour walk around the block. Then breakfast, then work, then lunch break, then work, then another 30-minute + exercise break, then work, then snack break (usually 200kcal of something like almonds or an apple & cheese), then work, then a light dinner, then a walk or something.

Use your body more, only drive when you have to. Your body can burn 2000kcal day while just sitting once you get it into the "active" metabolic mode.

General advice: vend snacks to yourself in AT MOST 200kcal increments. Go for an even carb/protein/fat mix -- all 3 macronutrient classes are important for a healthy body and burn at different rates, leaving you satiated longer with less calorie intake.

One thirty minute exercise break is more beneficial than 3 10 minute breaks.

Get used to eating less, no more than 1000kcal at any one sitting, preferably 500kcal really.

Portion out orders to serve both as lunch AND dinner.

After a week or so your stomach adjusts and you (well at least *I*) can maintain a 500-1000 kcal daily caloric deficit with ZERO hunger pangs.

Hunger is telling you you're doing something wrong.
posted by tachikaze at 10:27 AM on May 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

oh yeah, this is important too:

1lb is ~3500kcal of stored energy. Losing at the rate of 1lb/week requires a 500kcal daily deficit of intake vs. expenditure.

Don't forget to drink your water. Even though recent research says water intake isn't that important, I think the researchers were all wet and that water (1/2 gal per day) does perform an important function on a serious diet & exercise program -- keeping something in the stomach, keeping the kidneys "clean", general emotional confusion between "thirst" and "hunger" signals (we sometimes are prompted to eat due to thirst), behavioral substitution for oral stimulus, what have you.
posted by tachikaze at 10:35 AM on May 3, 2008

get an exercise bike, mini elliptical (i have one) or mini step machine and do that for ten minutes every hour or two. heck, you might even try one of those little mini cycles you can use under your desk while you work, but you have to remember to use it.

also, get an exercise ball and work on your core muscles. crunches, reverse crunches, etc. that will help your posture and your back. a proper desk and chair will help a lot, too.

if you don't get good morning sunlight, invest in a sun lamp and turn it on for half an hour at the beginning of your day. that will help.

cut down on the caffeine. yup. one cup of coffee in the morning, and that's it. there have been studies showing that caffeine can mess with your insulin, making you hungrier than usual. also, even a lunchtime soda can mess with your sleep at night.

cook a lot of healthy things on the weekend to reheat during the week, and keep lots of raw veggies and fruits around to snack on.

take a melatonin supplement nine hours before you want to wake up. that will help you get eight hours of sleep. also, start dimming your lights around 7 or 8 and turn off the computer/tv/loud music an hour before bedtime. do some yoga, take a hot shower, stretch, read a book, paint, take a slow walk, whatever helps you relax.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:39 AM on May 3, 2008

1) I've heard of these expensive bouncy ball chairs, and I'm willing to try them. Also anticipate back problems in near future

I bought an exercise ball on the advice of my physical therapist after my back was injured in an accident. She had three recommendations: make sure it's burst-proof; buy one scaled for your height & weight; don't bother with an expensive one. I think mine was just under $30. It's stood over a year of routine use (both for exercises and occasionally as a chair), and I'm very pleased with it.

Do be sure to get the hand pump and use it; I recently topped up the inflation on mine and suddenly understood why the exercises have seemed easier and easier lately. The softer it is, the less work-out you're getting. The instructions should tell you the proper diameter of the ball and how to measure it.
Obviously, this is not intended to serve as medical advice.

2) What kind of exercise can I do in ten minute increments at my house...
4) What do y'all do to unsludge if you telecommute?

Everyone thinks I'm kidding when I mention my one-minute dance party*, but it keeps me alert and happy when I'm cranking out work. When I get up to get a glass of water or to pee or to find a book, I crank some bouncy music and bop around for the length of one song.

Obviously, it doesn't take the place of proper exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise, but it's an extra boost in your day, a chance to elevate your heartrate and your mood (probably more effective on the latter than the former) and to remind you you're not just a work-cranking machine. I also dance to celebrate the end of the working day.

I'm in finals right now, which normally kick my 38-year-old ass, and I swear the one-minute dance party helps tremendously.

*One-minute dance party is stolen outright from the writers' room on 30 Rock, and I'm not the least bit sorry.
posted by Elsa at 10:53 AM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

I hear ya on the take-out... especially if someone else is picking it up, there really is no faster meal. My modification won't help you drop 30 lbs, but it'll reduce/stop the gain:

At most, eat take-out once per day. Do not order appetizers. Do not eat the bread. If you get take-out, you must make it last for two meals. When the food arrives, divide it into two sections, one for the current meal, and one in a microwaveable bowl with plastic wrap on top for the next day's meal. If the portions seem too small at first, microwave up some frozen vegetables as a side dish.

YMMV, but I also don't allow myself to eat the leftovers till dinner the next night, because somehow I can put up with lousy homemade 3-minute lunches but at dinner time I want something good.
posted by xo at 11:19 AM on May 3, 2008

I work from home and understand this worry. I have recently started doing two simple things to keep the poundage off (and have actually lost weight):

1. I run every day for 30-40 minutes. In the middle of the afternoon. It makes the rest of my work day feel more energized. Think you can't find half an hour in the middle of your day for this? Trust me, you can.
2. I hate cooking and understand the convenience of take-out. But my take-out consists of some kind of Asian fusion - think grilled chicken or tofu in a basil chili sauce with steamed brown rice and a side of veggies. (I buy a couple of meals at a time and reheat the food over three days or so.) Or it comes from the local chicken chain and is a breast of roasted white chicken breast and a side salad. Take-out CAN be healthy.
posted by meerkatty at 11:22 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: i love u guys! great advice thus far. am reading and will respond once have processed. just went for two mile walk to brunch place with hubby instead of driving like usual, lol. keep 'em coming!

as for cooking - you are correct i could make time - and i need too! am newlywed and never really had chance to get into cooking and to learn recipes. have expensive stuff and rice cooker and jazz in closet. should bring out of storage. :)

posted by citystalk at 11:53 AM on May 3, 2008

Apply some of that professional focus to trying to get healthier. Think of it as a project. Understand that you might have to be really stringent at first to train yourself out of the bad habits that you've accumulated.

Remember that you deserve to take regular breaks and take care of yourself. When I worked from home, I found that I worked harder than I ever did in an office, because I felt that a.) I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity and b.) if I wasn't a COMPLETE NAZI about working really hard all of the time, I would wind up lying on the couch watching soap operas and eating bon bons, or running around town ignoring my duties. It's a hard adjustment to make when you've been working in an office for years, wistfully dreaming of being a day player.

10 minute intervals for exercise might get you started, but in the long run it might not be enough. If that's really all you believe you have time for, though, I'd suggest a DVD (I did an awful lot of Tae Bo when I worked from home), or trying Shovel Glove.

You could also use a website, I love Spark People - to track your fitness and exercise goals. It definitely helps someone who is task-oriented to focus -- particularly with regard to finding foods that are satisfying and easy to get your hands on, that aren't high calorie.

You could also set a timer for every two hours to take a fifteen minute break to do something healthy. Don't be afraid that you will lose your groove. You will train yourself to get more balanced this way.

Oh, and drink LOTS of water!

Good luck!
posted by pazazygeek at 12:03 PM on May 3, 2008

'Spread'? You mean 'fat.' You are putting on fat, which is to say you're not using the calories you're consuming. So consume fewer, or use more. You should be able to figure that out on your own; whenever people ask the obvious question 'How do I stop my weight gain?' I suspect what they really want is rationalization. There isn't any. Either you want to be fit enough that you'll do one of an enormous selection of simple things, or you don't want it enough (fear, laziness, etc.). You posted; that's a start. You know how to exercise - why the hell don't you exercise? Seriously, why?

Worry about your sitting posture, don't ask your chair to keep your ass from getting bigger. 'Spread' is a euphemism.

To burn fat, you:

* Exercise. You presumably don't do any at all. Do some. Situps and squats and pushups in the morning for ten minutes - keep 'em going fast, don't fucking make excuses. Raise the heartrate. Every little bit helps, just to stop your growth. If you do a lot of sitting and can't get to the gym, diet will be even more important. So...

* Eat better and MORE OFTEN. Snack regularly on healthy foods. Don't let yourself get too hungry or too full. Three meals a day is arbitrary; to hell with that. Eating more often will help keep your metabolism roaring. You'll have more energy and won't settle into fasting mode.

* Cut out the sweets and the greasy fatty bullshit. Eat more fresh vegetables.

* Build up your muscles. Bigger muscles burn more calories. You don't use yours. Once you start building them up, they'll do some of the weight-loss work for you. Ain't life grand?

* Keep your energy up. The 'one minute dance party' idea sounds good. Maybe buy a couple of 5-lb. or 10-lb. dumbbells and do curls and side lifts and rows while you sit. The yoga chair idea is good - your stabilizers will do work while you sit, plus you won't fall into a rut.

* No excuses. If your job makes it impossible for you to be happy then you need to leave your job or change your relationship to it. As everyone else says, you can and must find time to attend to your physical and emotional wellbeing. Otherwise you are fucking up your own life and have no one to blame but yourself. (Your job isn't killing you; you're failing to stay alive.)

Your future children need a healthy mother. That doesn't mean 'thin,' necessarily, but it sure as hell doesn't mean 'sits in a chair all day and doesn't do for herself.' Get it?

Best of luck. You have to work harder but that's good too.
posted by waxbanks at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you only need a laptop and limited paperwork, then consider finding an awesome cafe a few miles away and cycle-commuting to work there every day. (Then find more cafe options, so you don't get bored with the menu of the one place :)

Plus, I find it's good for mental feelings of wellbeing and happiness to have to get properly dressed every day and go out. When I spend too long at home, I tend to end up just throwing on old comfy things, or stay in PJs too long, and before you know it I start to feel like I look.

Ideally the destination could be somewhere much closer but with a hill in-between it and your place, as this means the commute is only a mere few minutes, but it packs more cardio wallop than you might be inclined to do if you were just doing some exercise at home rather than making real progress up a real hill travelling to a real place. It would also mean that if you forgot something and had to nip back home to get it, it wouldn't take very long at all.

Also consider if there is something you can leave at the cafe that is necessary to your work, thus denying yourself the easy of option of "oh, I don't feel like heading out to work today, I'll just stay home. Just for today. Honest!". No internet access at home is the obvious motivator (and it saves money), but is probably a bit too radical for the rest of the household :-)

Or make it an adventure - every day finding a new place to work.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:30 PM on May 3, 2008

Nthing the dance break. It really, really helps. You don't even need space to dance if you get a sturdy mini-trampoline and bounce instead.

Also seconding the treadmill-as-desk. You can type while walking 1 mile an hour. And every 50 minutes, stop typing and jack up the speed so you're walking very briskly or running for the next 10 minutes. Just don't keep it at a steep incline 100% of the time or you could get plantar fasciitis like me.
posted by PatoPata at 1:00 PM on May 3, 2008

Set up a standing workstation so that for at least part of your workday, you are on your feet. Learn to pace. Drink lots of cold water.
posted by gjc at 1:14 PM on May 3, 2008

If I had enough money (or any money at all), I would definitely spring for a treadmill workstation.

I could do with more exercise myself, as I've started to gain weight since entering my late-20s. However, I think that one thing that has helped me not balloon at an even more alarming weight is that I try to incorporate calorie-burning activities into daily life.

"You can expend calories in one of two ways. One is to go to the gym and the other is through all the activities of daily living called NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis)."

I walk to do errands as much as I can, and I think this is the #1 thing that has helped me keep my weight somewhat under control. Living in a city makes this easier than if you're in a rural area, but even then you can do "little" things like park at the far end of the parking lot, take the stairs, etc.

If you live or work in a bike-friendly area, you could also bike to do errands - I did this when I was attending classes at a very bike-friendly campus a couple of years back, and wish it was still an option because it was very effective for weight control.

Do you have a dog? If not, do you like dogs? If you and your husband are home enough so that having a dog makes sense, I recommend it. If you live in a city (where you have to walk your dog so he can, you know, do his bizness), you'll have to take him out on a regular basis. I've started walking a dog for some friends 3 days/week, and it's been a great way to get some exercise. Whether or not I feel like going for a walk, the dog HAS to go out, and sometimes we do a little bit of running! This has been a great way for me to get exercise without it feeling like exercise.

As far as food, definitely try to bring your own food to work nearly all of the time. When I don't feel like cooking (or even making a sandwich), I'll get things that require no preparation but that are far more healthy than fast food. Ideas:

- tub of hummous, whole wheat pita, and/or pre-cut (or small) veggies like baby carrots, cucumber, grape or cherry tomatoes, etc
- pre-cut veggies (all of the above, plus sugar snap or snow peas, cauliflower, etc)
- fruit, fruit, fruit - try things you haven't tried before!
- since you say you're making good money, you can presumably afford to buy pre-cut fruit, too - seems expensive, but compare it to fast food and ask yourself what you'd rather be spending that money on
- low fat string cheese or babybel cheese; low-fat yogurt

For me, the less sugary, fatty food I eat, the less I crave it. And the more of it I eat, the more I crave it. Same goes for fast food, actually. Experiment and see if you can change your cravings for certain foods by changing what you eat.

Focus on doing things that are going to be sustainable FOR YOU. If doing 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups every morning isn't something you're going to do, don't worry that you're not doing it. Instead, work on finding ways to keep moving, and to incorporate more activity into your everyday routines. Similarly, don't try to give up every "bad" food and subsist solely on rabbit food; make small changes, and experiment to see what you can do to eat healthier in a way that you'll be able to maintain.

Finally, I love Elsa's comment about the "one-minute dance party." I don't do it nearly often enough, but I definitely do something similar (in the privacy of my own home...). Sometimes it's my Official Missy Elliot Dance Party; other times it's Splendid Animal's Bhangra Dance Party; last night it was the Reggaetón Dance Party Yeah Yeah Yeah!!!!! Silly, but it's so much fun and makes me feel good. Heck, my mom even does this. And if you have a dog, they love to get in on the Dance Party Action.

For those of us who are less likely to embark upon and maintain a rigorous Exercise Program, I think the key is making these small changes that we can stick with for the most part. Eat better, move more.

(I have a relative who doesn't necessarily Exercise with a capital "e," but he cooks all of his food from scratch, rides his bike nearly every day to do errands, and he never. stops. moving. Almost literally. He's about 25 years older than me, and he's in waaaay better shape.)
posted by splendid animal at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe switch to a stand-up workstation? Don't sit at all, if you can stand it.
posted by jquinby at 1:54 PM on May 3, 2008

Just remember that you don't have to change all your habits at once. You're more likely to stick to it if you change things slowly and give yourself a chance to develop healthy habits.

According to this article on Sparkpeople, exercising in 10-minute increments can be beneficial. Sparkpeople also has a bunch of 10-minute workout videos, like this jumprope work out. They also a "boot camp" that starts tomorrow, which will feature a different 10-minute workout video every day (the boot camp recommendation is that you also do 30 minutes of cardio 5 days a week in addition to the videos).

I think the key to changing your eating habits is to keep around healthy snacks that you enjoy. I've been keeping track of nutritional info long enough that I have a pretty good idea of what I can grab for a 200 calorie snack that has complex carbs, protein and fat, so I might grab an apple + string cheese, a high protein cereal bar + sugar free yogurt, or sugar snap peas and hummus + a handful of almonds. Also, I have a salad for lunch almost every day. It sounds boring, but salads are super easy to vary and make interesting. I make enough of something to last me for a few days (grilled chicken, hard boiled eggs, or marinated and baked tofu), or open up some tuna. Then just throw your protein on some mixed greens with whatever veggies are in season or you're in the mood for, put on low-cal dressing, and you're good to go!

EatingWell has a lot of yummy, quick recipes. You can make double and freeze individual portions for fast dinners.
posted by amarynth at 1:54 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Find a really nice cute cafe you can work from all day that is a 30-45 minute walk away.

Commute by walking/biking every day.

This does 3 things:
1.) Gets you doing an hour of low-moderate physical activity every day
2.) Gets you away from easy snacks at home
3.) When you're there, you're 'working'. No temptation to do other things
posted by spatula at 2:02 PM on May 3, 2008

consider finding an awesome cafe a few miles away and cycle-commuting to work there every day

Aside: Speaking as someone who knows some café owners, while they appreciate your patronage, this kind of all-day use of a café can suck at times. Really it's just a question of awareness: if there's enough traffic that people are waiting for a table and you've been parked there for hours just drinking your cup of green tea, you're not doing the place any economic favors. If it's slow, though, you're most likely more than welcome. Of course, you oughn't try to rectify things by buying another bagel every hour on the hour, either. Chatting with the owners/employees and letting them know that you're glad to take your work back home when they need you to will help establish the right communication channels and make everyone happy.

Biking is great, and you should try to do more of it, but if circumstances are such that you could either bike OR walk to a given destination, you're probably better off walking. Remember: a bicycle is a machine to make getting from A to B faster, with less expenditure of energy, and on a load-bearing platform. Walking is harder on your joints than cycling, but it burns more calories than casual, neighborhood-speed biking.

If you're taking up walking, a pedometer is a great tool to monitor your overall level of activity. Knowing that you should aim for >10K steps/day, you'll probably be surprised at how little you actually achieve with your regular around-the-house activities. Also, Google-up some exer-walking sites for stretches and activities to improve your shin muscles. Shin splints are no fun, but most habitually desk-bound people get them, and it can suck to walk a couple of miles off in one direction only to find that your legs are suddenly killing you and there's a long walk home.
posted by mumkin at 2:05 PM on May 3, 2008

I think anyone has to get fidgety sitting in front of a screen for that long.. I know I do.. I'm doing the same thing today and it's driving me up a wall.. naturally you start to feel like you need to get up and go do something, which easily becomes, go eat something, or have something to eat while you're working.

I drink a LOT of herbal tea.. peppermint, licorice, hibiscus, ginger.. ginger especially gives you energy & wakes you up but, no caffeine, no calories. I keep a pretty big variety around. So if I really can't leave my computer for long & end up going to the kitchen, I just make a cup of tea, and then sip that as I'm working. You could probably drink a gallon of peppermint tea a day and nothing bad would happen (just don't put sugar in it mind you). I also try very very hard to not fill up on carbs.. if you're going to get Chinese takeout for instance get meat + veggie (not deep fried!!) and don't eat the rice. Don't know if you have a Trader Joe's but I also get a lot of their frozen chicken items and veggies that are pretty healthy & warm those up instead of getting takeout, for when I don't want to bother cooking (which is most of the time lately).
posted by citron at 2:11 PM on May 3, 2008

There are lots of good specifics in this thread, but I thought an overview might be helpful, too.

If you gained 30 lbs in 6 months, that's approximately 5 new pounds per month. It's generally held that each pound represents 3500 calories "extra" -- calories consumed but not used. So, 5 lbs multiplied by 3500 calories is 17500 calories, divided by 30 days in a month is 583. That means that you overconsumed (or underexercised) by nearly 600 calories each day. To stop your weight gain right now, you could cut 600 calories out of your daily diet (watch out for sweetened coffee, juice, and regular soda), or exercise off 600 calories every day (an hour's run, fast bike, or swim). To additionally lose the weight you gained, you have to cut out more than 600 calories a day, or exercise more than 600 calories' worth.
posted by xo at 2:17 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

From the Mark Bittman at the New York Times: 101 Simple Meals Ready in Ten Minutes or Less
posted by tractorfeed at 2:36 PM on May 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

(obviously some of the 101 are not that healthy, but there are plenty of fast, non-fattening ideas in the list)
posted by tractorfeed at 2:39 PM on May 3, 2008

I'm going to suggest a completely alternative tack on this one.

You don't *have* to telecommute from home. In many cities there are co-working spaces like
Station C
in Montreal and similar kinds of things all over North America. These aren't the old-style "business centers" - they're generally very explicitly oriented towards providing a great place to work but also a community of co-workers and colleagues. The social aspect of one's working life is often underestimated, but I have always found it important, and just having a place identified as "work" can really help resolve any work/life balance problems - of which your weight is a symptom.

So I would look around to see if you have anything like that in your area and consider switching up your approach to things. There's a chance that just being in a more structured environment and having people around will be all you need to get back to your normal self - but a bike or walking commute wouldn't hurt either!
posted by mikel at 4:24 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I also suggest a treadmill desk.
I bought a used treadmill via Craigslist for $350, put a shelf across it, and put my laptop on there. I walk 1.3 mph while I work all day (some people walk 1 mph or 0.7 mph). My feet were sore at first but they are getting used to it. And I burn a LOT of calories. Weight is already coming off. I wish I had done it years ago!
posted by ysabella at 7:21 PM on May 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

Okay, so six months ago I also got a fabulous job with more money, more hours - while my weight gain about 20 lbs, I totally feel you. The fabulous clothes I can't fit, the feeling run down.

A few months ago I accepted that I couldn't get to the gym, so I bought the exact high end precor elliptical I used to use at the gym...and put it right next to my bed. Seriously, any farther and I wouldn't use it. But I use it while watching films. As fast as I can go for a short period of time, and only watch the film when I am on the machine.

Secondly - I didn't want to spend my weekends cooking - so I'm still spending a pretty penny on restaurant food - BUT what totally helped is buying a week's worth of healthier food and freezing it - for example, my favorite ethiopian restaurant, lentil soups and rice and lentils from Mediterranean restuarants. Totally works. Lastly, I really have a sweet tooth so I started to find out when fruit is in season and only buy those - I'm still nibbling madly for energy (sleepy) and probably overeating, but it's on a zillion really, really tasty super sweet strawberries or pink lady apples. Somehow I takes the place of my twizzler craving just fine. And I do green tea sweetened with honey.

I made the food changes about a week ago, and today I'm about 5lbs down. Sure, a lot of that is water weight, but I find that a week without processed food or high fructose corn syrup actually makes me feel less sluggish and greasy. I'll let you know how if a month from now it keeps making a dent in my weight gain.

Good luck!
posted by anitanita at 8:21 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to say that I also work from home and have been slowly gaining weight, and that this thread got me to go out for a random one hour walk this afternoon.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:41 PM on May 3, 2008

I work from home.

In the last five weeks, I have gained five kilograms. This is related to moving to a new area as well as other things, which I can't change right now.

So, I've started doing the following:
- n-minute dance parties, where 'n' is the length of the track I'm dancing to. I do this about 4 or 5 times a day.
- Eating fruit twice a day for snacks
- Eating about 3-4 cups of non-starchy vegetables with lean protein for dinner (today was cucumber, semi-dried fat-free tomatoes, and capsicum with a splash of balsamic vinegar; yesterday was steamed green beans, broccoli, and baby pak choy with Worstershire sauce). Filled me right up, and tastes great!
- breakfast is a sachet of microwave oatmeal, made on milk. Protein, carbs, fast to make, and can be consumed while typing
- lunch is a sandwich, or crackers and cheese, or a soup, or leftovers.

Things I've done when time-poor:
- cook so that I have freezable leftovers for lunch and dinner size portions
- buy frozen meals that I can just heat in the microwave (this is good for tracking your calorie consumption, too)
- more dance parties
- body-weight exercises - pushups on stairs or against walls, tricep dips on a chair edge or coffee table edge, various ab exercises, stretches (lots of stretches), etc.

I drink green tea and herbal teas, unsweetened, and about 2-3L of water a day. I keep a bottle by me all the time so I'm sipping all day, which makes it easier to actually drink that much.
posted by ysabet at 2:05 AM on May 4, 2008

On a 1-10 scale of how completely serious you are about this.. if you're at 10 or more, I would buy a treadmill or elliptical, and rig it up for your laptop, your phone, and whatever else you need while you're working. Hit a button if you need to slow down for something, and once you've got some relative (RELATIVE) downtime where you can focus on your pacing, kick it back up. Use Tabata/HIIT intervals.

Buy a light (girly style) barbell and some plates and get squatting. Olympic style, with heavier plates, if you're hardcore and want the results faster.

A lot of people don't like to think about it this way, but at least read this and keep it in mind as you begin to make your lifestyle changes. Any compromise you are willing to make in intensity, effort, time, dedication, and self discipline is directly proportional to the results you are willing to work for, and the time it will take to attain them.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 8:31 AM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

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