Don’t get me wrong: I love working from home. In the past two and a half years, I’ve “downsized” my employment status from full-time to part-time to zilch and loved every freelance minute I gained in the process.
Unfortunately, I also gained what I like to call the “Freelance 15.”
Easy access to snacks plus an extremely short work commute (17 footsteps from bed to office) plus sitting on my butt all day started packing on the pounds within a few months. And because I live in Madison, Wisconsin, where there is around six months of cold (more like life-threatening) weather, it was just too easy to take up a sedentary lifestyle.
I was doing well, work-wise, but I was liking how I looked less and less. I started dreading social outings and events because my clothes no longer fit me like they used to. This was not what I’d signed up for when I decided to become a freelancer.
Fearing I’d become a recluse if I didn’t take action soon, I decided to switch up some of my habits and start new routines. And the Freelance 15 started to disappear. What worked for me may work for you too.
How to work from home and not gain weight
1. Don’t buy junk food
During your weekly grocery shopping trips, don’t fill your cart with potato chips, cupcakes, etc. If you have a sweet tooth, as I do, buy fruit like mangoes or pineapple. If you start stocking your home with healthy food and snacks, the chances are less likely that you’ll find yourself snacking on high calorie junk foods while stressing out over a project deadline or contract negotiation.
2. Delay your snacking until the afternoon.
The time that you snack may affect your weight, according to a study published by the American Dietetic Association. When study participants were assessed on their snacking habits and how it affected weight loss, those who snacked in the mid-afternoon had higher weight loss than participants who snacked in the mid-morning. The reason? The mid-afternoon snackers typically chose fruit or vegetables as their snack, whereas the mid-morning snackers ate items like cookies or ice cream.
Thus, if you are in the habit of having a donut with your mid-morning coffee, you may inadvertently start packing on the pounds or not losing weight as quickly as you’d hoped.
It’s too easy to choose a high sugar and/or high fat snack in the morning as a way of “pepping” up and getting into the freelance work groove. Instead, try drinking coffee or getting an extra hour of sleep, and hold off on that snack until the afternoon.
3. Get enough sleep.
The whole point of freelancing is so you can live life according to your schedule, right? There’s no reason to deprive your body of the sleep it needs or make it conform to your old “get in by 7 am” employer requirement.
Furthermore, sleep deprivation may sabotage your weight maintenance/loss goals. A study at Uppsala University reported that men who were sleep-deprived were more likely to purchase high calorie foods, as well as more food overall, when out on a grocery shopping trip. This occurred even when the men ate breakfast beforehand.
4. Manage your time better.
It’s too easy to let your freelance work projects take up more and more of your time, especially if you are easily distracted by incoming emails or Facebook updates and thus spend a lot of your hours doing stuff that’s not work-related. This is bad for your health overall because you end up spending an endless amount of time sitting still in front of your computer. A sedentary lifestyle is correlated with obesity.
However, what if you justify all the time you spend sitting by taking a long run at the end of the day? Apparently, that’s still not good enough, according to a University of Sydney study. Indeed, the Australian study found that there is something inherently detrimental about sitting still for hours at a time, and that doing so increases your risk of mortality. This occurs regardless of whether you exercise or not, or have preexisting conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
You can combat poor time management by taking these four steps.
5. Make time for exercise.
You already know that exercise burns calories, improves mood, etc. What you may be struggling with is how to incorporate exercise into your work schedule. Or you might be stymied by a lack of motivation. Here’s how to deal with that challenge.
Start small. If you have a dog, take a 15 minute break each day and go for a walk with Fido. Alternately, dedicate 15 minutes to light housework like vacuuming, raking leaves, dusting, etc. The point here is to create a habit of getting up and moving for a set amount of time.
Once you’ve acclimated to taking that 15 minute break, schedule an entire hour at some point during your work day for exercise. Then, keep to your schedule and use that one hour to exercise. I’d recommend spending a full 30 minutes doing some continuous workout like running or resistance training, then spending the other 30 minutes cooling off and cleaning up.
Why only 30 minutes? A recent Danish study has shown that people are better motivated to keep up with a 30 minute exercise regimen than a longer, 60 minute one.
You can do it!
There’s no reason to think that your work-at-home lifestyle is destined to make you gain weight and become sluggish. Because you can take breaks whenever you want and even schedule in exercise time, working from home can actually make you fitter than when you had your traditional 9-to-5 employed job. It’s just a matter of being efficient and taking advantage of well-deserved breaks. Oh, and staying away from the potato chips and ice cream too.