Weight loss is one of the many reasons women come to see me.
Last March many people were suddenly thrust into working from home, were unable to go to their gym, and started spending hours each day sitting on video calls.
These factors, combined with the easy access to stocked kitchen cupboards has made weight loss an even greater issue for my clients. In the past few months, I’ve received more than a few panicked calls for appointments as women watched the numbers on their scales rising.
“I just can’t seem to lose weight when I’m at home,” is what many of these women tell me. When I ask why, the answers are often the same: easy access to food, lack of exercise, boredom, stress eating, and an inability to separate work and private life.
Although these women are at home, their days are jam-packed with managing children’s schooling needs, checking in with elderly parents, housework, and keeping up with their workload. Often they feel a need to prove their commitment to both their family and their jobs by being available to anyone at any time.
That’s simply not sustainable.
Tips for Staying Healthy at Home
The keys to losing weight – good nutrition, adequate movement, and quality sleep – haven’t changed. It’s important to give these as much attention at home as you would in any other setting – maybe even more since temptation can be harder to avoid.
I know how hard it can be to find a good balance between work and personal life, especially when the setting doesn’t change. But allowing yourself the time and space you need to tend to your health is essential.
Here are 10 tips for taking control that will help you lose weight while working from home.
1. Move – but NOT to the kitchen for a snack!
Movement is so important to good health and maintaining a healthy weight.
When working in an office, movement breaks are often natural. You get up to have a conversation with a colleague, or head to a meeting in the conference room, or to the break room for lunch.
At home, it’s far too easy to sit at your desk and get up only when you have to use the bathroom, which may be just a few steps away.
And there’s a whole lot of research that tells us just how unhealthy it is to sit too long. Risk of obesity and a host of other conditions related to metabolic syndrome increase with too much sitting.
So how can you keep yourself moving even when there’s nowhere to go? First, remember that you don’t have to move for long to make it matter. Standing up to stretch is a good start, but you can gain even more from getting a little bit of cardiovascular activity in. Walk up and down the stairs quickly a few times, march in place, or put on some music for a dance break.
In addition to movement breaks throughout the day, give yourself the time and space to do a longer workout a few times per week. Setting up a corner dedicated to exercise allows you to get right to it instead of needing to pull out equipment like weights and resistance bands when you’re ready to move.
Know your natural rhythms and plan your workouts accordingly. If you have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and require copious amounts of coffee before you can even talk to someone, scheduling a morning workout might not set you up for success. On the flip side, if you have dinner making responsibilities, need to put children to bed, or find yourself exhausted at the end of a work day, evening workouts might not be for you.
Don’t forget to make your exercise fun. Getting on an exercise bike when you hate cycling or hopping on a treadmill when running hurts is no way to stay motivated. When you love what you’re doing (for me, it’s dancing) you’ll want to keep doing it!
If motivation to move is hard to come by, arm yourself with things that will make it easier. The right equipment for the workout you want to do, a subscription to something that looks fun (musical theatre dance routines, anyone?), joining a support group, or just enlisting one good friend to check in with daily.
Put that inherent tendency to jump and look at your phone any time a notification comes through to good use. Set a reminder that says “MOVE!” When it dings, get up and stretch, take a quick walk around the block, or do a round of strength exercises. If you have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, there’s a feature built in to help you do this.
2. Be prepared
There’s no easier way to guarantee you’ll reach for the phone to order takeout or grab the packaged, ready to eat snacks than failing to plan for the week.
For some people, having a set meal plan for the week works amazingly well. When you already know what’s on the menu, and have what you need to prepare it, it’s easier to follow your healthy plan. Others find this too rigid. If you don’t like to lock yourself into specific meals on specific days, plan a list of healthy options you can prepare quickly and stock up on the ingredients you’ll need. That way, you can still “go with the flow” without ending up with take-out or frozen, processed meals.
Taking some time to pre-cut vegetables and divvy up healthy snacks into reasonable portions can make a big difference in a busy week. If you have a hard time avoiding junk food that’s on hand, dispose of it and don’t buy more. Most of the time, you won’t interrupt your work flow to go out and get a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream. But if it’s just sitting there waiting for you, it may be too difficult to say no.
One great way to be ready for healthy lunches is to lay salad ingredients – greens, cooked protein, nuts, seeds, raw or roasted vegetables, healthy grains like quinoa or brown rice, etc. – out on a table on Sunday afternoon. Fill five Mason jars with whichever ingredients you’d like (put moist ingredients on the bottom to avoid soggy greens). Voila, you have lunch for the whole week! It’s quick, easy and full of variety; you can have a new salad every day!
3. Give yourself a break
I’ve already talked about the importance of regular movement breaks. It’s simply not healthy to sit at a desk all day long, especially if much of that day is spent in video meetings.
Mental breaks are just as important to overall health and wellness. Set aside regularly scheduled time to do something for yourself. Grab a quick cup of tea and sit in a sunny spot to enjoy it. Find a comfortable spot to lie down and meditate. Stretch or try a few yoga poses. Clear your mind of all the things on your to-do list and focus on what you are grateful for.
Taking a break can help reduce stress, which in turn can help you lose weight by keeping cortisol levels balanced.
4. Address your emotional health
All too often, women focus on the physical aspects of health without realizing just how important it is to honor and address your emotions.
There are so many factors that contribute to emotional eating and some may be compounded if you’re working from home. Many of the women I speak to these days tell me that they feel pulled in so many directions, they don’t feel like they’re doing well in any area of their lives. The feeling of not being good enough can send you straight for the comfort foods.
This pandemic has taken an emotional toll on so many of us, and the worst thing you can do is to push these feelings aside and just keep working. Eventually, something’s got to give – and all too often, it’s your commitment to healthy eating!
5. Get outside
Some of the biggest benefits of working from home are flexibility and the time you save not having to commute. You can put that time to great use by getting outside before, during, or after your workday.
So many women are deficient in Vitamin D these days, partly because they don’t get enough direct sunlight on their skin. Vitamin D deficiency can impact weight loss, so it’s important to be sure your levels are adequate when trying to lose weight.
One of the biggest excuses I hear from women about why they aren’t getting outside is weather. I’ve heard many people say “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing,” and I can’t agree more. Wherever you live, whatever the climate, there is clothing that will protect you from the elements and allow you to be outside.
6. Set a sleep schedule – and stick to it
Quality sleep is a key component in successful weight loss and maintenance. An added bonus is that getting enough sleep will allow you to be more productive, so you may get your work done more quickly and have more time to focus on you!
Stop working at least an hour before bedtime. Make a list of to-dos for the following day so you won’t be making mental lists while trying to fall asleep. Keep your bedroom free from work. It should be a place of solitude and peace, not stress! All electronics should be powered down an hour before bed – so if you like to watch TV or scroll social media after working, you’ll want to end your work day with plenty of time to spare.
7. Boundaries are essential
It can be so difficult to set and stick to appropriate boundaries when the lines between work and home blur. To reduce stress and function optimally, you’ll want to have boundaries around work, family, friends and food.
People don’t always talk about setting boundaries for food, but I’ve found that sometimes having some firm parameters about when you eat can help you stick to a healthy eating plan. You may decide you’ll only eat within a specific window of time. Intermittent fasting can work wonders for weight loss. If that’s the case, you’ll need to plan to eat regular meals within that time block – even if it means pausing your work for a while.
If you tend to graze the cupboards and refrigerator all day long, setting some boundaries around snacking can help. Set specific times for snacks, have one drawer filled with healthy snacks to choose from, or cut out snacking altogether. You have to find what works for you, and remember to pay attention to how you feel. If skipping breakfast makes you lightheaded and cranky by 11 am, that may not be the right boundary to set.
Create some boundaries around where and how you eat as well. Don’t take food to your desk. Don’t eat standing up at the counter. Sit at the table whenever possible. If it’s been turned into a learning center or it functions as your desk, find a comfortable chair and sit down to enjoy your food.
Don’t eat straight from the container food came in – put it on a plate or in a bowl to ensure your portions are the right size.
Eat mindfully, really paying attention to the texture and flavors of the food you are eating. Eat slowly so your body can send the proper signals that it is full to your brain.
8. Don’t try to manage everything alone
There’s nothing quite like a good support group. These can be formal – online, via an app, whatever works best for you – or informal. Some of the best support I have when I feel the need to shift my habits are my friends. Sometimes, I set up a “healthy check-in” group with one or two good friends. We remind each other to stay hydrated, get moving, and make healthy choices. We celebrate each other’s success and encourage each other through the hard moments.
9. Put on pants
It’s so tempting when working from home to stay cozy and comfy in your pajama bottoms (or no pants at all). But getting up and getting dressed can shift your mindset from home to work – and avoid any unfortunate Zoom incidents. Wearing regular pants that have a tight waistband can also help you recognize when weight gain begins instead of being shocked when you step on the scale.
10. You CAN stay home and stay slim
Weight gain doesn’t have to be a negative consequence of working from home. It takes attention and commitment, but losing excess weight IS possible – even when you’re always home. If you have weight to lose and need a more structured approach, check out my weight loss program. There are options to work my program on your own or you can choose the full online course which offers support every step of the way. My program is individualized so you’ll find the right strategies for YOU!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD