Is working from home making you fat?

I’ve been working from home since 2004. My daily commute is the 10 steps between my bedroom and home office.

I can start my workday when I’m most productive and end it when I’m not. I can wear what I want, set the thermostat to my own preference, and listen to Ariana Grande all day long without being sent to HR.

I can also eat what I want, when I want.

This can be a problem for home-based entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote employees — one that’s exacerbated by lack of movement. It’s not uncommon to pack on the entrepreneur 11 after leaving cube life behind. I’ve seen it firsthand, in my own mirror.

Luckily, I have smart friends like Mike Roussell, Ph.D., a 34-year-old nutritionist who works from his home in Pittsfield, New York.

Roussell is one of the most productive guys I know. Last month, he published a new diet book. At the same time, his supplement company geared up to launch its second product, Cerevan, which increases memory and attention (he did this all while also recovering from a cold that hit his entire family). He has a thriving consulting business, working with food companies, athletes, executives, and major publications. In his spare time, he writes a blog and newsletter, and he just started a podcast.  

He’s also among the most fit and active guys you’ll ever meet. Roussell works out almost every day, either cardio or weights. I asked him how he successfully balances family, work, and health while working from home.

His advice: Keep it simple with these three strategies.

Strategy #1: Plan ahead. And when that fails, follow the four-hour rule

You’d think a nutritionist would be comfortable winging it when it comes to food, but Roussell always works from a plan. “Genetically, I have terrible carb tolerance,”  he says. So he carefully manages the amount of carbohydrates in each meal, with a little more after a workout and a little less at other times.

“I preplan breakfast, lunch, and a snack daily,” he says. “Then dinner is usually on the fly with the family.” But even when he eats on the fly, his plate will typically include a protein source (like lean meat or fish) with vegetables.

How to apply this to your own life

Forget counting calories or following a restrictive diet. Most people fall off those wagons within a couple of weeks. Instead, plan meals in advance, make a shopping list, and stick to it. That way you won’t fill your cart with Little Debbies and cheese curds.

If you need help with meal planning, Roussell explains his overall philosophy in The Six Pillars of Nutrition, his self-published ebook. To keep track of what you eat, he recommends the free software at myfitnesspal.com.

In addition, time your daily meals so there’s at least four hours in between each. That gives your body enough time to shift from the “fed” state, when you’re working to process food from the last meal, to the “fasted” state, when your body is running on stored nutrients, including the abundant calories stashed away in your fat cells.

Strategy #2: Forget all those exercise rules you’ve memorized

Roussell trains for strength three to four times a week, using the only time he’s sure to have available. “If I don’t work out before my family gets up, it just isn’t going to happen,” he says. “The day just spirals.”

He also does cardio a few times a week, which is easier to squeeze in. He keeps an Airdyne stationary bike in his office and a SkiErg cross-country skiing machine in his garage. In addition, Roussell is a big fan of rucking — hiking with a weighted pack. “I have a goal of 1,000 miles of rucking for this year,” he says.

How to apply this to your own life

Contrary to what you’ve heard, decades of exercise research have shown that there’s no perfect time to exercise. The best time is whenever you’re most likely to do it. That’s right. Go swimming after dinner. It’s all good.

What type of exercise you do, and where, is also immaterial. Pick something you enjoy and are likely to stick with. Whether it’s as simple as a daily walk or as complex as training for a marathon, it’s all better than spending the entire day at your desk.

And don’t obsess about length: A 2016 study found that 10 minutes of higher-intensity training has the same health benefits as 50 minutes of moderate exercise.

You can carve out 10 minutes today, right?

Once you know what works best with your schedule and body clock, make it an appointment. Block it out on your calendar and make sure nothing short of an emergency keeps you away.

Strategy #3: When it comes to snacking, the secret is slow

The best part of working from home: freedom. The worst part: temptation.

If you eat to give yourself something to do, take preemptive action.

This is a side benefit of meal planning: In addition to buying the food you’ll need for upcoming breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, you can ensure your snacks fit your overall goals. Then, unless you have a vending machine in your garage, you’ll be able to resist temptation.

“On days that I weight train, my snack is a post-workout shake with 30 grams of protein,” Roussell says. His planning is as simple as keeping protein powder on hand, along with any fruit, nuts, or vegetables he wants to put into the blender that day. (Here’s his primer on smoothies if this is all new to you.)

How to apply this to your own life

Not a fan of smoothies? Roussell has two guidelines for healthy snacks that will keep your waistline in check.

First, make sure it has plenty of protein. Nuts are a great choice, along with hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter on an apple or celery, Greek yogurt, or pumpkin seeds. Protein helps you feel full faster — and retain that feeling longer — than either carbs or fat.

Aim for a carbs-protein ratio of 1-1, and don’t go higher than 2-1.

Second, choose a snack that takes time to eat. Pistachios are a great choice because there’s so little food per nut, Roussell says. While you’re opening all those shells, your stomach will notice you’ve eaten something and begin shutting down the feeling of hunger that drove you to eat in the first place.

Conversely, most snack foods are manufactured to be eaten quickly and in large quantities, bypassing the neurochemical mechanisms that would ordinarily take away the desire to keep eating.

Follow these simple strategies most of the time, and you get to enjoy all the benefits of working from home without looking like a house yourself.

After all, what’s the point of being your own boss if your waistline ends up running the show?

Your turn: What’s your top tip for staying in shape while working from home?

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