I work hard. I love what I do. I've been in the tech industry most of my career, and it is fast-paced and ever-changing. That is especially true in the startup world, which I have been a part of for almost two years now, having left the corporate world behind.
I also love my family. I have a 5-year-old, who is active, curious, and demands constant attention.
And then there are my passion projects: my love for writing (whether it is my books or my columns), speaking, visiting with friends, etc.
While my work, coupled with my "extracurricular" activities, means delightful opportunity to get creative and paint the blank canvas, it also means putting in insane hours, sometimes weekends and holidays. My average working day is about 12 hours, but there are a lot of 15-hour days as well.
Between the demands of work, family, and the rest, it is easy to lose sight of your health. You tell yourself that you are young and you can push yourself hard now so that later you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. You tell yourself that your metabolism is great and you won't gain weight ... just yet. You grab the junk food between your meetings and your flights at the airport, because it is convenient and saves you time. You postpone prioritizing yourself over everything and everyone else. But in reality, this mentality will always steer you wrong.
That is how I gained 20 pounds and started feeling old while still in my 30s. I've been ignoring myself for a long time.
One unremarkable morning, I woke up and realized that things needed to be different. So I started making changes. Not radical ones, small ones. That's the key. If there is anything I've learned in life, it is that to get to that big audacious goal of yours you need to make small, gradual changes. And you need to be patient. I didn't want to set any flashy New Year's resolutions, because those never work out. I also didn't want to diet to lose weight, because this approach is always short-term (all my friends that dieted always got their pounds back). I wanted a routine that was simple enough, but that would feel a regular part of my day.
Over the next six to 12 months I lost more than 15 pounds and my sound sleep returned. I have more energy, and I feel better than I have in a while.
Here is how I did it.
Before you read further, keep in mind that I don't enjoy exercising and I hate running. So if I can do it, you can too.
You've heard that sitting is more dangerous for your health than smoking. But that's all I do in my job--I sit in front of the computer. So I bought a Fitbit and started counting steps. I set a goal of 10,000 steps a day. You cannot reach a goal you can't measure, and seeing a clear number of steps you've taken each day holds you accountable to that goal like nothing else. I also friended people through the Fitbit application, because I am competitive and that would help with the motivation.
That step was easy. What's hard is to find time and opportunity to walk. For the past two years I have been working from home. So I got a treadmill, and I jump on it whenever I have a conference call or in the evenings when my work is done and my daughter is asleep and I am watching a movie.
But I realize that you may not have the luxury of working from home. When I had to go into the office in my previous jobs, instead of using a treadmill, I turned some of the face-to-face meetings into the "let's walk while we talk" meetings. Instead of sitting down during calls, I dialed in with my cell phone and went for a walk, jotting down notes as necessary in a notebook. There are creative ways to rack up those steps and get moving during the day. If you hate running, you can turn on the music and dance. I do that often.
Some of my friends, for example, got their management to put treadmills in their office, which allow you to work on your computer and slowly walk as you do so. A lot of companies are paying attention to their employees' health and addressing requests such as these.
2. Muscle strengthening
Just moving more will help you feel better and burn some calories, but won't help you slim down as much as something more targeted. Three months after I introduced walking to my daily routine, I bought a used Bowflex machine and created a 25-minute muscle-strengthening routine I added to my regime. My goal was simple. Find a 30-minute break on my calendar at least three times a week. As I am a huge fan of multitasking, I usually do things like catch up on the latest podcasts while I am exercising. I cannot say I am extremely religious about this part of my regimen, but I try to stay on schedule as much as I can, even while I am traveling.
I also do quick stretching afterward. It helps keep the muscles flexible, so you don't wake up stiff every morning.
3. Eating habits
I started eating smaller portions, more often, during the day. I didn't change what I eat that much (I eat pretty healthy); I am just more conscious about the serving size and the frequency. I don't count calories, and I don't sweat it if I have chocolate or ice cream now and then. But I make sure that my diet includes a variety of things.
I also bought a Vitamix blender. Now, every now and then instead of a dinner I make a smoothie for the whole family. Last summer I packed my freezer full of fruits and veggies, which I now use to make the smoothies.
One cannot "catch up" on sleep, ever. So whenever possible I try to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night (this is what I need to be fully productive). Electronics stay outside of my bedroom. We don't even have a TV in our room. That way, when you walk into your bedroom, your brain is ready to relax and shut down. There are no distractions, it's quiet, there are no unnecessary stimulations.
Here's the thing ...
I am not an expert on exercise routines, sleep, or nutrition. I know the basics, but I don't spend my time learning the craft. I don't like to get fancy. I hate counting calories, and I hate people telling me what I can and can't eat. All I want is to feel good and have enough energy for both my professional and personal lives. By making these small changes in my life over the past two years, I am able to wear clothes that hadn't fit me since I was pregnant with my child. I also don't wake up every morning rubbing my neck and my back, felling old. That to me is a victory. So I continue to add tiny routines to my day that keep me happy and healthy. And if I can do it, you can as well.