How I Lost Weight … at Work

I’m an itinerant scale-hopper. I jump on the one in the bathroom nearly every day. It’s part of the morning ritual. And over time it has told me things I already knew.

Six-seven years ago, when it routinely recorded 200-plus pounds, it was telling me that I was letting the anxieties of shepherding a large news site through a time of tumult get in the way of finding time to take care of myself. Long hours, the always-on-ness that accompanies a news site in a big American city. It left me with little enthusiasm to eat right, exercise (and sleep) regularly—all the things you know you need to keep your life in balance.

When I joined Rodale five years ago, the scale told a different story. I dropped more than 20 pounds in the first 6-8 months. The work culture was one that encouraged me to leave my desk and go to the gym. Or the basketball court. Or join others running and biking and … you get the idea. The cafeteria was cheap and the food was healthier than in my old place. And this was Rodale, so there was a pressure to do “the health thing” right—or risk calling yourself out as a hypocrite (which is way worse than having others do it; most of my defenses on those charges face outward, not inward). So I dropped to about 180 pounds, even a little bit less. My knees were very happy. I had a little burst in the hoops games. My ever-present tire around the waist went from a car tire to a bicycle tire—a mountain bike tire, certainly, not one of those skinny little road bike tubes from the tour de France. But progress.

Over the next two years, I yo-yo’d between 180 and 190, usually closer to the high end of the scale. Until recently.

I’m back down at 180-182, and I’m staying there. Wish I could say I’d gone on a big exercising binge, but aside from a lot of hiking in Yosemite a month ago, that hasn’t been the case. I’m active, but no more than before.

And it would be great to say I’d reeled in my diet, but that’s not true either. Not so much food. I don’t overeat and I certainly eat more green and plants stuff than ever. The beverages are my difficulty: beer and soda. Love ’em both. I can drop one at a time, but never both. And most of the time, it’s neither. I easily carry 400-700 calories in liquid calories daily. It’s why I have to stay active just to tread water.

Except I haven’t been treading water. I got lighter while doing what I’ve done for the past two years.

So, finally, I asked myself, what’s up? And I realized, what’s up is me.

As in, early this Spring I got a stand-up desk at work. The monitor-and-keyboard-tray, made by Ergotron, can be moved up and down, so I can work standing or sitting. At first, I spent maybe 2 hours a day standing. Now it’s more like 4-5. It takes some getting used to, and you find over time that there’s certain things you do standing (email, web searches) and others you sit (editing a longer story or sketching out a new way to manage the site).

And that’s fine, because the amount of time I spend standing has been enough to kick my metabolism a little faster each and every day. And my back, which used to balk at sitting for long periods, is happy as a clam (if a clam had a pain-free back). And I am getting lots done and not minding the hourlong commute in the car so much when I stand a good bit of the time in between.

If you’re interested in the science behind standing desks—and the risks of sitting all day, even if you’re otherwise active—read my former colleague Maria Masters’ piece called Sentenced to the Chair (or this 2009 warning from Paul Scott). And reach out to your HR department and ask what it would take to get a stand-up desk. It’s worth the trouble.

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