This post was initially written and published in its original version on the ITI Bulletin, in March 2014.
Thanks, ITI: I am told it was very much appreciated and that’s why I’m reposting. I hope you enjoy it!
Maybe you would not believe it now, but if you had met me just a couple of years ago (18 months to be precise) I would have been the perfect example of foodie with a normal metabolism, with a penchant for focaccia and little will to take the stairs for even one floor.
Being Italian makes it obvious that I was used to a Mediterranean diet: historically defined as healthy or balanced, naturally packed with olive oil, carbohydrates, wine and decadent desserts, that was my life. Oh, I stopped exercising when I was 16, as my studies took up most time and culture, you know, is life so, you have the bigger picture: I was not ‘Sporty Spice’.
Someone would say I was blessed with the ability to eat big portions without gaining too much weight – and that was the truth until 18 months or so ago. It was then, just after I turned 30, that I started realizing that my almost proverbial fatigue, my feeling constantly lazy, with attention spans that varied from über-focused to border-line narcoleptic (OK, maybe not THAT over the top) were not exactly right. After a quick self-assessment, I had it very clear that since I started freelancing in 2007, I had steadily gained weight (half a kilo or so every year) and my exercise was next to zero (running to catch the bus always ended up in either a failure or too much effort to be done).
I think at that point there was a shift in my mind-set: I thought it was no longer OK to be so out of shape, to be in need of a weekly massage to make my back feel OK-ish, to feel so sleepy all the time… and – even though physical appearance was never the real trigger – to be worried of how I’d look like in a shift dress or a bikini.
What is the morale to this personal tale?
Well, I realised I HAD to be fit to be more productive and happier.
In a nutshell, this is what I did over an 18-month period:
- New chair: I have a kneeling chair and while some may not like it – esp. if you suffer from knee pain or have conditions that do not allow you to have much pressure on them – I find it fantastic for my back. I never arch it, I keep moving as it swings, and it’s a great design for my office space.
- Hit the gym: or just do some physical activity. I had a gym membership but rarely used it – as most people tend to do. Only by seeing a professional personal trainer I was able to define my goals and create a routine based on my special requirements or issues e.g. back pain, bad shoulder… etc. I still see a PT because I grow bored easily so I feel that is great motivation. It really depends on your priorities and your will power but I do recommend a first contact with a professional to really pin down what you need to do and what you need to NOT do for your health.
- Training: hard. I train 4-5 times a week – which may pigeonhole me as a gym freak, I know – and trust me, if you had told me a year ago I’d do it, I would have laughed at your face. I do a mix of circuit training and heavy weights, with a little cardiovascular work. The key for me is frequency i.e. the more often I train for short periods of time, the more results I have and the fitter I feel; for others it may be OK to just run on a treadmill twice a week or swim or do Pilates – again, everyone is different and has very different goals.
- Change of diet: radical. Rather that a ‘diet’ in the stricter sense, I changed the type of food intake (and slightly reduced portions). Alas, I do love pizza but I am only treating myself with it on special occasions (and now I struggle to finish it!). I only have carbs in the form of nuts and fruits or rice and potatoes. While I feel more focused, I also lost some weight and never feel that sleepy anymore – even though my body composition now is more muscles than fat. My diet is mainly protein-based, which may work for some but not for everyone. My tip? Again, see a nutritionist or a trainer, esp. you vegan or vegetarian colleagues – to help you work out your yes / no food. Another tip? Have your food (or most of it, if you like picking up groceries yourself) delivered so you avoid temptations while wandering – hungry – in the shops. I won’t even mention that you need to drink loads of water (monitor your intake with an iPhone app called iDrate)
- Sleep routine: regular. I am now trying to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. I’m far from succeeding but trying is a step towards your goal. Training in the morning is also beneficial: I don’t ‘enjoy’ training, mind you! But if I do it first thing in the morning, I take it ‘out of my way’ and can feel energised and focused.
- ‘Me’time’: carve it out. This can be reading a magazine, shopping, listening to music, walking the dog or spending time with the family. I try to organise everything I do to make sure I always fit in something that I enjoy doing – it gives structure to my life and it’s a great element of balance in your lifestyle. Just make sure it’s not too many pints…
- A clean desk, proper lighting and… rewards: I can be a messy head but at least I try to clear my desk when I’m done with work. Lights should not be in your face and without going feng shui with it, you can easily work out what is best for your eyes. Ideally, stop and move the gaze away from your screen every 20 minutes, looking into the distance, so you can refocus and rest your sight. Reward yourself: not with food (you will eventually grow less hungry, I swear) but with some time off, to do stuff you like. I can only stay sane if I blog or read, or listen to my favourite tune while I get (one of the many) espresso on the sofa. Some love power napping, so maybe try it out!
- Believe in ‘change’: I was one of those people who’d say ‘I don’t need to exercise, I don’t like it, I am tired just thinking about it’. Now, while I’d still rather have a slice of Margherita pizza while watching a film with my feet up and a glass of prosecco, I keep on training hard for me and do value the importance of the balance of mind and body.
A focused mind means less time spent on doing (badly) the same things all over again. And you’ll also look younger, which always is flattering.
Never give up!