De-Zoning the Zone: 3 Ways to Break Up the Day and Increase Your Metabolic Health
You’re up at 7am, coffee in hand and ready to start your day. Yet before you know it, three hours have flown by, you’re late for work and rushing to finally park your butt in your chair and get on with it. You got so busy that you lost track of time and forgot to eat breakfast, so you chug down another double-double, grab a handful of the kids’ granola bars, thinking to yourself, “These are healthy, right?” and away you go.
Flash forward to 7pm. Somewhere along the line you found yourself in a coding spree and you realize you haven’t stepped away from your desk in hours. Have you even eaten? You have to pee so bad because you got so caught up in your day, and you’re not even sure where the time went!
Thankfully time flies when you’re coding; you’re now done for the day and looking forward to a good meal and a comfy spot on the couch to watch Netflix. Hopefully the kids walked the dog, because you are DONE and ready to relax.
You head to the kitchen only to find last night’s leftovers have already been eaten, and there is an open bag of Ruffles potato chips on the counter calling your name. Where there are chips, there is usually dip, so you scour the fridge and find your favorite onion dip, you grab a beer—and a can of Coke because who wants to get up again in 20 minutes—and you head to the couch.
This is your routine day after day and year after year, but now guess what? Your sedentary work lifestyle has done you no favors in the health department. Sitting all day, eating what’s convenient, and completely lacking energy at the end of the day have taken their toll on your body and your self-esteem.
You’ve gained (too much) weight, your self-confidence is suffering and so is your mental health, and if we are being honest, the combination of everything is starting to affect your home life—I mean, who wants to take their clothes off at the end of the day when you’re not feeling sexy and just filled your belly with whatever junk food was in the pantry?
The good news is, you can break the cycle. It’s never too late to change up your routine and have a positive impact on your health. There are three simple things you can do to break up your day and increase your metabolism, which will help you break out of that in-the-zone mindset that turns us all into work zombies. They might take a little practice and effort, but you can start them today and start seeing and feeling results immediately.
Practice the Pomodoro Technique
Remember back in college when you used to set a timer for yourself for two hours and study or do homework until the bell rang? OK, maybe not everyone did that, but if you didn’t, you probably knew someone who did.
In those days you would set a timer to make yourself study, but the Pomodoro Technique was developed to make you take breaks. The idea is that the 25-minute timer creates urgency, so you get as much work done as possible, followed by an intentional 5-minute break. Try this timer.
During this break would be a great time to grab a healthy snack, go to the bathroom, chug some water, or make some coffee. Sitting all day has not only been linked to weight gain, but it also goes as far as having a high correlation to obesity, diabetes, and heart trouble
The important thing is to actually take the break so that you’re standing, stretching, and getting mobile. Even five minutes of activity counts toward your activity for the day, so don’t undervalue these short breaks!
A simple way to do this is to try something Tabata style, like jumping jacks or running on the spot for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off. Repeat eight times for a true Tabata, which only takes four minutes but will get your blood pumping and will burn off some of that extra double-double from this morning.
Plan Your Food in Advance
We all know how easy it is to grab whatever is convenient, be it a bag of chips, the kids’ school snacks, or the cream-based pasta dish from Saturday night that is still sitting in your fridge.
However, whipping up a spaghetti squash doesn’t have to be as difficult as spaghetti code, and preparing healthy meals can actually be quite simple. Better yet, they can be really tasty too. I've created a book of recipes that you can find here for free.
If you’re used to eating one to two times per day, eating regular meals will seem like a chore at first, so set your intention on three meals per day and work your way up to three meals and two snacks. My suggestion is—since you’re a self-proclaimed lolly-gagger—to budget some time in the morning to have a healthy breakfast containing all of the macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat).
A great option would be a few eggs, sprouted grain toast with ghee butter, and some sliced cucumber on the side—even if you’re not a fan of vegetables, a cucumber is pretty palatable. Simple, right? Do this and you’re already two steps ahead of where you were yesterday!
For your second meal, consider a quick and easy protein smoothie. Since we know you’re already going to be stressed about taking so many breaks, go easy on yourself and have a quick and convenient shake. Set an alarm for three to four hours after breakfast to remind yourself it’s time for your shake.
Lastly, for dinner, make a healthy option that you would never even know is healthy, choosing another of the recipes linked above. Sure, it will take a few minutes to prepare, but by the third day your digestion will be improved, you will have more energy, and you’ll actually be looking forward to your next home-cooked meal. It won’t be long before your new habits are showing on your waistline and you’re feeling more like that college kid we talked about earlier.
To make this process easier, plan one full month in advance. We all know it takes time to build any new habit, so for your first go at this, plan for a full 30 days. Start by looking at your recipe book and creating a daily grocery order. Each day you are going to have a simple breakfast, a delicious shake, and a healthy dinner, so you will need to get enough food for the entire week. Easy peasy!
Lasting changes are about taking small, actionable steps and adding to these changes as you go. As the month goes by, your metabolism is going to start to fire up, and adding snacks will start to happen naturally based on your hunger level, but the addition of snacks—what to eat and when—can be part of your next baby step for next month.
Consider a Standing Desk
True or false: You burn more energy while standing than while sitting. You don’t have to use Boolean logic to figure this one out. Obviously the answer is yes! You burn almost double the calories while standing. And you can do that while working with a sitting/standing desk.
This desk easily adjusts in height to accommodate a mix of standing and sitting: perfect for someone who spends eight-plus hours at a desk each day. Another way to transition between sitting and standing would be to carry your laptop out to the kitchen on your break and work at the counter for a short shift. Aim to spend 10% of your day standing for your first week. After sitting for so many years, your body will need some time to adjust.
By the second week, transition to 25%, and by the end of your 30 day baby step, aim for 50% of your workday to be spent standing at your desk. This way you will burn almost double the calories, which will help your metabolism adapt to its new normal and start to burn even more calories at rest.
Moreover, because of the ergonomics, you can also influence your posture. Doing so can help with mobility and flexibility, which in turn will give you more energy at the end of the day to actually feed yourself something delicious rather than beeline to the couch with beer. Voila!
Break Up Your Day and You Can Break Bad Habits
Any new habit takes time to build. The key here is making small, lasting changes that are achievable and sustainable. After all, there are so many parts of your life that you love. You love the flexibility your job provides to work at home, you love your boss’s lackadaisical attitude about your actual start and end times, and who wouldn’t want to get lost in their work for hours while time flies by?
Making these small changes for your health will not only help increase your metabolism, but also the resulting changes will go even further toward your confidence, your emotional and mental health, and, hey—if you’re feeling happier and more confident, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an improvement in your relationships.
Keeping yourself moving throughout the day, fueling your body with healthy foods, and standing for longer periods of time will all help your body to burn more calories and increase your strength and flexibility, which will lead to a higher metabolic rate and less likelihood of developing health issues in the near (or far) future.