Weight gain on the job is so prevalent now, that some nutritionists have coined the term "the office 15" to describe the average of 15 pounds that about 45 percent of women gain just in the first three months of starting a desk job. And there are millions of American women who gain even more than this over the years, citing their job as a main reason they've become overweight or even obese.
The real culprits behind job-related weight gain
It's easy to see that long hours of inactivity and being stressed by deadlines and work challenges contributes to the problem. But recent science reveals exactly why this happens: With every hour of inactivity, levels of blood sugar and the stress hormone cortisol rise. And this triggers cravings that lead to overeating, the breakdown of metabolism-revving muscle, plus liver slowdowns that hinder the organ from doing its job of burning fat for energy.
In fact, the emergency state the body thinks it's in because of the high blood sugar and high cortisol -- and it's thinking something major here, like famine -- causes the liver to signal the body that more consumed calories should become fat. And that this fat should be stored mostly around the belly as an easy energy resource when the perceived emergency comes. Of course, for most people, dire occurrences like famine never come, and millions of women are ending up stuck with the extra fat that keeps piling on and that's tough to lose.
The secret to melting away fat despite that desk job
Here's some good news: Scientists have found that simply doing some activity at least once every hour keeps blood sugar and cortisol more stable, thus keeping fat-packing mechanisms in check.
And it can be any kind of activity, even as simple as walking to drop off some forms at a colleague's desk, standing to organize files or books, taking the long way to the restroom, or rapidly tapping your feet on the floor football-drill style for 30 seconds.
You can also whittle away trouble spots and build calorie-burning muscle with the following "deskercises" that are so discreet, no one will notice:
For a toned tummy:
Sit tall and straighten the spine. Then clench the abdominal muscles as tightly as possible, pulling the navel into the spine. Hold for one to five seconds, and repeat for a total of 20 times. Do at least three times daily.
For shapely thighs:
While seated with knees together, imagine someone's pressing them together and it's your job to push them apart. To do this, squeeze the outer thigh muscles in one-second 'pulses' for about one minute. Then imagine something is pushing the knees apart and you're to keep them glued together, so squeeze the inner thigh muscles in one-second 'pulses' for about one minute. Do this at least three times daily.
For a perky butt:
I love this "leave your chair twice" trick! Start to stand up, with heels digging into the ground to contract the butt and thigh muscles. But pause for a beat about three-quarter way through. Then sit back down, and finally stand up as you normally would. Do this every time you get out of your chair, and you’ll be doing calorie-burning squats without even breaking a sweat!
If it's easy to lose track of the time at your job, set up an alarm on your computer to remind you to do something active at least once every hour, or better yet, twice or three times an hour for faster weight loss results.
These nutritional strategies target desk job fat build-up
Recent research reveals that easy dietary tweaks can effectively prevent fat-storing blood sugar and cortisol spikes, and set into play mechanisms that help the body effortlessly burn more calories and fat. Here are a few to try:
1. Snack on nuts and seeds.
The protein, magnesium, vitamin B and healthy monounsaturated fats found in favorites like almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, keep blood sugar and cortisol under control. Take advantage of the fact that they're so packed with energy, by having them in the earlier part of the day to keep you productive for hours. (They're also an excellent snack if you're prone to mid-afternoon slumps.) It's true that nuts and seeds are high in calories, but consuming 1 oz. daily -- about a handful -- won't sabotage your weight loss efforts.
2. Nosh on crudités and cold cuts.
Veggies like broccoli and celery can be enjoyed any time of day because their high fiber content makes them very filling and they're rich in plant compounds that regulate blood sugar. I also like cold cuts, like turkey and cheese slices, because they're rich in satiating protein and tryptophan. This is the building block of the "feel-happy" brain chemical serotonin that keeps stress-inducing, fat-trapping cortisol in check.
Best of all, these are all practical options, being so easy to take in a cooler to work with a little low-fat salad dressing on the side. (A little fat is needed to maximally absorb the beneficial nutrients from veggies, and as long as you stick to 1 to 2 tablespoons of dressing, it won't slow down your slimming.)
3. Have eggs for breakfast or lunch.
Because they contain all the essential amino acids in the perfect portions for humans, eggs are the highest quality protein available. In fact, they're the most effective at increasing nitrogen stores in muscles, making them firmer so they burn more calories even when your body is at rest.
Eggs also an ideal food when you're trying to keep blood sugar and cortisol under control: Their satiating protein and healthy fats prevent fat-trapping blood sugar spikes and they're loaded with vitamin D, a nutrient proven to reduce cortisol production.
4. Enjoy a whey protein shake (or two!)
Whey protein contains specialized branched-chain amino acids that provide muscles with nitrogen to keep them firm and prevent them from being broken down for energy. This is very important since muscle degradation slows metabolism significantly. Branched-chain amino acids also keep blood sugar balanced and help trigger the release of the important fat- burning hormone called human growth hormone. Look for a shake that contains 15 -25 grams of whey protein and less than 6 grams of sugars per serving. A single serving shaker cup is all you need to make this an easy-to-prepare-anywhere treat.
5. Sip oolong tea.
This tea has been shown to balance blood sugar and cortisol levels, reversing the fat-storing mechanisms caused by office inactivity. The helpful dose: One to three cups of oolong tea while you're at work.
Wendy Chant, MPT, SPN, is a certified personal trainer and a specialist in performance nutrition. She holds a bachelor of science degree in medical sciences and nutrition science. A champion body builder, she opened her own training center, ForeverFit®, in 1998.
She is the author of Crack the Fat-Loss Code: Outsmart Your Metabolism and Conquer the Diet Plateau
and Conquer the Fat-Loss Code (Includes: Complete Success Planner, All-New Delicious Recipes, and the Secret to Exercising Less for Better Results!)
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