I’m a freelance writer. I also do a lot of Web development work outside of my client projects. I’ve been known to be a bit of a workaholic at times (although I’m much better about it these days). No matter what kind of work I’m doing, that means I’m spending long hours parked on my ass in front of a computer. Sometimes it’s in my office. Sometimes it’s in my living room. Sometimes it’s at the library or while out for coffee. But the ass-planting is fairly consistent.
Exercise and Excuses in Freelancing
When you work at a desk job (as many freelancers do), you have to make a more conscious effort to get moving at other times during the day. That’s tough for me personally. I do have a fitness center right here at my community, but I like to workout around 4am when I get up and the fitness center doesn’t open until after 6am. So I bought an exercise bike to get around that.
Now I find other excuses. I often can’t get to sleep on time ever since we reset the clocks a while ago (and that will get worse as it stays lighter longer through the summer). That means I’m up late, and therefore get up late the following morning. My schedule’s thrown out of whack, I feel like I’ll never catch up to where I should be, and so workouts get skipped.
I’m less active in general though. Heck, working from home means I have to move a mere five steps from bed to my desk. I don’t even have to stand up long enough to get dressed before I dive into my day. On the rare occasion where I work very late it can feel like my entire day was bed to desk to bed.
The Freelance / Fridge Connection
I don’t only struggle to work exercise into my daily schedule as a freelancer. Working at home can also ruin eating habits. Sure, it’s a good thing that there aren’t office parties with lots of cake and other goodies to contend with. But those are occasional. The lure of the kitchen is an everyday occurrence.
“Just stock the fridge with healthy foods,” you might say. And I’d agree. That’s a fantastic (and simple) suggestion. But there’s a problem. Sometimes I just don’t want healthy food. I want “fun food.” In an office environment I was less likely to hit a fast food joint because I was busy working through lunch or eating with co-workers or taking a lunch time walk with them. But there are no distractions. If I have a sudden pizza craving I can just pick up the phone and order a large pie. If I want that fast food because I can’t bear to look at a carrot stick, I don’t have to ask a boss permission to leave. I can just get in the car and go. There is no waiting time of waiting for my lunch break — no built-in buffer to help me wait out the craving.
Individual Choices, but a Widespread Problem
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming freelancing or anyone else for the fact that I could stand to lose more than a few pounds. What I do, what I eat, and what I buy are all my own personal choices. Sometimes I make bad ones (although I’m working hard to change that). The thing about freelancing is that it makes it much easier for me to make those bad decisions sometimes.
I’m far from the only freelancer facing these issues. Within a two week period a half dozen of my colleagues had mentioned similar concerns to me. Beyond that, I was already working with another freelance writer as virtual workout buddies (just trying to keep each other motivated to “be good”). Seeing how many others were struggling with similar issues of gaining weight while working at home, I launched a blog post series called Freelance Fitness on my freelance writing site. We talk about things like workouts custom-tailored to freelance writers and recipe ideas that are easy, convenient, healthy, and still a bit more fun than typical “diet food.”
What I’d like to do is share a few of those ideas here, not just for other writers but for anyone living a freelance lifestyle who’s struggling to make a healthier go of it. In light of that, here are a few of my favorite exercise ideas when you’re stuck at your desk all day, and a few healthy eating ideas that might fend off the fast food cravings.
Home Office Health Foods
If you want “fun” foods when you work at home, that often equates to “bad” food. Here are some ways to enjoy rather yummy treats and meals without ordering in or running out for grease-laden goodies.
- English Muffin Pizzas — I used to love these as a kid. And do you know what? They’re still fun! Better yet, you can make them surprisingly healthy. I like to use low calorie, high fiber English muffins (Thomas’ and FiberOne both make 100 calorie versions with around 7-8 grams of fiber in each — that’ll help you feel fuller faster). I also like to use fresh mozzarella instead of the traditional kind with all that extra sodium. You could use a little tomato sauce or even fresh tomato slices instead. The ones I make are between 300 and 400 calories for two mini pizzas.
Homemade Potato Chips — Mmmm. Potato chips have been a favorite snack of mine since childhood. But we all know how bad they can be for you. In light of that, I now usually make my own. It gives me more control over the types of potatoes being used, the oils they’re cooked in, and calories (it’s far too easy to reach into a bag and pull out another 100 calories worth of chips than it is to slice up and cook another potato). The process is incredibly easy. Just use a slicer (there’s one on most cheese graters) to thinly slice a potato. My slicer lets me make rippled chips, which I like even more. You can then cook them either in the microwave (a few minutes) or in the oven (about 30 minutes). I like them both ways, but they still get surprisingly crisp in the microwave. Since that’s quicker let’s talk about how to do it. Just take a cooking spray (I like olive oil sprays) and lightly spray a microwave safe plate. Lay out the potato slices on the plate and lightly spray the tops of the potatoes. Salt them or add your favorite seasonings (you could do the other side too, but I only do one because it helps me minimize the salt). Microwave them on high, checking every 30 seconds to see if they’re done. How long it takes will depend on how thick your potato slices were cut.
- Mushroom & Swiss Grilled Cheese — The best way to get me to eat healthy foods is to combine some of my favorites — mushrooms and cheese for example. As a kid I always loved grilled cheese sandwiches, and they’re a good substitute for a fast food burger for me. But they can still be high in calories. Here’s a healthier way to make them. Buy low calorie, high fiber bread (whole grain, whole wheat, or whatever you like best). Buy low fat swiss cheese, and any kind of mushrooms you like — I usually go with sliced baby portabellas. Assemble a sandwich out of them and spray the outer sides of the bread with some olive oil cooking spray. Pop it in a pan on medium-high heat and flip it after a few minutes. Delicious! Not into mushrooms? Another version I like to make is with sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Also quite yummy. You could substitute in just about any vegetable and type of reasonably healthy cheese you want though.
Freelance Fitness at Your Desk
We talked about some healthy food ideas, but what about squeezing some more activity into your day while you work at home? Here are a few ideas:
- Keep hand weights next to your desk and pull them out whenever you’re not typing (brainstorming, feeling stuck, or while you’re catching up with reading industry news).
- Get a treadmill desk (or one for an exercise bike) so you can workout while you work on your laptop.
- Check emails on your mobile device? Do your morning replies while you’re on a walk or doing some other exercise where your hands are free.
- Swap your desk chair for a balance ball once in a while. You’ll tone your core muscles to stay balanced while you’re working.
- Remember that you’re allowed to take short breaks just like someone working in a traditional office environment. When you’re feeling a bit foggy, get up and walk for a few minutes, even if it’s just walking around your house or taking the dog out.
Fortunately even little things add up during the day. Sometimes it’s just a matter of reminding ourselves that it’s okay to combine being healthier with our seating-centered work days. After all, you’ll feel better, you’ll get the blood flowing, and you’ll be better able to focus on your clients’ projects (and maybe even be more productive). That’s a win-win for everyone involved.
How do you try to stay healthy while working from home as a freelancer? Do you have any exercise tips or recipes to share? If so, leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!