Let’s face it, working yourself into mental exhaustion exacerbates problematic eating behaviors, which can have disastrous consequences for your weight and overall health.
Comfort foods and junk food binges often become the only escape for workaholics who vest their interest in their career before their health. Research has found that weight gain in competitive corporate environments is common.
Fortunately, the solution isn’t too far off from the normal behaviors of career crusaders who maintain rigorous professional schedules.
Weight Loss for the Workaholic – The Basic Principles
There are four basic principles a workaholic needs to understand when factoring a weight-loss plan into a daily schedule that leaves no room for error:
- Making a Commitment
- Designing a Practical Diet Plan
- Establishing Exercise as Part of a Routine
- Creating Internal Competition
While these principles reflect a straightforward methodology that can be quickly obfuscated by the pressures of a demanding work environment, there are strategies for implementing them, taught by the faculty at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, that have helped thousands successfully weave healthy living into their busy lives.
The goal of this article is to help you integrate weight loss into the workaholic lifestyle. The skills described are the same science-proven ones utilized by Pritikin’s physicians, dietitians, psychologists, exercise experts, and other lifestyle-change professionals.
“Thank God It’s Monday”
But before we begin, it’s important to distinguish between having a strong work ethic and being an all-out workaholic, a person who is addicted to work and whose health, as a result, may be in serious jeopardy.
The former – a strong work ethic – usually allows us to function as harmonious and whole human beings balanced in the four major areas of life: work, family, play, and self.
The latter – full-throttle addiction to work – is a critical condition that often requires treatment, like the one-on-one counseling conducted by psychologist Dr. Coral Arvon at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
“Hard work is admirable. The problem is when you don’t know how to take time off,” explains Dr. Arvon.
You feel guilty if you take off for a few hours. You’re itchy. Restless. You crave work as if it’s a drug. On vacations, you don’t go anywhere without your smartphone and laptop. While fellow employees look forward to a holiday, you’re thinking about all the work you can get done. As far as you’re concerned, they’re lazy; you’re productive. They’re contemptible; you’re prize material.
The only problem is, they’re happy. And you’re not.
“If you’re a true workaholic, you’re the one who suffers,” sums up Dr. Arvon. “Yes, it’s possible to be highly successful at work and still have a family life, leisure life, and time for your health. But people who are truly addicted to work don’t have that balance. Ninety-five percent of their energy is in their work.”
And all too often, everything else falls apart. Relationships disintegrate. Physical problems emerge, like weight gain, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Ironically, work suffers, too. Fatigue sets in. Brain-sharp hours dwindle. Other employees steer clear. The workaholic is usually just too much of a perfectionist, too stuck in the details. Communication breaks down.
It’s a life of guaranteed descent.
Are You Addicted To Work?
Take this simple test to help find out if you might be a workaholic in the most serious sense of the word, someone who is addicted to work and likely needs professional counseling. The test, called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, was devised by psychologists at the University of Bergen in Norway following a study that involved more than 12,000 employees from 25 different industries.
Read the following seven statements. For each, give yourself a score between 1 and 5:
- 1 = Never
- 2 = Rarely
- 3 = Sometimes
- 4 = Often
- 5 = Always
- You think of how you can free up more time to work.
- You spend much more time working than initially intended.
- You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
- You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
- You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
- You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.
- You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
If you scored 4 or 5 on at least four of the seven statements, it may suggest you are a workaholic who needs help.
If you scored lower than 4 most of the time, your workaholism is likely manageable, and the following four principles of weight loss can help you lose weight and live better.
It is impossible to lose weight without making a personal commitment.
For some workaholics, the thought of changing a routine or including one more “thing to do” in an already overwhelming schedule may initially feel painful, but that is a mental obstacle that must be overcome.
If you are a workaholic, at some point in your life you made a commitment to sacrifice other activities for your career. You made a conscious choice to commit yourself to a lifestyle that is demanding, all encompassing, and seemingly perpetual.
That same will power must be applied here. The weight-loss process starts with a determined and uncompromising decision to change your lifestyle, a personal commitment that is unwavering despite adversity or frustration.
Bottom Line: The stubbornness to succeed is what’s needed here.
Reflect on the motivation that drives you to work tirelessly in your career, and apply that same fervor in committing to weight loss. The more you believe in the end result, the more efficiently it will happen.
Lifestyle change is at the core of any effective weight-loss diet, but that doesn’t mean starvation. A large percentage of compulsive career-minded professionals adopt the mentality that fasting expedites weight loss, that by cutting out lunch or breakfast they are: A.) Making more time in the day to work and B.) Cutting out foods that cause weight gain.
But by allocating time away from proper eating to working, weight gain may actually take place faster. Starvation, in combination with workaholism, can all too easily lead to binges at fast food chains and restaurants that smother their culinary creations with butter, oil, salt, and fat. Deep-fried foods, sweets, treats, and other calorie-dense confections become not only an escape from workplace frustrations but the solution for intense hunger.
Designing a practical diet plan and integrating that plan into the workaholic routine is critical.
Another key point: Almost all workaholics share one trait in common: they have a rigorous, predefined schedule that is not flexible. They want to focus on their career and “get their work done.” In the context of dieting, that’s actually a good thing. Healthy eating like the Pritikin Eating Plan can actually enhance your professional schedule. That’s because staying away from the typical American diet, high in fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, can enhance your mental acuity and give you more energy.
Bottom line: You can eat more (a lot of filling, satisfying foods), weigh less, and stay sharp when you’re eating the right foods: water-rich, nutrient-rich, fiber-rich, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and starchy vegetables (including potatoes!). This is the Pritikin Eating Plan. This is a sustainable non-diet approach to eating.
One of the critical components to designing a practical diet plan is understanding hunger vs satiety. (Satiety is that feeling of fullness after eating.) The century-old standard of “three meals a day” often is not practical or even effective in the context of designing a diet for weight loss.
Determining the “right” eating schedule should not be so much a matter of time as it is a matter of hunger. In short, it’s not what time you eat that matters, it’s how you feel. Asking yourself questions like “Am I hungry?” is far more practical than forcing yourself to eat at predetermined times.
Listening to hunger and satiety cues, as spelled out in our recent Pritikin article “The Hunger Scale,” often works better than three square meals, especially for the workaholic, who may not have time or the appetite to eat at, say, typical breakfast and lunch times. Of course, this is relative to what you’re eating. Filling your day with satisfying quantities of fruits, vegetables, whole grains like whole-wheat pasta, starchy vegetables like potatoes, and lean protein like bean-rich foods, white poultry, and fish can have a profoundly positive impact on the weight-loss process.
Factoring exercise into an already overwhelming routine is often the most difficult aspect of an effective weight-loss strategy.
It’s not easy to find motivation to exercise when you’re mentally exhausted. But exercise does not have to be a chore; it can be a reward.
The third principle of Weight Loss for the Workaholic is not to start running marathons or competing in swimming competitions. Exhausting yourself physically after exhausting yourself mentally with professional obligations may leave you feeling more frustrated than before.
Your goal is to introduce exercise into a routine that leaves you feeling rejuvenated and productive.
Exercise should be something you enjoy, and it doesn’t have to be extreme. Going to the gym for 45-plus minutes of cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, and stretching is ideal, but long walks in quiet or calming places, bicycle rides, and easy swimming can make a world of difference not only to your weight-loss goals but your psyche.
Healthy Weight Loss Guide
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For your daily or every-other-day routine, the goal is to integrate some form of pleasurable exercise that challenges your body and gets your heart rate elevated. For hard workers like you, exercise should be an opportunity to release stress, escape mental frustration, and give your body a chance to stretch after being restrained in a corporate environment for hours on end.
Keep in mind, too, that short bursts of intense exercise, as little as 4 to 10 minutes, can yield great results. Recently published research found that people who ran on a treadmill for just four minutes three times a week significantly improved a wide variety of health biomarkers after just 2½ months, including blood sugar, blood pressure, and body weight.
So after your pick-up game of basketball at the gym, hop on a treadmill and go all-out for 4 or 5 minutes. The results might be amazing.
Other ways to get results and keep things enjoyable is to distract yourself from the fact that you’re on that treadmill or exercise bike. Pair your workout with something you really enjoy, like watching sports or listening to music. The time will fly.
This principle goes hand in hand with the first – making a commitment. No one can motivate a workaholic more than his or her internal voice. It is internal drive that influenced and inspired workaholism in the first place.
If there’s one trait common in corporate ecosystems, it’s competition. Self-motivation is a powerful tool, which means that creating internal competition – forcing yourself to “one up” your body’s resistance to losing weight – can also be a powerful tool.
If a workaholic is able to make a weight-loss commitment, then benchmarking and goal setting is a logical step forward. Internal competition is an unparalleled catalyst because it is self-inflicted. It’s not about reward or “besting” someone else; it’s about testing personal capability and mental acuity.
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Setting a personal benchmark or prerogative can have more influence on diet-and-exercise decisions than any external petition by a loved one or confidant. Career-minded people see “the big picture” or “the long-term” goal that can only be realized through dedication and diligence. Losing weight is one of those “big picture” and “long-term” goals that has everything to do with personal well being and longevity.
The more effectively you can create internal competition – profound internal drive – the more effective your weight-loss plan will be.
One caveat: Weight loss takes time – weeks and months. The good news, as multiple studies on people adopting the Pritikin Program have found, is that excellent health results happen in very little time. In just two weeks, men, women, and even children attending the Pritikin Longevity Center have realized dramatic improvements in virtually every modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, triglycerides, blood glucose, and inflammation.
So consider establishing benchmarks not only for weight loss but also for these important risk factors. With a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin, you’ll get results almost immediately, and they can spur you on to more results with weight loss.
Getting Started – Leverage Your Workaholism for Weight Loss
Committing to a weight-loss program is almost identical to committing to a career. It takes profound personal dedication, a desire to succeed, and unwavering motivation to “be the best.”
Taking the first step is the hardest. Finding the courage and mental discipline to change an established routine isn’t easy.
Always, consider the ultimate benefit – a longer, healthier, more fulfilling life. Whether you dedicate that time to work, family, or whatever hobby gives you complete satisfaction, losing excess weight will allow you to do what matters most.
Aside from the energy, aesthetic, and metabolic benefits you will enjoy, losing weight can help a workaholic like you be a more productive person.
Consider these helpful resource articles from Pritikin.com as you launch your program of Weight Loss for the Workaholic.