The boring 8 hours you spend degustating cookies and coffee in front of your computer are not the only reason why losing weight with a desk job is so hard. Find out why in order to lose weight and get in shape, you need to stop beating yourself up about being more productive and how to actually lose weight when you’re sitting all day long.
Become a super megastar and work in an office – two of my biggest dreams growing up.
Reach for the stars they say.
I didn’t know what I would do in that office, but it sounded so good.
Me, sitting at a computer, typing with the speed of light, wearing some fancy clothes and making office jokes with my coworkers.
That’s the dream.
Later I studied something that should’ve never put me in an office – biochemistry.
Still, sitting in that lab with all those solvents and coffee in my hand, I dreamed of working in the office.
Well, finally my dream came true. And if I may quote the wise words of the legendary Pussycat Dolls:
“Be careful what you wish for, ‘cause you just might get it.”
There I was – drinking cappuccinos, making jokes, eating all the sweets I ever wanted and sitting like my life depended on it.
I was playing “Who’s gonna blink first” with my computer for 10 hours a day and always won.
Well, as with most big expectations – this reality left me disappointed, fat-bellied and in pain.
And to quote some more song lyrics today: “You may say, I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one.” Now this one wasn’t the Pussycat Dolls. Guess who?
Reality Check – Just how much are we sitting?
Turns out, this all-day-sitting-thing wasn’t just my reality.
World Health Organization estimates that 60-85% of people worldwide lead sedentary lifestyles.
Forget about the 8 hours we are trapped in the office.
Honestly, we sit almost all day long and it’s not just the desk job’s fault.
At least according to this article.
In total, Americans are sitting an average of 13 hours a day and sleeping an average of 8 hours resulting in a sedentary lifestyle of around 21 hours a day.
Aha, what else is new?
And my friends, it’s not just Americans. It’s the whole world, even developing countries.
Sleep 6-8 hours, sit on the way to work, sit at work, sit at lunch, sit on the way back home and then to top this off – just sit some more in front of the TV, computer or at a bar staring at your phone.
When you do the math this comes to:
- 88% of the time sitting
- 319 days/year sitting
- around 10 out of the 12 months
- or 45 out of the 52 weeks in a year, just sitting.
The Dangers Of A Sedentary Lifestyle
According to WHO “sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity and increase the risks for:
- colon cancer,
- high blood pressure,
- lipid disorders,
- depression and
Diabetes. A sedentary lifestyle decreases insulin sensitivity – a major factor in diabetes, linked to chronic inflammation and obesity.
Brain health. It’s no secret that a little bit of movement can do wonders for your mood, but it can also help you focus, sleep better and reduce pain.
Physical inactivity can do the exact opposite.
Postmenopausal symptoms. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with symptoms like insomnia, depressive mood, bladder problems, hypertension, abdominal fat, joint and muscle pain in postmenopausal women (study).
And here’s a bonus from me: Neck and shoulder pain.
How a desk job makes you gain fat, especially belly fat
Your risk of gaining weight with a desk job is pretty high. And this is true especially for the much hated belly fat. (oooh, poor belly fat)
The first time I experienced the impact of a sedentary lifestyle on fat gain was when I was a student and was writing my thesis.
I’d sit in front of the computer for hours, eating whatever I found.
Within 2 weeks my belly fat seemed to have doubled. I didn’t put on weight, but my body composition had changed.
And it gets worse.
The real belly fat came when I started a job in an advertising agency years after.
Lattes were 20 cents, I had access to all the cookies I wanted and I was taught to phone my colleague when I needed something instead of taking 10 steps to his desk.
Yes, we were in the same room. Belly fat gained. Even though I exercised like crazy after work.
And this is not very surprising. After all your activity levels throughout the day drop way too much – it’s hard to compensate that with eating less and counting calories.
What separates the overweight from the lean is NEAT
You see, there are 3 main ways we spend our calories during the day.
- Resting Metabolic Rate – that’s the energy you spend for just being alive
- Thermogenic effect of food – that’s the energy you spend for the digestion, absorption and storage of food you eat (which despite wishful thinking isn’t really much)
- Activity Thermogenesis – the energy you spend when you exercise and perform your daily activities.
Science has a very nerdy term for the calories we burn with little physical activities throughout the day: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
Now, if you love abbreviations as much as I do, you’ll know that NonexerciseactivitythzzzzzZZZZZ can be abbreviated to NEAT.
It is exactly that NEAT that separates the overweight from the lean according to a couple of studies.
One study showed, that on average obese women sit 2.5 hours more and stand 2 hours less per day than lean women. That research suggested that if obese women start moving as much as lean women they can burn up to 300kcal more per day.
Light physical activities also improve insulin resistance and blood sugar levels more than more intense physical activities, even when calorie expenditure is the same (study).
An hour of intense workout at the gym before and after work is not it.
Juicing for two weeks is not it either.
It’s the little things.
It’s taking the stairs, walking to work (or taking the train and walking), going shopping, playing an instrument, dancing, cleaning your home, doing some garden work and drinking ENOUGH water throughout the day. Moving at every opportunity.
Small things do add up. And their effect seems to be bigger than the BIG things.
Why you need to stop being so effective
Press a button to do the laundry, press a button to do the dishes, order food to eat at home in front of the TV, we even don’t go buy groceries anymore – we click a button and get all that delivered…
Our environment tells us: “Just, sit down and be pretty, mkay?”
But it’s not just technology that has brainwashed us into having to be so “efficient and productive”.
There are 44 million results on Google on how to optimize your efficiency and do more in less time.
It’s almost like productivity shaming.
Personally, I beat myself up when I haven’t been as productive as someone on the internet told me I could be. Even though I know it’s insane.
Health advice is also about being super efficient and getting things done super quickly
- meal prep on Sunday instead of eating fresh every day
- do HIIT to burn a million calories in 5 minutes instead of dancing for 30 min
- meditate for 5 minutes instead of taking a walk in a park
- drive to a gym to do your workout instead of taking a walk there
- drink lemon with cayenne pepper to lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks, instead of adopting a healthy lifestyle
We’ve even gotten so efficient, we figured: “You know what, chewing a salad takes a ton of time. Let’s just blend it and drink it with the speed of light”. (although I do like smoothies…well, mostly)
Don’t get me wrong, these things are not bad, but in addition to an already active and healthy lifestyle.
Others might call this efficient, but the one word I’ve got for this is: lazy.
We avoid putting time and energy into little things that would actually make life better.
Make us feel better. Healthy, happy, full of energy. Instead, we live our lives in front of screens and then wonder why we’re sick, overweight and depressed.
We need to make changes and for the sake of LIVING stop being so efficient. At least not all the time.
Lose Weight With A Desk Job: 5 Daily Habits To Stay Healthy and Get In Shape
Take steps. 10.000 Steps to be exact. Yes, ten thousand is never a small number, but when it comes to steps a day – it’s achievable and it’s the recommended amount.
Less than 5.000 steps a day is considered sedentary.
I personally don’t count steps, but since reading the research and being more aware of how much I’m actually sitting, I take EVERY opportunity to move.
If I forget something downstairs, I take the stairs and don’t wait until I have to anyway go; if I forget to pick up something from the store – I go to the store.
Basically, I’m learning to never postpone small things that need fixing right now and involve physical activity.
I feel so much better and I’m actually more productive (for real), because I set a deadline to finish whatever I’m doing and can think better after some movement.
Stop staring, start walking. We’re usually so caught up in what we’re doing, that we forget to get up for HOURS.
What helps me is set an alarm in my calendar to get up and walk, or just stand.
Now you’re wondering:
Where am I gonna walk, aren’t my colleagues gonna look at me like I’m not doing anything?
Here are some other things you can do:
- Go to a coworker, about something you need instead of phoning her/him
- Use the bathroom more often (clever, I know!)
- Get something from the kitchen – like water
- If making phone calls – stand instead of sitting
- Volunteer to go to the copy machine
- Stand up and do some stretches
Drink water. Not only will enough water help you think clearly, burn more calories and give you more energy, it will also break up prolonged sitting automatically.
See, sooner or later, you’ll need to get up and use the bathroom…no matter how focused you are.
And it will save you from those cravings you get when you get physically bored (like when you’re sitting at a desk).
Be aware how you spend the rest of your time. The desk is not the place to be, but in front of the TV or computer after work isn’t it either.
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve gotten home from sitting at work to then just sit myself down for a round of good old TV.
Don’t underestimate how much and what you can do after work.
One paper I read by Dr. James Levine said this:
Consider that an office worker returns home from work by car at 5 pm.
From then until bedtime at 11 pm the primary activity is to operate the television remote control in a semirecumbent position.
For these 6h, the average energy expenditure above resting would approximate 8% and the NEAT will thus approximate 30 kcal for the evening [0.08*1500BMR*(6 ⁄ 24) h].
Now imagine he ⁄ she becomes aware of the unpainted bedroom, the weeds growing in the yard, and the possibility of cycling from work. The person then decides to undertake these tasks.
The increase in energy expenditure would be equivalent to walking approximately 1– 2 mph for the same period of leisure-time (5–11 pm). NEAT then increases to 750–1125 kcal for the evening [2 or 3*1500BMR*(6 ⁄ 24) h].
Thus, for this hypothetical office worker, the variance in leisure-time NEAT has the potential of impacting energy expenditure by up to 1000 kcal day.
Okay, so what I understood from that is that we can burn around 1000 kcal extra per day if we don’t just take the semirecumbent position in front of the TV, but actually get a life.
Even if that life is painting the ceiling and fixing your backyard.
Yes, I googled semi-recumbent position. 45-degree angle.
Moderate exercise 5×30 min a week. Last but not least – Exercise.
Even though one hour of exercise per day cannot make up for all that sitting (study), exercise is super important for health in addition to light physical activities.
When you exercise 5x a week for 30 minutes, you reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease and possibly cancer. Moderate exercise is also linked to increased lifespan and improved immunity.
And something else…
Now I don’t really know of research about this, but I bought a stability ball to sit at and it helps me stay focused and move even while I’m sitting, so it might be something you wanna look into.
For more tips on how to lose weight:
I hope these insights and tips help you be more aware of the time you’re sitting and you implement some of the tips here.
Losing weight is not an easy task, especially when you work in an office, but when you’re aware of this you can keep going.