Q: You mentioned in this newsletter to ask which questions people would like to know about your everyday life. Here is my question: How do you fit fitness and healthy eating into your day with some of the challenges of living in a big city? My boyfriend lives in Bed-Stuy and works in Manhattan. Before I moved to North Carolina, I did the same and I know how hard it was for me to get in exercise and cook for myself instead of grabbing take-out. I have passed on your tips about meal planning and prep, but do you have other tips for people who deal with long commutes and little time in their day?
I think, to be fair, there might be a bit of a difference between someone like me who, though I’m ripping and running around, has a different set-up from someone who has a corporate job and a boss expecting them to be at X location at Y time.
I also think that a city like New York makes it farrrrrrr too easy to just snag some take-out—good take-out, at that—and spend way too much money while you do it.
The challenge with that take-out lifestyle is not only that it makes it more difficult to cook when you’re used to the ease and comfort of tapping on your phone a few times and a sweaty biker showing up at your door 20 minutes later—it’s also the fact that, if all you’re used to doing is ordering take-out and you decide to look for healthier take-out, the increase in price is jaw-dropping. It’s not just a matter of time—it’s a matter of money, as well.
I mean, one of the biggest reasons to endure life in the big city is the career advancement. You sacrifice it all, you climb the ladder, you reap the rewards. So, of course one of the first things to go, in your quest for the gold, is self-care. It almost feels like a noble sacrifice. “Look at how committed I am to my career, look what I’m willing to sacrifice.” The more it hurts, the better it feels. Career masochists, we are.
I think any busy professional, regardless of where you live, can understand the sacrifices that comes with full dedication to your career. Early rise, lots of social outings for networking and schmoozing purposes, long commutes, general purpose exhaustion from dealing with people all day (or is that just me?), lots of take-out—either with co-workers while you bag out an assignment or on your own in your pajamas on the couch because today sucked. I think we all get it.
There are a few things you can do to help incorporate a healthier approach to that busy professional lifestyle. (For starters, delete the Seamless app from your phone entirely.)
1) Don’t discount the gym as a networking space. If you work in the big city, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have a gym within a stone’s throw of your job. Chances are high your co-workers and other people who work in related companies also work there, too. I hate to break to folks, but a lot of your higher-ups are likely already there, and are also much more likely to be promoting folks based on how hard they see them working in the gym. (“I just, I see her working out hard in the gym and I really like her hustle outside of the boardroom. I think she’d be an asset here, I just know it.” I’ve heard it before myself.) A smile, a friendly conversation, and a business card/LinkedIn swap can all go a long way.
More importantly, when your co-workers casually plan outings, don’t be afraid to suggest a spin class or some other fun fitness event instead. Again—chances are very high your higher-ups are already there. People grossly underestimate the level of networking that happens in health clubs and fitness centers.
2) De-stress your commute. I listen to books, or trap music during my commute. Things that make me smile, or things that help me focus. Most importantly, it’s a space to help me take my mind off work for a minute. You need to have your wits about you on the subway, so I wouldn’t say it should be a meditative space, but it should be a space for you to think about something other than work.
3) Get some sleep. I’m guilty of violating this one, too—instead of sleeping like I know I should, I’ll work into the wee hours of the morning, sleep for two hours and then get up and tend to my family, and feel like I was really doing something… knowing full well those last four hours I was awake were wildly unproductive and everything I wrote sounds like I was only partially sober. I would’ve been better off going to sleep 5 hours earlier, then waking up a couple hours earlier and getting my work done after being better-rested. Same goes for you. If you could do a better job on it after a few hours of rest, then don’t kid yourself—get those extra hours of rest and get back after it with a clearer head.
4) Make your meal prep count. If you know what your shortcomings are—you loathe the idea of cooking after work; you can’t be counted on to cook breakfast; whatever it may be—then there’s no shame in calling them out and finding ways to work around them.
a) Cook a couple of big pots of meals on a day off, portion them out, and put them in the freezer or fridge. That way, you’re not re-heating the same meal every night.
b) Prep your overnight oats and eat them on your way out the door to the train.
c) Think simpler meals. Things that don’t require a long time to be cooked, or any cooking at all. Greek yogurt with granola and honey might not feel like what we traditionally think of as a meal, but it has protein, fats, and carbs and, after you add the fruit of your choice, gets the job done until lunch time.
d) Create a chart to help you understand what you’re cooking for the week and how much of it you need, and use that when you order your groceries.
You didn’t think I was going to suggest actually going to the grocery store, did you? Noooooo. Use Instacart or Fresh Direct or something to help you cut down on the amount of time you use on things that you can outsource. You’ll be saving plenty of money from all that take-out you won’t be ordering.
Orrrr, use a meal delivery service like Plated or HelloFresh to help you skip that planning part altogether.
e) Treat cooking as a cathartic act. Cooking is relaxing—it shouldn’t be stressful or exhausting, unless you are satisfied by that kind of hyper-involved cooking (my husband is one of those types, but he’s a chef.) Use it as time when you focus, mentally, on nothing except yourself. Listen to a book, turn on some trap music (again, just me?) and shake something while you cook. Let it relax you, not stress you out or frustrate you. (And, if you think something you’ve cooked is gross, tweet me! I’ll give you suggestions or insights on how I’d fix it!)
5) Go work out in the mornings. I know, I know, I just told you to get up early to finish work instead of pulling an all-nighter. But I also know that a person who burns excess energy in activity is also a more focused and productive person throughout the day, which means you’re more capable of getting more dne in less time. I allllso know that if you work out in the mornings, you’re far more likely to make better choices throughout the day. (Just don’t tell yourself, “Oh, it’s okay if I eat that box of donuts—I worked out today!”)
Also, having your workout done in the mornings gets it out of the way and prevents you from talking yourself out of going later on. Double win.
6) Un-balance the scale. No, I don’t mean that scale, either. Healthy living (and, for our purposes here, weight loss/maintenance) is all about setting your healthy habits on a scale with your unhealthy habits on the other side of the scale, and ensuring that your healthy habits outweigh your unhealthy ones. If you have to order take-out, avoid the creamy, the breaded, and the fried foods… and at least walk to the curb to pick up your food instead of making your delivery guy climb 4 flights of stairs to your door (or is that just me?)
Ultimately, the person with the “busy lifestyle” is experiencing a battle of priorities—work is a top priority for them (or, for some, family) but they also realize that their own personal health needs to be of equal or greater importance…and they’re looking for a way to figure out how to have both. That first step—realizing that this needs to be a priority—is, honestly, the hardest. Now that you know a shift needs to happen, slowly start to take stop of what needs to change and tackle them one by one—don’t try to make your whole week’s worth of meals in one day, and then think it’s a failed mission when it doesn’t work out that way…it won’t. Take your time, be gentle with yourself, and keep at it. Without a doubt, your body will thank you for it!