Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Serenity Tip: Stopping the Food Fight

Recently, a freelancer asked a very smart question, which boiled down to:

How do I generate the energy to do my work without resorting to sugar highs or caffeine addiction?

During this holiday season, you may be engaging in the annual ritual of fighting with yourself about your eating. This isn't just a waistline issue. Sitting at a desk all day and eating sugary treats creates that sugar-high-sugar-coma crash that can kill your productiving and--yes--increase your anxiety about getting your work done. A more sane and serene way of dealing with getting energy is the stuff that every nutritionist will tell you: keep almonds and an apple in your desk for that craving hour (for me, it's 3 p.m.). Get some exercise. Take a break when you need it.

I'm not just preaching. As someone who has lost 85 pounds in the past four years, I walk this talk every day. For me, it means that I don't eat processed sugar at all anymore. And I survive! In fact, after a little bit, I don't really miss it. It's the constantly having a little taste and then trying to restrain myself that makes me crazy, not giving it up entirely. And, actually, as soon as I gave up sugar my energy level shot up, I assume because I wasn't stressing my body with major insulin fluctuations.

But don't panic. I'm not telling you that you have to give up sugar. What I'm saying is that having sane energy--that doesn't make you crash later--is possible.

In a Yahoo! Hot Jobs story I did recently, I talked to experts about how to avoid poor eating at work. Here's one of my favorite quotes:

"People are most successful in healthy eating when they can control their environment, as opposed to being in a negative environment and trying to control themselves," says nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge, author of "Diet Simple."

The good news is, as the boss, you have the ability to control your work environment: You can plan snacks and work events that feature healthy food instead of junk food. You have the ability to plan your meals ahead.

The problem, of course, is that as a self-employed person who may work at home, you might be tempted to rest at work by hitting the fridge that's full of kids' snacks, leftovers and sugary treats. Here's how I deal with it, because I live in a house with all that stuff, too:

My office is on the other side of the house from the kitchen. This cuts down on temptation and frees me from the dreaded smell of other people cooking. If it's possible for you to do so, claim a room far from your kitchen for your work space.

Distract yourself
I find that if I distract myself for 15 minutes from my cravings, they pass. The same goes for coping with writer's block. Instead of heading to the kitchen when I hit a patch of writer's block or when 3 p.m. roles around, I visit my favorite guilty-pleasure Web sites. For me, those are:

* Cute Overload
* Go Fug Yourself, for all your catty fashion needs.
* SFist, but any -ist near you will work.

This is both a way to increase energy and to cope with the draw of sugary treats. Victoria Strauss on the Writer Beware! blog recently featured a study that found that people who exercise are more creative for the hour or two after they've exercised. As a general rule, I try to make it to the gym two to three times a week during the day. Instead of detracting from my work, this study shows what I've experienced: my work is augmented, not injured, by my exercise break.

The same goes for yoga. A morning yoga routine full of energizing poses like warrior, camel or side angle pose can get the blood flowing and give you a different kind of jolt than that sugar-and-caffeine bomb of an energy drink.

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