May 16, 2008

Advice for Grumpy Office Workers

This is a Special Guest Post, Hooray!

It's by Ali Hale of
The Office Diet. Have you visited there yet? It's a great resource for busy full-time office workers who still have the nerve to want to stay healthy. There are all kinds of sneaky tips and recipes and such. (Plus, she's funny!) Ali is also a contributor to Diet Blog.

How to Keep Healthy and Stay Sane if you’re a Grumpy Office Worker

Nothing induces crankiness quite like being stuck behind a desk all day, in a room full of people whose presence you’re indifferent about at best, doing a job that makes you seriously consider whether watching kettles boil and paint dry would be more stimulating

Welcome to the world of Grumpy Office Workers, who face various challenges in maintaining some semblance of health and fitness in an environment tailor-made for comfort-biscuit-scoffing and slumping in front of a computer screen for eight hours straight.

The real world came as a cruel shock to me after a degree in English literature (when nine am was deemed “really early”, afternoon naps were almost mandatory and lectures were optional.) After a year and a half in tech support I am almost ready to throttle the next person who can’t use a ‘Forgotten password’ button have just about figured out some ways to manage a (mostly) healthy diet and vague stab at fitness.

Escaping from your desk – move those legs!

If, when you stand up, you see dazzled spots dancing before your eyes, and your legs wobble, you just might have been sitting still for too long. The routinely ignored advice for computer-facing workers is to take a break every hour. Boring, right? But it’s a good excuse to slack off, wander around for a natter with a colleague, and accomplish the twin goals of “being the most popular person in the office” and “being the thinnest” by offering round cakes (see below).

You may suspect that your boss will be irked by seeing you meandering around in an un-busy sort of way. In this case, I suggest briskly striding up and down the corridors with a determined gleam in your eye, as though heading off on some company-crucial mission.

And as a side benefit, you actually fit in some activity that doesn’t feel like exercise. Bonus.

Insist on your full lunch hour and get away from your desk

When lunchtime finally rolls around, many Grumpy Office Workers want nothing more than a decent sandwich and a chance to chortle over Crabby and Merry’s latest post without having to constantly Alt-Tab at the sound of the boss’s footsteps.

However, spending your lunch hour at your desk guarantees a successive stream of clueless co-workers asking “Do you remember where we put the Very Important File?”, “Have you got a few minutes to spare today to fit in a teeny weeny extra task?” and “Is that the third cookie you’ve eaten today?” The second-best answer to such questions starts with N, ends with O, and has two letters. (The best starts with F and ends with Off....)

Rather than lingering at your desk, like the smell from your colleague’s egg sandwich, drag yourself out of the building at lunchtime. Escape to the quiet forest, the green hills, the peaceful lakes … or if, like most Grumpy Office Workers, your surroundings consist of the local high street, escape to the gym.

Yes, I get a nice intense half-hour workout in, and yes, I go back to the office feeling totally de-stressed (until I fire up Outlook again) – but the real reason I am known as the company’s “gym bunny” is because it’s darn peaceful there. No-one from the office has ever bothered trekking to the gym to accost me on a treadmill and ask an “urgent” question.

Cookies, cakes, chocolate and other office goodies

There’s something about free food, especially free fat-and-sugar-laden food that makes it nigh on impossible to resist. Even when it’s the stale cookies left over from yesterday’s meeting, the dubious looking sweets that someone’s brought back from holiday, or the gooey chocolatey Easter cupcakes dotted with mini eggs……wait. That last one was me.

Because my advice here is not “practise some restraint and ask yourself if you really want that sorry excuse for a treat” but instead “fatten up all your colleagues by taking in gorgeous baked goods to sabotage their diets.” You might still be chubby, but they’ll be even bigger: so what if you have to resort to somewhat sneaky means to be the slimmest in the office?


  1. (love Ali.)

    I find that since I work from a home office I need to HEED more the TAKE A LUNCH BREAK (when I get time to work I try and do so nonstop. not a smart idea as it equals MizFit eating cr** at the desk).

    at least to stretch (and Crabby did such a great post on that) if nothing else.

    A fellow english lit-err-ahhh-toi major (and now Im wondering just WHAT Im doing with that pricey degree :))

  2. great post.

    I don't take a lunch, I take a nap. :-)

  3. Love it. The best way to avoid the extra task is to not be there to hear about it, and lunch isn't even an excuse, it's an actual reason.

  4. As a grumpy office worker, I can appreciate this post more than you know!! Why, only a few minutes ago a coworker came in to my office and suggested a task that would add 2 hours to my already full workload - I got in a great workout whipping his ass all over my office! Okay, well I didn't really whip his ass, but can I still count the calorie burnage of said pretend ass-whipping???

    Oh, this coworker also just informed me that donuts were in the break room and when I told him I just had some oatmeal, he looked at me like I had two heads. Grrrr.

  5. I work retail (joy), so lunch is always wolfed down when possible. I make sure to take something that at most, needs to be nuked for a couple minutes.

    I think my art degree falls into the same ranks as those english degrees. Kindergarten collegers unite!

  6. Great ideas Ali! Love the lunch hour idea although the cake suggestion is hopefully tongue in cheek?

    And sign me up for the expensive piece of paper club! Although theoretically my degree is useful (Master's in Computer Science) I don't currently work in my field. Sigh.

  7. I used to get away from my desk during my lunch hour, if not to take a walk, at least to go to a conference room and read. But then I got myself addicted to Facebook Scrabble and Word Twist.

    I'm constantly getting up from my desk - getting water, going to the bathroom, chatting with co-workers. It helps that I'm not terribly busy, but I just don't want to sit at my desk for hours on end.

  8. Great post, especially as I've been an especially grumpy office worker this week.

    In particular, I loved that last piece of advice!

    When our admin began taking Alli, two things happened:
    1 - she started losing lots of weight
    2 - she started bringing in homemade fudge and brownies every week.

    The woman was trying to be the thinnest person in the office, by any means possible ;)

  9. Ah, this post hits so close to home. It is hard to unglue myself from my computer every hour, but I do go to the gym for my lunch break and run on the treadmill for 30 min. I always come back very refreshed and it makes the rest of my day a lot more enjoyable.
    As for all the fatty/sugary food, they are hard to resist, but personally I would rather blow a ridiculous amount of calories on a delicious gourmet chocolate cake than a doughnut from the grocery store. People often give me a hard time, since I am relatively thin, I hear things such as "you have room for it!" or "bah, you'll work it out". It is difficult to go into a full explanation that I do not look the way I do by some crazy good genetic luck, but because I watch what I eat and exercise. I take a short cut and I usually answer that if I were to eat that doughnut/cookie/pizza I would have to make myself throw up.
    It usually stops any arguing.

  10. Very cute.

    My jobs really flexible so I don't really take a lunch break because I get to spend much of my time doing whatever I want (ie. exercising and commenting on other peoples blogs). It's super.

  11. Instead of thinking that the food co-workers bring in looks good enough to eat, think about the fact you don't know what their kitchen looks like! That has worked for me in the past. As for store bought stuff, well it ain't home made and I can do better than that.

  12. Thanks for the comments, all!

    @Reb - that's a great tip :-) Same applies to things like buffet food left over to meetings -- imagine people putting their hands all over it ... yeergh.

    @jill Ass-whipping should definitely count as a cal-burner!

    @alice Completely agree with you about gourmet cake rather than doughnuts. And about people who assume that my nice slim figure is just good genes, not flipping hard work...

    @Sagan Morrow - please can I have your job? ;-)


  13. I am the thinnest person in the office - I'm also the fattest person. I'm the only person...

    My job requires quite a lot of movement though, I have to keep the place looking sparkling and as long as I think of cleaning as exercise it doesn't seem so bad (shows how much I loathe cleaning when even exercise sounds better!)

    Still, I wish I had a "normal" office job, with coworkers and a gym down the block. As it is, we're so remote that if I don't bring my own lunch I won't be able to eat at all - so at least it keeps me eating healthy home made food.

  14. Fortunately I haven't worked in an office for a while, because I found it MUCH harder to make time for exercise or to resist treats.

    I don't think I ever said "no" to a goody offered up, just as I am incapable of refusing a free sample in a retail establishment if it contains sugar.

    Great post, thanks Ali!

  15. Wonderful!

    I am a writer who works at home and the six or eight blogs I vist are my recreation, so I need this reminder to step away from the computer.


  16. I just came across your blog and found this really helpful. I work in an office Monday - Friday as well and I do get cranky!

    I have just started a blog (yes a brand newbie blogger). I know it's late in the day to be starting a blog in 2008, but what the heck!

  17. Great post. I'm fairly militant (my co-worker's term for it) about leaving my office for the lunch hour. Even if I carry my brown-bag lunch over to McD's to make use of their patio (they don't mind if you buy a drink or an apple snacker), I get out of the office every day. Decompression time.

    I've skipped the office birthday celebrations for a year now. They don't mind; it's more cake for them. It's enough for me to stop in and wish the celebrants a happy birthday. Win-win, as they say an awful lot in the corporate jungle.

  18. I don't know first hand about all of this "office" stuff, as I've been at home with kids for the past 4 years ... and with that comes a whole OTHER set of grumpy worker stuff . . . BUT, based on what my husband shares from his days away from us (ie., when he's a grumpy office worker) you are RIGHT ON!!!

    I'm sending this to him right now! Thanks for the great post.

  19. So Ali... any advice for Frumpy Office Workers?

    signed, Ms. Fashion Impaired

  20. How about a way to exercise without leaving the office? I have been doing this by using a treadmill desk and it works great. The best I have seen is the TrekDesk, you no longer have to be a slave to your job.


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)