Reclaiming Health During A Fabricated Pandemic

This post’s title was updated on 2020-09-01 for accuracy in accordance with the CDC’s data.

I’m no health guru, physical trainer, or athlete. The last time I was in a good place with my health was at the end of college. Since then, efforts to get back on track have been mostly no hit and all miss.

To be fair, for the most part, most of my efforts occurred asynchronously, i.e., I didn’t do heavy exercise AND start watching calories. Obviously there’s error in that thinking… it never produced any real results.

But finally, I found something that did.

Sharing here what didn’t work for me in the past, and what has been working for me this year.

What didn’t work

Counting calories (on its own) didn’t work. It made me feel like I was trying to squeeze out every calorie that I was “allowed” to eat. It made me obsess over how much I was eating, more than whether or not I was eating what was right for my body, specifically.

Exercising regularly (on its own) didn’t work. I was always extra hungry, felt entitled to eating more and more carelessly, and while I was able to build some muscle, I didn’t shed the weight I wanted, which made it hard to stay motivated, as that was generally my primary goal.

Kicking snacks and desserts (on its own) didn’t work. I just ate more at meals to cover the extra hunger.

What’s working for me nowadays

The secret‘s in the sauce…

A combination of intermittent fasting and portion control has yielded tremendous results.

I started intermittent fasting near the end of February after coming across some random posts about it on Reddit, and hearing from some family who had given it a go recently. My current schedule looks something like this each day:

  • I start my day with coffee (programmed the night before).
  • I skip breakfast.
  • I eat lunch around 12:30 PM or 1:00 PM (breakfast food for lunch — eggs cooked with ham and veggies are my favorite).
  • I eat dinner with my family everyday between 5:30 PM and 7:00 PM.
  • After dinner, I fast until lunch the following day.

Typically, this puts me at a ratio of 18 hours for fasting and 6 hour window for eating each day, or 18:6.

I’ve also started watching my portions. I try to stick to one serving at meals instead of going back for seconds. I try not to “supersize” portions. I know that my eye is bigger than my stomach. Instead of eating another serving, I’ll often go for an apple and a La Croix.

I’ve cut out most of my snacking and desserts. I used to say yes to every ice cream opportunity, pizza-food opportunity, and Late July Jalapeño Lime Tortilla Chips & salsa opportunity (worlds best snack). Sometimes I’ll have a small handful of chips with lunch, or a small dessert on a special occasion, but it’s become very easy to say “no” to snacking and “yes” to feeling great and eating healthy. (A bag of chips that used to last less than a week now lasts more than a month in our home.)

Lastly, I gave up all forms of alcohol. Bourbon used to be my favorite evening treat when relaxing with my wife after a long day’s work. When we lived in Orlando I was always trying new whiskies and beers. As of today, I haven’t had a drink in about five months. I’m positive that’s helped to some extent.

…plus some very light exercise

About a month and a half in, I added really light, habitual body-weight exercises. Just one rep of pushups a day, and one rep of crunches, increasing the number in each rep as I got comfortable with my max limit.

Now, I enjoy a rep of pushups whenever I get up from my desk throughout the workweek, just to keep the blood pumping, since I’m otherwise sitting or standing at a desk all day.

The results are in!

I’ve lost 30 pounds since I started these habits in February!

I feel about as good as I did in college. I’m about five pounds away from goal-weight, and when I reach it I’ll introduce more frequent body-weight exercises and twice-weekly aerobic exercises on my bike, which I’ve missed a lot since we moved from Orlando to Columbus.

Some other fantastic side-effects I’ve experienced so far:
  • Almost no heartburn since the get-go. I can’t express how elated I am over this.
  • A noticeable amount of extra energy.
  • Decreased random soreness in a given week & now rarely accidentally pulling muscles.
  • Clothes that I haven’t fit into comfortably for a long time now fit, and are even a bit too big.

My biggest learning in this season, so far, has been that:

Effective habits are sustainable over a long period of time, and are able to coexist harmoniously with the responsibilities I have in a given chapter of life.

So what?

I gave up on being intentional about my health for a long time because of the discouragement caused from seeing no results after trying a bunch of one-off methods for getting back on track. I waited too long to try something new, and got lucky when I found that these habits worked for me.

Don’t get discouraged when you find that something you try for a while isn’t working for you. Define your goals, give yourself grace, and move on when your methods don’t move you closer to your goals. If what you’re trying isn’t working, stop it. Try something else. I think our bodies need diets and exercise regiments that are good for each unique individual. It takes experimentation to find it, and to fine-tune it.

– Zach


Image credit: Louis Hansel on Unsplash

My First Year+ of Remote-Work

We moved from Orlando to the greater Columbus area, Ohio in October of 2018. I was fortunate enough to keep my job after the move and transition to remote-work.

It took us about six months to find and move into a home. We happened to move when Columbus was one of the hottest markets in the nation. During that part of our transition, I worked out of a co-working space for a few months, out of coffee shops for a month and a half, and from our home office ever since we closed on the house, a couple months before we moved in.

It’s not all sunshine and skittles.

I had read a lot about the challenges and benefits of remote-work before pursuing it myself. The early “research” helped me remain focused and avoid falling on my face when it came time to make the transition.

There are lots of pros and cons in any working situation, and I found first-hand that working remotely is no exception to that. If you asked me to fall to one side of the fence regarding whether remote-work is better or worse than working from an office, I have to say that it is better, but only because the pros outweigh the cons (yes, the cons).

Cons

I’m only starting with the cons because I like to end on positive notes, and not because these are the things that most easily come to my mind when working remotely.

  • Being somewhere in-person can have a different vibe… you can get the temperature of a room a bit more easily during meetings. That said, it’s a bummer to have to be dialed in for every meeting (but I’m fortunate to have a team who doesn’t make a big deal out of it, especially given how many we have in a given week).
  • White-boarding sessions are… difficult.
  • No commute has it’s downsides: No forced-time for podcasts or morning news, and no natural mental transition from home life to work life.
  • Having a home office instead of open floor-plan / open workspaces means fewer opportunities to socialize with co-workers and build camaraderie. It’s fairly normal to only hear from people when they need something from you.
  • It’s easy to feel shut-in, especially after you realize how much easier it is to work with external monitors than on a single screen at a coffee shop out on the town.
  • No free lunches during “Lunch & Learn” sessions. No free snacks or drinks. (This is small potatoes, especially if you’re working on a diet.) (I mean that as a figure of speech — no one is eating small potatoes for snacks at the office.)
  • Speaking of lunches, lunches and happy hours with team members have to be crammed in during travel weeks to the home office, which is a bummer because I really enjoy our Product Management and Application teams I work with.

Pros

Alrighty, now that we got those out of the way, it’s time to talk pros. This is where the magic happens. A lot of people in the remote-work Twitter community have already covered these over and over again, but here are the ones I find especially true in my life.

  • Uninterrupted focus time is easier to come by when I can set my Teams status to Do Not Disturb, and hunker down on project planning, documentation or user story writing. It’s the good-life for people who are naturally more introverted.
  • Separation from the rest of my team gives me even more reason to do my craft well and to provide clear and concise documentation for both now and posterity. I love this part of my job, which is why this is on the Pros list.
  • Daily commute time is zero minutes. Even though my company has to maintain some level of synchronous communication, I get to spend mornings with my family until the workday officially starts, see them at lunch, and I’m almost never late to dinner.
  • It’s easy to build camaraderie with other remote employees.
  • Short neighborhood walks with my wife and son are an incredible way to take a break when in need of some fresh air.
  • If I meet someone across town for coffee in the morning, I don’t have to rush back to an office to start the workday. I can hang out and work from the coffee shop until lunch, and then commute home during the lunch hour.
  • Dieting is easier without a wall full of free snacks. My dad-bod especially thanks me for this aspect of the transition.
  • There’s always enough coffee, and it always tastes just right.
  • It’s easy to manage contracted home projects without the stress of having to drive back and forth to check on their work.
  • I can play the guitar or piano during a lunch-break to exercise the other side of the brain and de-stress.
  • My wife has the flexibility to knock out some errands mid-day during our son’s naps, since I can keep an eye on the monitor at home while he sleeps.
  • I receive no judgement for working without shoes on. Pants are a must, though… I don’t know about you remote-workers who don’t get dressed for the day. Y’all crazy.
  • I’m at the head of the table for virtually every meeting (video-calls, am I right)? This actually belongs on the Cons list… haha.

Working remotely is certainly a different beast. You won’t know if you like it until you have an opportunity to try it, and I can promise that when you try it, you will miss things about the office-life while simultaneously discovering new, health- and family-positive aspects of remote-work that bring you joy.

Ten steps to effective remote-work

I think that if I had to make a list of ten things remote-workers need to do in order to be effective in their jobs, my list would repeat “Communicate well” seven times, and then end with:

  • Write everything down and make it accessible.
  • Remember that you’re not going crazy; breathe.
  • Exercise grace in your thoughts and interactions.

I’ll flesh those out in another post, someday.

On Relationship Apps & Coming Up For Air

There are a lot of “relationship strengthening” apps in the App Store. They promise things like better communication and more fulfilling relationships for couples.

We tend to live distracted lives. These apps attempt to remind users to come up for air once in a while so that they can show significant others the proper love and affection needed in every healthy relationship.

These apps can act as Band-Aid®s for the underlying issue: The person using the app is still regularly stuck below the surface in their Sea of Distraction; apps like this only help the user breach the surface long enough to check “love” off the to-do list before diving back down into the depths of Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit.

Instead of coming up for air only once in a while (e.g., when prompted by an app), how much healthier could our relationships be if we reclaimed real, intentional human connection as our normative behavior, kicking the Sea of Distraction but for those occasional splashes and dips? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯