I Never Thought It Could Happen to Me

I never thought it could happen to me.

I used to make fun of women who said they couldn’t lose weight. In my twenties and thirties, when I had an active job with flexible hours that allowed me to practice yoga and Pilates and walk to work and back, I looked with scorn on middle aged women who seemed to grow heavier with every year.

Now it was happening to me.

A Sedentary Lifestyle

At 2:15 pm, with the stress of the day creeping up on me like clockwork, I reached for a second big handful of pretzels from the giant tub on my co-worker’s desk. I washed it down with my fifth or so Diet Coke of the day and grabbed yet another handful before returning to my desk.

Since taking a desk job six months earlier, I’d gained 20 pounds and my blood pressure had gone from 90/70, where it had been my whole life, to 165/110. My family has a terrifying history of strokes, so I was scared. My nurse practitioner, whom I love, put me on high blood pressure medication. I tried desperately to diet and exercise, but I left the house for work at 7 am every morning and was tied to a desk from 8 to 5.

I tried to walk on my lunch break and to eat healthy, but I often had meetings or schoolwork to do on lunch (I’m in a PhD program and was trying to balance full time work with school). Ironically enough, my PhD is going to be in Population Health, and much of the work I did for my Masters in Public Health beforehand was in workplace obesity. Here I was, becoming the person I had written about.

It’s Time to Care for Ourselves

Sitting at a desk all day is not healthy, no matter how hard you try to work out outside of work. I tried to fit in short breaks to at least walk around the block, but the time pressure on my job and the office culture made that hard. I went to the gym to swim for an hour after work most days, but some days I was just too tired after a day of staring at spreadsheets and all that PhD work waiting for me. I marveled at how women with children did it at all. They looked so tired, and most were overweight or obese. I no longer blamed them. Now I understood.

These amazing women took care of their families and their work responsibilities with strength and grace, yet had no chance to take care of themselves. They swapped stories of CPAP machines and blood pressure meds. Most were in their forties or fifties. It seemed to me they had given up. The “treats” flew freely from desks and the breakroom. People brought in cookies and candies. At the holidays, there were elaborate potlucks with a dessert tray that would put New York pastry chefs to shame. Another co-worker had a bottomless jar of peanut M&Ms on his desk. In the afternoon when the stress got too high, we medicated with the only socially acceptable drug to have at work: food.

It had happened to me. And I knew I had to do something about it.



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