As a freelancer, I have my hand in many different writing pots, so I’m pretty much always working. A lunch break? It sounds nice in theory, but who has the time, especially when every minute I’m away from my desk is literally money out of my pocket.
But here’s the thing: I started a big health kick last year. I cut booze and carbs from my diet and started working out every day. I dropped 30 pounds (yay!), but then I plateaued. (Here are 12 foods that can help you bust through your weight-loss plateau.) The thing about working out and being healthy is that you can’t rely on the same old routine: Your body gets used to it. I found that I have to keep pushing myself to try new or different ways to get the blood pumping and sneak in little mini exercise breaks when I can. I decided going outside during my lunch hour was a good place to start.
I work freelance in an office half the week, and from my home office the rest of it. When I’m at home, I quickly get into my work zone. I start the moment the kids leave for school and can easily work through until I pick them up. I tend to eat a healthy lunch (grilled chicken and salad, usually), but I’m still glued to my desk. I know from when I had gestational diabetes with my second child (who is now 6), that it’s key to get moving after eating a meal. A walk around the block (or a 30-minute walk), a trip up and down the stairwell (which was easily accessible when I lived in my old apartment building), pretty much anything that gets the heart rate up and the body moving would lower my blood sugar levels after eating. Once I had my baby and was diabetes-free, I stopped doing my post-eating exercise. I realized this experiment was a good time to start again.
The first day, I was working from home. I dropped the boys off at school, got home, and went straight to work. I was under deadline for a bunch of stories and anxious to get started. By the time 1 PM came—my regular lunchtime—I was on a roll and reluctant to step away from my desk, but I did. It was freezing outside, so I figured I’d do a quick loop around the block. But here’s the thing: Since I’m never out and about during the day (I’m at home working!), I never get to see the neighbors. I stopped to chat with a mom who lives several houses down who was also out for a walk, pushing a stroller hoping the cold weather would put her crying child to sleep. I forgot how much I liked this neighbor and we made plans to meet for coffee the following week. As I headed back to my house, I was still slightly anxious about being away for a chunk of time, but really, it was about 30 minutes in total. I did feel energized, though. Usually I need a cup of coffee after lunch, but the fresh air and walk was like a jolt of caffeine.
The second day I went into the office where I was working on a freelance project. Every office has their own personality and at mine, most people don’t leave for lunch. They order in or bring food from home. I was determined to get out for a bit, though, so I headed to the nearest salad place for some healthy fuel. The only option near my complex in Stamford, CT, is actually a giant grocery store with a salad bar, so after getting my salad I walked through the aisles. I’m usually grocery shopping with my two high-energy boys and I try and get in and out as quickly as possible, before meltdowns and pleading for sugary treats takes over. But here, with just me, it was nice to look at the gourmet cheese options, the 10 different types of coffee beans, an olive bar with no less than a dozen choices. I was probably gone from the office all of 15 minutes, but that little break was huge. I felt ready to take on my workload for the afternoon.
As the weeks went by and I kept up with my little experiment, I realized how beneficial it was to get away from my desk—both at home and at work—for a bit at lunch. I’m a creature of habit (I tend to eat lunch at the same time and have the same meal every day), so it wasn’t surprising that my lunch breaks quickly developed a pattern. When I worked at home, I did a walk around the block or hit the gym. When I was in the office, I went to the giant grocery story and walked the aisles.
Because my motto is say yes to everything and figure it out later, I’m always under insane deadlines for stories. I’m super grateful for the work, but the anxiety level can also be a bit high. I noticed that by taking a break mid-day, I was coming back to center. My kids practice mindfulness at school and taking my break was a way for me to practice it as well. Smelling the fresh ground coffee in the grocery story, stepping on crunchy snow and remembering how much I loved that sound as a child—that’s living in the moment. Deadlines and stressful thoughts get pushed away—at least for a short time.
So far it’s been several weeks since I started my experiment and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. In fact, I’m pretty much hooked. While my weight has stayed the same, I feel really good and healthy inside, both mentally and physically. And really, that’s all I can ask for.