How I Manage My Health While Working in Tech

Most tech jobs are extremely sedentary. Office work, in general, is this way. As a software engineer, it's easy to spend up to 12 hours a day sitting at a computer, all the while snacking on comfort foods. This amount of sitting can take a serious toll on your health over the long term.

Yet, we don't hear as much advice about diet & exercise sprinkled in with the torrent of career advice when we talk "stuff you should know to succeed in tech." I don't plan to speculate on why that is, but I will say that it is at least important in my mind to be proactive about your health if you know you are expecting to stay in the tech industry working a sedentary job for the foreseeable future.

I've been noticing recently that I've experienced weight gain caused by the sedentary nature of my work, and many of the physical activities I enjoyed in high school & college, like parkour, tree climbing, and running, are now more difficult to participate in as a result. We're only talking about 50-70 pounds, but it's been enough to change my entire way of being physically active.

Pull-ups are no longer possible for me when I used to be able to pull myself up over the bar. Running leaves me more winded than it used to, and I'm about 2 minutes slower per mile than I used to be. This makes me feel upset and, it makes me wonder how I let this happen to my body, but it's also the price I knowingly paid to make it into this industry as quickly as I did. I decided 3 years ago I would put off working on my health in order to learn how to code and get a job in tech. But now that it's caught up to me and I'm here now, I decided it's time to reverse the effects of that decision.

Here are the changes I've made to work towards losing weight and managing my health so far:

1. Gathering data about my weight, food choices, and exercise habits

I like to say that if I'm not collecting data about my progress, my ego is in the driver's seat. It's much easier to let yourself think that you're making progress while you're actually not so that you don't have to hold yourself accountable. The only way to know for sure if progress is being made is by tracking metrics you care about consistently over time and doing so with honesty and integrity.

The more accurate your data is, the better it will serve you in whatever you're trying to do. Take your ego out of the equation.

2. Going to see a medical professional

I avoided seeing a doctor for nearly a decade because I didn't have money to shell out for co-pays (retail is rough). But being in a better position now, even if I don't particularly love spending some savings on doctor appointments, I've admitted to myself I can't do this alone anymore. I've tried losing weight other times and I always let myself give up because nobody's really watching. I figure if I go to a doctor and see a nutritionist, I'm reminded that other people are invested in my success at losing weight and eating better.

If I didn't do this, I imagine I'd slip back into old habits and chalk it up to a lack of personal motivation or overpowering sugar cravings.

3. Actually following the medical professional's advice

It's easy enough to go to the doctor, not so easy to listen to what they say with an open mind, and give it an honest try once you get home.

My doctor told me I'll need to do 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 days a week, preferably after a meal, and restrict my calories to 1800. Now, I'm not ready to only eat 1800 calories a day, but I'm currently doing the 30 minutes of brisk walking after a meal and restricting calories to 2300 a day. That seems to fit well with my appetite and I'm still seeing a downward trend in my weight. It's slow, but it's downward, which is good enough for now.

Listening to a doctor actually works sometimes, I guess. Go figure.

4. Keeping my mental health stable

Not everyone has a condition they take medication for, but I take medication for ADHD and mild anxiety. It's easy to skip a day on days I'm feeling pretty good and motivated, but I'm not letting that happen anymore.

The main reason why this matters is ADHD comes with impulsive decision-making, and my medication curbs that kind of thing during the day. Whereas I'd typically feel more powerful snacking urges without my meds, while on them, I'm significantly less likely to eat sugary foods and frequently snack.

Mental and physical health are directly linked, too, so keeping mental health stable can reduce the stress that might otherwise cause weight gain, whether due to stress hormones or poor dietary decisions.

5. Eating in a way that makes sense for my workday

Most of us spend 5 days a week at work, so it makes sense to choose an eating schedule that fits your workday vs. your weekend. I chose something called 20:4 intermittent fasting. You can Google this as it's really popular, with the most common variation of it being the 16:8, but I chose to have a 4-hour eating window with a 20-hour window of restricted eating of 600 calories or fewer.

The idea behind intermittent fasting is that it helps improve focus and metabolic function if you let your gut rest throughout the day instead of constantly making it work. Aside from the health benefits, I do it because I like my job too much and end up barely making time for eating on an average day. I can drink coffee and water most of my day and eat a huge dinner at night, and I don't really have to take lunch since 600 calories of food doesn't take very long to prepare. It's a great system for a workaholic who really likes food but doesn't want to make time for it.

So far, this 20:4 fasting routine has been working really well for the 3-4 weeks I've been doing it and I don't think I'd want to go back to eating 3 medium-sized meals a day. It's just too fun to have that freedom to eat 2 dinners at the end of the day.

But the point here is that you should think about what eating schedule would be least disruptive to what you're already doing because that's one less habit you'll have to form. One less habit is one less reason to quit.