How Desk Jobs Make It Harder to Lose Weight and How to Avoid the Pitfalls

How Desk Jobs Make It Harder to Lose Weight and How to Avoid the Pitfalls

No doubt about it – desk jobs are hard on your waistline. Unless you have a job that keeps you on the move during the day, you spend most of the time with your gluteal muscles perched in a chair. If you’re spending eight hours or more in this position, you’re not burning many calories and you’re harming your health.

Research shows sitting for 6 or more hours per day is linked with a higher rate of mortality and a greater risk for a host of health problems including heart disease, type 2-diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. The stakes are higher for women relative to men. A study showed excess sitting time increased mortality by 17% in men and a whopping 34% in women.

Protect your waistline and your health. Here are some of the most common reasons people gain weight and jeopardize their health when they work at a desk and how to work around them.

Desk Jobs and Hibernation Mode

Sitting at your desk too long sends your body into “hibernation mode” as your body conserves energy due to lack of physical activity. Your metabolism slows and you burn fewer calories. Insulin sensitivity declines, putting you at greater risk for metabolic problems like insulin resistance. That’s not a good thing for your waistline or your health. Insulin resistance is a problem that affects more than half of all people and it’s a precursor for other health problems like heart disease and type 2-diabetes.

Work around it: Set a timer to go off every 20 or 30 minutes to remind yourself to get up and move. Take a walk up and down the hall, climb the stairs, do stretches at your desk, grab a pair of weights and do some squats at your desk – anything to break the cycle of inactivity. Use a portion of your lunch or break time to take a brisk walk.  Add short bursts of physical activity every hour or more. Desk jobs are hazardous to your health unless you consciously get up and move around more.

 Eating at Your Desk

Even if you have lots of things to get done, resist the urge to dine at your desk. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat lunch while distracted were less full after eating than those who made eating lunch their primary focus. If you’re munching on a sandwich while you’re entering data into the computer or talking on the phone, you’re not getting the same satisfaction or level of satiety as when you focus on the sensory aspects of what you’re eating. The sensory qualities of food, like its aroma, play a role in how satisfied you feel after a meal. That’s why mindful awareness of what you’re eating is so important.

Think you’re increasing your productivity by eating lunch while you work? Maybe not. A study carried out at the University of Toronto showed office workers who didn’t take a lunch break were less productive and experienced more fatigue. Your mind needs a break from the grind as well as proper nutrition to spur you on to higher levels of productivity.

Need another reason not to dine at your desk? Research carried out at the University of Arizona came to a sobering conclusion. The average person’s desk at work has more bacteria per square inch than a toilet seat. Imagine a throng of bacteria swimming around on your desk. Not very appetizing, is it? Computer keyboards and phones are other hotbeds of bacterial activity. Enjoy your healthy munchies in cleaner surroundings.

Work around it: Pack a healthy lunch and enjoy it in an area where you’re exposed to natural sunlight. If the weather cooperates, take it to a nearby park or an outdoor picnic bench nearby. If you can’t stray that far, find a quiet area next to a window to eat your lunch. Take some deep breaths and focus on what you’re eating, not on your “to do” list.

Office Snacks and Waistline Destroyers

Break rooms are bad for your health and your waistline. All too often, some well-meaning co-worker or sales rep loads the break room up with unhealthy snacks like doughnuts or cookies. When you’re feeling stressed out, it’s all too easy to reach for a “comfort snack” to help you deal with the chaos. Then there are the unhealthy snacks in jars on people’s desk, usually full of brightly colored candies that contain too much sugar and the vending machine down the hall loaded with salty and sweet snacks that have little nutritional value. It’s easy to snack mindlessly on the wrong foods when you’re bored or stressed.

Work around it: Keep candy jars and other food temptations off of your desk so you won’t be tempted to mindlessly snack on them. Come to work armed with healthy snacks so you can avoid the temptations that well-meaning co-workers present to you. Packages of string cheese, portion-controlled packs of nuts, Greek yogurt or a piece of fruit are all better choices than the sugary treats passed around most offices. Even if you snack healthy, don’t keep open bags or boxes of snacks on your desk to munch on during the day. Distracted snacking is just as bad as eating lunch while you’re working.

Short Summary:

Easy access to unhealthy foods and lack of physical activity makes desk jobs a risk factor for weight gain. Be aware and find ways to work around these potential minefields before they threaten your waistline.



Am. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 172 (4): 419-429.

CNN Health. “Is your desk making you sick?

Quality Health. “Dangers of eating at your desk”

Entrepreneur.com. “Why You Should Never Eat Lunch at Your Desk” November 4, 2013.


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