Before you go to college, everyone warns you about the "freshman 15" pounds you might gain with your first taste of independent living. I have discovered there is an equally pernicious "debut year 15" for new authors, particularly those who quit their day jobs and write from home. No one warns you about this. So attention, new authors: I am officially warning you.
The debut year 15 starts out innocently enough. You get a book deal and want to celebrate. I found my debut year to be one celebration after another: with friends, family, cake, champagne, champagne, champagne. You also feel entitled to cut yourself some slack: after slaving away for years trying to get published, you deserve a little respite from being so self-disciplined, right?
Then, in many cases of the debut year 15, the author starts writing full-time from home. This is a glorious, luxurious change of pace where:
1) pants are optional
2) sunlight? what is this sunlight thing you speak of?
3) the fridge is ten feet away
You can probably start to infer where this lifestyle change is headed. That doesn't even include the additional stresses of being a writer on deadline, which can be totally emotionally overwhelming, which is a disaster for us stress-snackers out there. (For those of you who lose your appetite when you're stressed, I hate you.) Never underestimate the power of sheer deadline panic to ruin your dieting attempts.
But there is hope! Writing from home doesn't have to equal health disaster. Things turned around for me when someone told me the key piece of information to keep in mind: Weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. (obviously, genetics factors in there somewhere too.) Our culture focuses so much on yoga, gyms, running, exercise clothes, boot camp, etc, that it's easy to think working out is the cure for everything. And exercise is INCREDIBLY important, especially for writers who spend a lot of time sitting--it reduces so many health risks, and builds strong bones and muscles--but it doesn't really help you significantly lose weight as much as what you eat does.
Here's some tricks I've used to lose the debut year 15 and to try to stay healthy as a writer:
Cut down on calorie-rich drinks
Working from home, I had a Keurig at my disposal and drank 2 or 3 cups of creamy, sugary chai lattes each day. Then, in the evenings, I'd have a glass or two of wine to unwind after a long day of plotting characters' gruesome deaths. Switching to black coffee, tea, and La Croix naturally flavored sparkling water has probably been the easiest thing I've done to lose significant weight.
Plan meals & cook more at home
With deadlines looming, it's so easy to just order a pizza or drive-thru Taco Bell. Oh man, I love those grilled stuffed burritos. What helps me is to take an hour on the weekends to plan meals and do all my grocery shopping for the week. If you're crunched on time, then set standard weekly meals, so your grocery list is always the same, and you avoid that dreaded "What are we going to eat tonight? Let's just go out." I also try to have vegetables & fruit present at every meal, even if it's just some steamed broccoli with ramen noodles or a handful of blueberries with waffles. A strange thing happens when you start eating more fruits and vegetables. Your hair and nails get stronger. Bruises & cuts heal incredibly fast. I almost convinced myself I had developed a super power. But no, it's just broccoli.
Improve your posture, especially while sitting
Writers are always, well, writing, but also reading, which means we're hunched forward, head jutting out, shoulders rounded. I found this YouTube video on posture to be very helpful and practical:
Don't just sit there
I know I said diet is way more important than exercise (when it comes to weight loss), but you also have to move. We all know it. I suggest trying to do more gentle exercise you can do in regular, non-workout clothes. Go for a walk around the block, do some yoga or stretching during your lunch break, walk up and down your stairs a few extra times. I got a dog. He requires four long walks a day. I've never been in better shape. I also do boot camp training three times a week, but that's really more about shaping my body and getting stronger, not weight loss.
My author friends rave over Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred videos, which you can do at home.
Wear real clothes
This one is so hard! One of the hallmarks of writing from home is staying in your pajamas or yoga pants all day and hiding behind the door if the mailman comes. With all those stretchy and baggy clothes, though, it's so easy to let the pounds slip up on you. Then you try to put on last fall's skinny jeans to go to a bookstore event and it's a disaster. Do yourself a favor and wear casual but real clothes while working. You'll be more inclined to go outside, sit up straight, and feel more put together, which will help you make better health decisions all day long.
I hope this list is helpful to you writers out there! Do you have other tricks to stay fit and healthy while enjoying the writing lifestyle? I'd love to know.