The last time I wrote about losing weight was right after I had a baby and my agent told me that I would kill my career if I went on speaking engagements. “You look terrible” is what she told me. And I lost forty pounds in two months.

This time, things were not so dramatic. If nothing else, I am tall enough that no one would notice ten pounds up or down on my body. But still, ten pounds is ten pounds. And I lost it by changing how I do my job.

Here are three changes I made in how I work that, in turn, changed how much I weigh:

1. I stopped letting work slip until the last minute.
I know people think they are creative under pressure. But in fact, time pressure stifles creativity. One of the joys of being creative is going up paths that surprise us. But when you are under a tight deadline, the risk of going down an unsure path is too risky because it might not work and then you’ll miss the deadline.

I became acutely aware of this when I started blogging. The immediate feedback one gets from blog traffic made me understand that there was a direct relationship to how much pressure I felt while I was writing and how successful the post was. I also noticed that when I felt pressure to write quickly I ate to cope with the pressure.

Once I stopped writing late at night under intense pressure I ate much less at night.

2. I stopped checking email when I was with my kids.
For the most part, I maintain a schedule where I work seven days a week 8am to 2pm. Then I am with my kids from 2pm to 8pm. And I usually work after they go to bed. Almost everyone is very nice about respecting the schedule.

But still, I was checking email all day. Sometimes because I really needed to, but mostly it was a way to take a break from being with the kids. The kids are hard. Email is easy. Please, don’t send me emails about how I should take the kids to the park. I’m not saying I don’t love my kids. I’m saying that it’s more fun to play email lottery to see if something great came in than to watch kids chasing each other up and down slides.

The worst part about checking email when I am with the kids is that I feel bad ignoring them. But the second worst part is that I sort of check out when I check email and once I check out then my junk-food guard is down, and I find myself watching kids and checking email and eating Cheetos all at the same time.

I instituted the no-checking email so that I could be more present with my kids. But the lucky side benefit was no more junk food.

3. I stopped working late at night.
The first lunch meeting I had with my first publisher was all about book marketing. We talked about how sometimes my editor thinks of a title and then asks an agent to put together a book based on that title.

“Like what?” I asked.

She said, “Like, Sleep Away the Pounds! How To Lose That Last Ten Pounds…. In Your Sleep”

“Ooooh,” I said “That is a good title.”

For the rest of the lunch the editor and the publicist and I all talked about that book. What it could be. The publicist pointed out that he stays up late working but he never really gets anything done except eating. He thought he should just go to bed.

I thought that was probably true for me, too. And I pointed out all the research that says the people who do not get enough sleep are at risk of being fat.

That conversation happened a year ago. And, ironically, I then proceeded to get less sleep than any year of my life because I stayed up all night doing stuff to promote my book.

But recently I decided to make a rule for myself that I have to get the recommended six or seven hours of sleep a night. This means I had to get used to not working as much. I had to decide to simply not do some of the work I had. But the life benefits have been worth it — including giving up that extra meal that slips in between dinner and bed.

So that’s how I lost the weight. And it’s been very easy to keep off because I did exactly what you’re supposed to do to lose weight: I changed how I live my life rather than how I eat my meals.

But here’s what really gets me excited: I learned so much about self-discipline.
There is great research about how if you add self-discipline to your life in one area, self-discipline seeps into other areas of your life as well. This is important because positive psychologists are always saying that self-discipline is a key factor to making ourselves happier.

So I always want more self-discipline in my life. And I absolutely found that when I became more disciplined about how I deal with my sleep and eating, I became more disciplined about working out. For the last year I have had clear goals for regular episodes of running, weights and yoga. But I have generally failed at achieving these goals on a regular basis. Something always interferes.

But over the past two weeks, when I have been very conscious of changing how I conduct myself during the day for work things, my exercise regimen has improved as well, as a sort of unintended side-effect.

So here’s my pitch to you to try something new. Try being just a little more conscious. If you become more conscious in one part of your life, you will be able to affect positive, conscious change in many parts of your life with relative ease.

35 replies
  1. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    My other blog (as well as my PhD) is on obesity, so weight related stories are endlessly fascinating to me.

    You identify 3 key things – changing situations that catalyse poor eating patterns; getting adequate sleep; being aware of long-term gains in return for short-term losses. The key theme linking all 3 is motivation.

    I do think fat activists, who may start with the noble aim of reducing weight stigma, end up legitimising a body shape and state of health that is never going to be helpful. So don’t let their ilk read your last point – about discipline – because it makes the argument FOR personal responsibility, which is amiss in the debate for political correctness reasons (the last bit is my hypothesis, not a theory).

    Thanks and if anyone is interested, the URL is :-)
    * * * * * *
    Thanks for this comment. And I liked your blog. I don’t understand the last part you wrote — about personal responsiblity. But I want to understand it. I would really appreciate it if you could write another comment describing the politically correctness and the issues around it.


  2. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Great insights – especially the tip about not checking e-mail when you’re with your kids. I’d like to implement that “rule” into my life.

    You mentioned that you work from 8-2 and hang out with your kids from 2-8. When and how do you squeeze in exercise (running, weights, yoga)?

    * * * * * * *
    Great question. I ask myself this every day, because if I don’t, then nothing ends up fitting in. So usually I do running and weights at night and yoga in the morning, or sometimes I take work break. It’s all very hard, to be honest. But when I don’t plan to fit this in, my life starts falling apart. No joke. As soon as exercise falls to the wayside, then other stuff starts falling as well.


  3. Franklin
    Franklin says:

    Great post! I think you’re on a roll with your last few entries.

    You mention that you find it hard to interact with your children for 6 straight hours. I have 3 children, and I agree with your comment. Something I wonder about is what you wrote in a post some time ago: a surprisingly small amount of money is all you need to be happy. Surely people do need less money than they think they do. But we recently upgraded to a house with 50% more area and a bigger yard, and we could not have done that on the small cash flow that you mentioned in that earlier post. Every day I think of how fortunate we were to have been able to make that move! With the extra space it really is a lot easier to take mini-breaks from the kids during the time I/we allocate to spend with them. I think it helps us and the kids to be able to put some distance between each other when we need to.

  4. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    I am a huge fan of “my” time. As in we all need something to do to get away and release. For me, playing guitar; for my wife, scrapbooking. What it does is allow us to “reboot” for a bit and get away. In doing this we accomplish two things; we don’t annoy each other and it also keeps us busy. If I am just watching TV and am bored I usually have a bag of chips with me…getting away and doing my own thing helps. I suppose I could get back into the gym, but lately it has been merely a deduction from my checking account. It all plays back to your comment about changing the way you live. Good post…I’m gonna go jam out to Pearl Jam

  5. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Thanks SO much Penelope for writing about healthy eating as a function of a lot more than just the age-old hamburger versus salad conundrum. Women so frequently eat to cope with lots of things in life and the best way to change unhealthy habits is to identify when food is substituting for other things in our life. Food is not a substitute for taking a break from work, for meditation or a good heart-to-heart. I know I always ate way too much around midterm and final exam time in college, and it was easy to not see the connection. However, when I did acknowledge the correlation between excessive snacking and too much work and stress with not enough free / relaxation time, I was able to ‘feed’ myself in other ways than with food.
    Plus, exercise helps with stress and energy levels a lot. My new favorite: a class based on boot camp. I kind of like being yelled at and made to do herkies (don’t know how to spell them though!) It’s a fun sort of stress :)

  6. Bloggrrl
    Bloggrrl says:

    Ha! I just published a post about all of the weight I gained during my summer doing pretty much nothing but blogging. I’m so happy to be back at work running around again.

    New Study Shows Blogging Causes Weight Gain.

    That said, the people I work with really, really hate inservices. So when the featured speaker could barely get out of her chair unassisted, I just knew people were going to be snarky. It turned out that she was a fabulous speaker, and I never heard one remark about her weight. However, people are STILL talking about the content.

  7. David B. Bohl at Slow Down FAST
    David B. Bohl at Slow Down FAST says:

    Oh … the “D” word. That doesn’t sit very well with many people. Having no self-discipline is roughly the equivalent of admitting that you aren’t in charge of your own life. That isn’t a quality that is highly regarded in today’s fast-paced, always ‘on’, adapt-or-be-left-behind world.

    Harry S. Truman said: "If I want to be great I have to win the victory over myself… self-discipline."

    How could it be said any better?

  8. Brian Johnson
    Brian Johnson says:

    Really, really great post especially concerning self-discipline. Having just moved our office 2 weeks ago, I decided to use the opportunity to change how I manage my desk – it gets cleaned and organized every single day before I leave so I start the next day with a clean desk top.

    Doing this one little thing has really boosted my enthusiasm at the start of each day and, more to your point, the confidence I’ve gained from following through on this change is trickling into some of my other work habits needing improvement such as less multi-tasking, reduced second-guessing, and better prioritization. None of which have anything to do with the amount of paper on my desk overnight.

    If you’ll excuse the jargon, improving self-discipline is a really upstream change with tremendous downstream benefits.

  9. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Hi Penelope, thanks. I am pleased you liked my blog (although, which one?).

    Here are my thoughts:

    The most simple explanation of my comment, I suppose, could be that in social situations, we find it quite easy to comment on someone’s appearance by observing ‘Oh my, you have lost so much weight’. But if we were faced by an acquaintance, who had gained a lot of weight, do we say with the same chirpiness ‘Oh my, you have gained so much weight’? (Your agent is an
    exception; most show-biz agents, keen on their clients, I imagine, would not hesitate.) But otherwise, we reserve sniggering and jokes for private moments and we do not comment on others’ weight gain to their faces.

    Why? Political correctness in polite society.

    However if we think more deeply why, we will know that deep inside us, we believe becoming thin is an improvement, so we compliment it. Being fat
    however is seen as loss of control and lack of self-discipline, so we do not bring it up – in politeness.

    By not bringing it up, are we in effect pro fat acceptance*? Point to ponder.

    As I said it is only my hypothesis that we do not discuss ‘individual responsibility’ and discipline’ very actively in case of obesity because of PC boundaries, even though the verisame thoughts- or biases and prejudices arising from this attribution – do drive much of the interaction obese people get from the world.

    Some examples of these interactions:
    Research shows that obese patients do not get attention and advice from the healthcare workers as they are seen as having brought it upon themselves (such an attitude may not be seen, say, in case of some cancers). Continuing research shows high absenteeism in schools and poor college attendance record, discrimination in job situations and in social situations. Your agent too was articulating
    the anti-weight bias in your business when she suggested you lose weight pdq.

    * To deal with this situation of discrimination, fat acceptance was created as a social construct. Fat Acceptance focuses on obesity as an issue of
    body shape and size, rather than the biomedical construction of obesity as a harbinger of disease and ill-health.

    The National Association for Advancing Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) in the US was established in 1969 with noble aims including dissemination of information about “sociological, psychological, legal, medical, and physiological aspects of being fat”. But ‘helping their members gain their health back’ is not one of the objectives. If you consider the tools of their trade, you will not see anything about the ‘health’ of overweight/ obese people either.


    My hypothesis is that if someone could be ‘helped’ lose weight, chances are there will have been lifestyle changes. Being able to lose weight through such changes itself could be a sort of admission of loss of self discipline and control, which would weaken the basis of much fat acceptance related argumentation. Fat acceptance can become blinded by its focus on body shape and become rather less cordial fat activism. I believe it does not help obese people at all since it is more focused on giving them acceptance rather than giving them help and support.

    Of course, being PC is a liberal construct in itself. If you follow conservative views you will see that the sole framing is in individual responsibility terms. I once read a Cato Institute paper which said obesity is NOT a public health problem, but one of individual responsibility.

    Does this help? Or does it complicate matters further? :-)

    On my obesity blog (, I aim to take the debate out of the twin doldrums of ‘food’ and ‘bias/ stigma/ discrimination’, which seem to dominate obesity related blogs.

    For further reading – from both sides of the debate on several issues – I would recommend looking up posts on ‘discrimination’, ‘responsibility’, ‘childhood obesity’.


  10. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Oh and another thing: Brian Wansink’s book ‘Mindless Eating’ is quite interesting.

    Penelope makes the point about living consciously and you can guess what the book talks about and the effects of mindless eating.

  11. PunditMom
    PunditMom says:

    What a headline! I can’t wait to get to the “routine” of something like 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. — that has completely gone out the window with summer “vacation!” Maybe my new personal headline would be, “Send the Kids Back to School, Lose 5 Pounds!” ;)

  12. OHK
    OHK says:

    This reminds me of something a friend of mine said when she started training for her first marathon. She said that the discipline of training for the marathon has created discipline in the rest of her life — that she was more efficient in her work and was also more mindful about doing other health-related things like flossing every night. I always thought that was really interesting: training for a marathon=healthier gums.

  13. leslie
    leslie says:

    Keeping a food diary of what you actually eat during a day is really illuminating. Small changes really add up. Even where you live makes a big difference. My husband and I lost weight when we moved into a multi-story house and gained it when we relocated to a single story. But, we had moved so he could be closer to his job–so now he walks or rides his bike to work and has lost 30 lbs.

  14. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    I love this post!! It’s very easy for experts to say to eat consciously, but you give great examples of changing your habits to prevent mindless eating!

    To your list, I would add “quit your boring job.” I have noticed that when I am creating shirts or doing any kind of work for my side business, I never feel like snacking. However, at my boring cube job I sometimes have a snack every half-hour plus breakfast and lunch. I think it’s that “flow” that you often refer to; it blocks the snacking impulse!

  15. Brady Bagwan
    Brady Bagwan says:

    Setting boundaries is definitely the way to go. However, many people will still feel pressure from those things that are left unattended. One way to overcome this is to use a personal assistant service. I just started a company called Delegate Source based in Denver. While there are quite a few concierge services out there, there are very few who approach lifestyle and household management broadly. It really is simple math. If a professional’s hourly cost is more than the cost of outsourcing personal services, why not achieve a better work/life balance by delegating errands and tasks?

  16. Mascha
    Mascha says:

    I love it how you always seem to write about the things I think about too. Nice to get that little extra confirmation. Keep up the good work.

  17. Amy
    Amy says:

    I can agree with the general gist — think about what you do and change it — but I don’t see how your specific advise would work for me.

    I never have a problem with eating late at night. I stop being hungry after about 7 pm and you couldn’t force me to eat after that even if I stayed up until 3 am.

    My problem is that I eat too much earlier in the day. I guess I could apply this logic to eating less earlier in the day, but earlier in the day I eat when I’m hungry, darn it, and can’t concentrate on my work because I’m so hungry. Despite this, I look like I should lose at least 10 pounds.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *