Monday, November 23, 2015

IT administration as an excuse for not being healthy

This is the story of the life I led when I was an unhealthy IT admin. This could perfectly be the story of any other professional, but I think IT workers will relate to it..

I think it started with pizza, when I was in 5th grade, at the start of my teenager phase. I was a really thin kid, but I remember distinctly that was the first time that I ate not because I was hungry, but because I enjoyed how it tasted. I wanted more, and in these parties, I could have more. 

At some point later I started having a belly, and some time later, when someone asked how many slices of pizza I could eat, I was only too happy to state I would not be beat. I remember in my 10th grade, Pizza Hut had a promotion where you could eat as much as you wanted for a fixed price, and I was very proud of my record of 11 slices without feeling bad after it.

Fast forward to college. By now, it practically didn't matter what the food or drink was - i'm pretty sure I can give anyone a decent fight, including alcohol. Thank god I played hacky sack and table tennis practically non-stop and my budget was very limited - I still managed to remain somewhat thin and active, but that bravado was there.

Right after college, when I started working as a Network Operating Center engineer, was when I think my main problems started. It was the combination of

1) Higher spending power - most of people working in IT will accept that salaries start and grow relatively rapidly. Without many obligations, I could spend however and whenever.

2) High pressure nature of IT work - when you're starting in IT, you have to put in the hours, reading, doing, learning, if you are going to get any better fast. This shouldn't be an excuse, but it was part of it.

3) No concept of work-life balance, especially no inclusion of exercise into my routine. I basically viewed doing exercise as a social event, a consequence of meeting friends with which I played a sport.

4) Acceptance of a myth - that I deserved a "good meal" because I worked long hours, or early, or late, or for lunch, or when hanging out after work. The main problem here was a "good meal" was not a healthy meal.

5) Acceptance of another food related myth - that quiet time with my girlfriend/family/friends involved consuming more "good meals".

6) Travelling on the company's budget. My first work related trip was to Belgium, which is a mecca of beer and chocolate, and where I ate all my meals in a very nice hotel. The idea that I had to try everything in order to know and be an informed "man of the world" added to all my bad habits.

The main problem during these years was that I didn't pay attention to the signs. I steadily gained weight; I steadily ate more and more, until I gained a reputation as an "eater". I switched jobs into a coordinator/manager of end user services for a larger company, and being a manager gave me more income and more opportunities to eat socially. The 3 man IT office was synonymous with daily large pizza orders or big fast food combos for everyone at lunch. Celebrations were each at "fancier" restaurants and a larger bill became the norm. I fell into the trap of only drinking diet coke since I would "rather eat the calories than drink them".

When I moved into a systems engineering role, I started working from home. Working from home is a blessing and a curse. You save money and time from the daily commute, you have less stress and it's very convenient in many ways. The negatives are also many, but they are debatable; I'll explore them further in a dedicated post.

One thing I quickly realized when I began working from home was that I needed to figure out what I was going to eat since I no longer had the advantage of going out with co-workers or having someone else with which to think about lunch. What did i turn to? Being the lazy "busy" IT worker I was, I turned to the convenient things: cereal, sandwiches, and lots and lots of pizza, whether from a shop in the corner or bought frozen in bulk. 

By this time I had gone from 140 to 200 pounds. Travelling internationally and frequently to foodie cities such as Dallas and being introduced to barbecue, sweet tea, monster burgers and all sorts of deliciousness that were new to me played right into the "man of the world" mindset. Since the "eater" label pleased me, I made sure that it stuck with me with those that met me in my travels.

I moved to Colorado around this time as well. Colorado is also a beer and food mecca. Colorado portions can be huge. The same bad habits I had traveled with me. When I went to get my ID, my weight was 220 pounds.

Around this time we got a small office, around 30 people. It had a little kitchen room which was kept stocked with all kinds of snacks. Another food that I'm a sucker for is chocolate bars. I easily ate two small chocolates (twix, snickers, especially Reese's peanut butter cups) every time I passed through it. Add having lunch with the co-workers and the portions, plus a complete lack of exercise.

I had my first yellow alarm while living in Colorado. I went to the doctor for my yearly checkup and was informed i was pre-diabetic. I didn't give it much thought, but heeded my wife's advice to eat out less, and started going home for lunch. This helped since home cooked meals tend to be much healthier - my wife was at home at the time and she is a great cook, who found ways of making recipes healthier. I also retook my table tennis training and this helped me lose some pounds. However, I still kept doing everything else as I had - going out, drinking with friends, chocolates, etc.

Now comes the final chapter before being diagnosed. I moved to Brooklyn and my wife started working. I continued working from home and faced getting lunch on my own, but living in new york means you have pedestrian access to food. Sandwich shop in the corner, pizza/pasta place a little farther away, specialty shops selling all sorts of stuff. Again, the "man of the world" mindset combined with a foodie city like NYC triggered a "i have to try it all" mission in my head.

Somehow, I was losing weight (people with diabetes type 2 know this is not a good sign). I was eating large sandwiches, or would pick up appetizer, pasta, and a couple slices to go, everyday for lunch. I had discovered Arizona iced teas in Colorado and found even more variety in new york - i would have a couple large cans a day. I was having a big bowl of sugary cereal in the morning and at night, or eggs and bacon fit for a family. I was eating out, trying every cheesecake and doughnut I encountered, almost every night. Meeting new people had me drinking socially - 5 beers an outing was easily the average. And yet, my weight had gone down. I (stupidly) believed this was due to the fact that I had sold my car and was now walking more - like if walking a block spent any calories.

VMworld 2014 was my first big tech conference. Just before that, my best friend was graduating in Boston. I took PTO for 10 days or so (which I had a lot of since I almost never spend it). Here we go - celebration, new city, have to try every lobster roll, Boston cream pie, Sam Adams beer out there. My friend remarked to me that he could not believe I was losing weight with how I ate - another ignored alarm.

VMworld, like everything in life, can be very unhealthy, especially if you go with my mindset. There are opportunities to eat and drink all week. I don't think I've really been drunk in the last few years, but I did drink a lot - that point where you can walk anywhere but know better than to drive. Big breakfast, eat all the lunch sandwich, big cookies and coffee in the afternoon, beer and big meals at night.

My next post will detail my doctor visit where I learned i was now a diabetic, but I wanted to paint as truthful a picture of who I was that led me there. Now I think my result was an amplification of my personality's bad habits and lack of healthy living knowledge.

Reach out to me on twitter if you want to discuss or help me add to any of the things I've described. My hope is that if you feel identified with anything on this post, I will help you correct your habits before you get a life-changing condition. I'll try to post the results and what i've learned since soon.

1 comment:

  1. Dude keeping fit and eating healthy while having an IT job is difficult. But it can be done! I go for a bike ride at lunch time on Tuesdays and a 5k run at lunch time on Thursdays and try to at a lot of fruit