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Guest Editorial

Is your job making you fat?

If you're packing on the pounds, the real culprit might not be the office pastry cart, it might be stress.

If you've ever been held captive in cubicle city, you know that sometimes doughnuts are the only way to stay sane. And if you work at home, you've probably succumbed to the siren call of the fridge when you're on a deadline.

The tough-job-turns-you-into-a-tub-o-lard syndrome isn't relegated to paying work. Every mommy knows, corralling kids can send you gobbling Happy Meals faster than a toddler can smear grape jelly on the dog.

If I were to graph my own expanding and contracting waistline over the years, the lumps and bumps would directly correlate to the stressed-out, over-worked phases of my life, when M&M's and high-fat lattes were the only things keeping me upright.

It's not just stress eating that causes us to gain weight, it's also lack of time and sleep that turn a Skinny Minnie into a Portly Patty.

It would be easy to say just eat healthy and exercise and you'll have more energy for everything else in your life. But sometimes, there literally aren't enough hours in the day to squeeze in Pilates and searching for new tofu recipes.

Spending your days (and sometimes your nights) hunched over a desk cheered on only by the hum of a vending machine is a recipe for obesity, no matter how you slice it. Throw in the starch and sugar smorgasbord found at most meetings, and I'm surprised that double XXL desk chairs aren't a standard item at Office Depot.

At a recent seminar, I spoke about the obstacles to a healthy lifestyle. However, as I waxed poetically about the convenience and the curse of drive-through windows, I noticed a distinct split among the audience members.

People with grown children or no children, or who had jobs that can be contained into 40-hour weeks, thought that eating healthy and exercising are things everyone should make time for.

But the stressed-out, barely make it to the day care by 6 p.m. crowd was so overwhelmed with what they're already doing, taking care of their health seemed like one more addition to an overflowing plate.

When a minister with grown children (and a stay-at-home, organic-cooking wife) told a working mommy with a full-time job and a toddler, "You really should replace that processed, quick-fix food with healthier alternatives," I thought she was going to clock him right across his vegan mouth.

Demanding jobs, endless responsibilities and a sleep-deprived life that barely allows you enough time to gulp down lunch hunched over your keyboard or steering wheel, are perfectly legitimate reasons for being overweight. And if you're spending the weekend recovering from the work week, the last thing you feel like doing is going for a hike or cooking up a month's worth of garbanzo bean casseroles.

However, having lived 10 years of my life that way, I can promise you that knowing the cause doesn't lessen the pain of the effect.

I'd like to say I got healthy by setting the clock for 5 a.m. yoga and shopping for organic greens at lunch. But the truth is, I got out of shape when I my kids were little and I didn't get healthier until I cut back on my work hours and my kids got big enough to watch themselves while I went for a walk.

The good news is, I'm living proof that you can spend an entire decade fat and out of shape and still recover. The bad news is, the longer you wait, the harder it is to get back on track.

If you're willing to carve out space in your life to become a health nut, go for it. But if you're struggling to get your laundry done, knock back a few vitamins, do a couple leg lifts while you're folding the towels and call it a day.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect: Finding Joy, Meaning, and Satisfaction in the Life You've Already Got and the YOU You Already Are." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.ForgetPerfect.com.

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