Stress, Long Hours & Weight Gain

Today's post is about physical health, something I have been struggling with for almost two years, while in consulting and now banking.


Throughout my career, I often felt like my health in general was going in a downward spiral: leaving work past midnight (which entails eating late at night), barely waking up to my 8:30 AM alarm and skipping breakfast, and just eating whatever was easiest to reach. I was tired and didn't feel energized. My lack of attention to my diet and exercise, in conjunction with stress from the job, prevented me from taking care of my body in a way that would keep me physically and mentally healthy. I couldn't do much about my hours, but I knew I had to make a change to my diet and exercise.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges to staying fit with a demanding career are finding a regular routine that works for you and also the willpower to stay committed to that routine. I think I finally found something that works for me and am excited to share it on my blog.

Although I find it a bit ridiculous to caveat this, I will anyway... I am neither a dietitian nor a physical trainer! My post is not intended to provide professional advice, but rather my experiences and tips that helped me along the way. What works for me may or may not work for you.

My final caveat: different firms and offices (even for the same firm) will have different attitudes towards gym time, so understand your surroundings before creating your routine. For instance, the LA and Houston offices at my firm encourage analysts to step out and get their gym/dinner time. My office in NYC doesn't discourage that, but that is not part of our culture. For us, it depends on the deal team and the outstanding workload.

JUST TO GIVE SOME CONTEXT...

I was at a healthy weight when I graduated from college, but then... I started working.

I gained weight in consulting when I began to travel. When it's your first client trip and you are given $50 dinner allowances, you will be tempted to use all of it - and I did! My first consulting project was based in NYC, so I definitely went all out on dinner, and the weight gain subsequently followed. Also, when you are traveling, it is hard to be picky about what you eat. There's no guarantee that you can find the specific foods you are looking for, and you probably won't be able to cook since hotel rooms don't have kitchens.

My weight got out of hand when I started investment banking. Let's just say that the "Analyst 15" is REAL. In a matter of weeks, I noticed that my clothes were starting to get tight. My self-esteem went down the drain. I knew I had to start working out ASAP.

WHICH GYM?

I tried out several options, the first one being the gym in my apartment building. I was an on-and-off gym member; I signed up when I knew I was going to be in NYC for my consulting projects and I quit when I had to travel. Later, my building's gym switched to an annual membership program, and I did not sign up because I wasn't planning on renewing my lease.

Then, I tried ClassPass, a service where you pay a monthly fee for a certain number of classes at several gyms across NYC. On the ClassPass app, you reserve a slot for a specific time and class and then you go. Easy! I loved that I could sign up for certain number of classes a month AND that I had access to several classes, like Cyc Fitness, Barry's Boot Camp, etc. The issue for me was the late cancellation policy. You have to cancel at least 24 hours in advance, or else you get charged a late fee (usually $15-20). With the unpredictable hours in banking, I often had to cancel last minute, so I got charged a lot of these and ultimately quit my membership.

My next options came down to 24 Hour Fitness and Equinox. I had gone to the 24 Hour Fitness several times as a ClassPass member. While it has everything you could ever need for a decent workout (wide variety of machines, classes, swimming pool, and a locker room), the deal breaker for me was the quality of the showers and locker rooms, so I decided not to sign up for a full membership.

So far, Equinox has been the best option for me. At first, I was reluctant because it is not exactly a trivial expense ($150-200+/month), but now I think it is worth every penny if you are serious about attending regularly. There is a wide variety of equipment (note that they are from Life Fitness, the same brand as the equipment at 24 Hour Fitness) and classes at Equinox, with everything from rhythm-based cycling (like SoulCycle) to competitive cycling to barre to hot yoga, and the instructors are amazing! The facilities are extremely clean, and I love the Kiehl's products in the showers. What I love the most is that even at 7 AM, the gym is packed, and it actually motivates me to stay active and prioritize my health, even with a demanding career.

MY CURRENT ROUTINE

I currently go to the Equinox about a block away from my office. I wake up around 6:00 AM, leave my apartment around 6:15 AM, workout from 6:45 AM to 8:15 AM, shower there and get into the office around 9 AM. For me, it is easiest to squeeze in my workouts in the morning because my hours are so unpredictable once the work day starts.

Although I began working out in the morning for timing efficiency, I am actually finding that it energizes me throughout the day. In college, I hated morning workouts because I always got so tired in the afternoon, but for some reason, now it keeps me awake and focused. I do HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and I usually burn off around 500-550 calories every morning.

I have been following a ketogenic diet (high fat, low carb), and this has helped me immensely in feeling more energetic throughout the day, less bloated, and properly fueled for my workouts. With this routine, I have been able to shed off several pounds already. The best part is that I don't feel hungry or weak throughout the day.

My concerns regarding my routine? I know it will be hard to keep up when I have fire drills for my deals and have to pull extremely late nights (2 AM+). I am also aware the carb cravings are inevitable...

TIPS FOR CONSULTANTS: I understand how difficult it is for consultants to commit to a routine (or even start one!) due to the frequent travel. Here are some tips I found helpful:
  • If you have to travel frequently, bring a pair of gym shoes with you on every business trip and try to take advantage of the gym at your hotel (most have them). Not all of them have the same equipment, but they will have, at the very least, basic ones like treadmills. 
  • If you will be traveling to the same city/staying at the same hotel for a while, you can actually ask the hotel concierge to hold some of your belongings until your next arrival. I did this for my workout shoes, because they took up a lot of space in my suitcase. Leaving some things with the hotel will reduce the amount of stuff you have to carry for each trip.
  • You can also try signing up for a gym with nationwide locations (Equinox, 24 Hour Fitness, etc). The problem with is that there's no guarantee that there will be a location wherever you have to travel, and it could also be a huge hassle to get there.
  • No need to spend all of your dinner allowance on one meal. In NYC, $30 is more than enough to get a decent meal. Get a light dinner and use the leftover money to buy healthy snacks or lunch for the next day.
  • If your project team LOVES getting group dinners frequently (been there, done that, can't say I loved that...), there's a chance that you will go to not-so-healthy restaurants and split appetizers. This is always a tough situation, but try going for light options when you can.

TIPS FOR BANKERS:
  • I recommend going to a gym that is easiest for you to access (either from home or the office). Whether you prefer a morning or evening workout, I recommend a gym close to the office in case you get an urgent request from your deal team or just in case you need to go back.
  • Cut back on the carbs, especially sugar! Eating heavy carbs slowed me down a LOT, made me feel sluggish, and added several inches to my waist. When I order Dig Inn, I no longer order the sweet potato sides and rice. When I order my favorite Harvest Bowl from Sweetgreen, I ask to have the wild rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes removed and add more vegetables instead.
  • If your office/deal team is strict on your stepping out in the evening, try working out in the mornings. It will be tough, but you will get used to it.
  • Ask your firm if they offer any discounts with gyms. My firm, for instance, offers discounts for Equinox and 24 Hour Fitness.

What are some tips that helps you balance your health in a busy career?

Best,
Phyllis

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