How advertising destroyed my health

Or, why I needed a detox. Or, how healthier living is changing my life.

Now, before you read on thinking this is going to be some screaming polemic on the advertising industry, and the combination of junk food advertising and skinny models being shoved down our bloated throats, it isn’t. This is about how working in an ad agency turned me from a relatively healthy girl to something of a wreck in just six months. I’ve talked about advertising, because that’s what I worked in, but this could apply to any desk-based, stress-heavy office job.

The office environment attacked me in a fair few ways, pretty comprehensively, despite the fact that I was only there for a mere 6 months. I’m not one to talk about my health, because up until this year, I’d never had any problems. Maybe I’m allergic to work? Or just offices? Anyway. Here’s how and what got ruined, and the pitfalls of office life. Read on, Macduff:

My immune system – always pretty healthy and quick to fend off a cold, I found myself in an office full of people, with either heating or air conditioning depositing our germs all over the place. Ironically enough, I didn’t take one sick day while I was there, but the minute I stopped, I had a three month cold. Lovely. It was like my body had stored up every single bug that every single person had carried, and kindly gifted me with them in succession. Like an advent calendar with flu behind the doors instead of chocolate.

My tastebuds – I’ve always been someone who could take or leave chocolate. By that I mean that I don’t really like the stuff that much, but I end up eating it because…well, isn’t that what women do? Social conditioning at its best, folks. For a couple of months I was fine. I avoided sugar. Then one day, a charity tuck box appeared. It took me a few weeks to cave. One morning, I was faced with a long, heavy day. I needed something to get me through, so I bought a chocolate bar for a boost (not an actual Boost, they’re yucky.) The day after next, I did it again. Soon, I was eating 2-3 chocolate bars a day, because I now felt deprived if I didn’t have one. My blood sugar level became a rollercoaster.

My energy levels – If you’ve worked in an office, you’ll know that it’s nearly impossible to resist the lure of the tea or coffee run. Because we had a moderately sized team all sitting together, someone would ALWAYS be getting a caffeine based drink. I always felt too embarrassed to ask someone to pop a herbal tea bag in some hot water for me, and also, I just wanted the kick. Because I’d drink a cup, perk up, flag, and need another. On and on. Cup after cup, all day long. Not good if you want Zadies, either. (That’s my name for white teeth.)

My back – it’s a common problem. Dodgy chairs + hunched over a computer all day = back pain. For the first time in my life, my beautifully straight dancer’s posture deserted me, and I started to hunch.

My willpower – I like baking. I like the look of cakes, I like the act of making cakes. But I don’t actually really care too much about eating them. Weird, huh? Before the office job, I’d bake every couple of weekends or on special occasions, and eat a bit, but not a lot. Suddenly, in the office, it was somebody’s birthday EVERY SINGLE DAY. Or their leaving do. Or it was a charity baking sale. Or it was just Friday afternoon. And you know what? The cakes were delicious, and I really didn’t want to be the kind of dick who went ‘no, I think I’ll leave your beautifully crafted cake, baked with loving care, and I’ll just stick with my low-glycaemic seeds and agave nectar’. No one wants to be that person.

My sleep patterns – Gosh, who would have guessed that bucketloads of sugar and caffeine combined with a stressful job would make me restless at night?! But it was worse, and weirder, than just having to count an awful lot of sheep. For the first time ever, I became anxious when I went to bed. Racing thoughts, heat beating fast, all the rest of it. I would wake up in the night and be instantly wide awake, but groggy in the mornings. I was thinking the strangest, worst kind of thoughts, and worried about everything. Embarrassingly and bizarrely, I became unable to sleep with the light off, for the first time since I was a child. Almost every night felt like I was having a mini panic attack. Hmm, healthy.

The way I viewed food – I’ve never been a conventional ‘dieter’. I can’t stand the concept of ‘good food’ and ‘bad food’, as this just makes your life difficult and stressful, and you are reduced to near tears on being faced with dessert. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people always on a diet, always convinced that carbs were bad, and telling me so. It was alarming. I felt hyper aware of what I was eating everyday, and the attitude rubbed off on me. Periods of eating barely anything were followed by binges on all the ‘bad food’, because the people who were on diets always knew they were doomed to fail, that was just how it worked.

My liver – Even in this time of austerity, the image of the boozy ad agency still remained true. Post-uni, I’d virtually stopped drinking, and my body was resetting itself from all of that indulgence. Suddenly, we were drinking with alarming frequency, and I still had the attitude of the recent student: if it’s free, eat it/drink it/take it, because you don’t know when you’ll get the chance again. We even had a drinking game that revolved around hiding a fish (look, we worked long old hours, no wonder we went a bit silly.) Essentially, if you didn’t find the fish, you did a shot. No matter what time of day. I loved that game. And I was bloody terrible at it. Many mornings I’d be having a shot of some foul foreign paint stripper, or just a spot of Jagermeister. Boozed up lunches, parties and after work drinks ensued, even G&T’s in the boardroom on one particularly marvellous Wednesday. I loved it, but my body didn’t. I’m sorry, liver.

My stress levels – It was a stressful job anyway, and one that I wasn’t actually very well suited to. Cue insane amounts of worry, fear, and anxiety over my performance. To that cocktail, please also add the sugar, crisps, caffeine, and….well, actual cocktails. I often felt on the verge of tears, I never stopped feeling exhausted, and my brain wouldn’t ever turn off. I wasn’t taking any care of myself.

My fitness levels – And lastly, sheer laziness. Of course I could have gone for a run on my lunchbreak, or the gym before/after work. But I hate getting sweaty during a working day, and by the time I got home I was still too hyped up from the day to feel like doing anything other than watching TV. So that’s exactly what I did. I made excuses, and did bugger all. That was probably one of the worst decisions I made of the lot.

The worst thing is reading this back and knowing I could have prevented most of this, and you can prevent it too if you find yourself in this position. I should have been stronger, resisted the chocolate bars, and eaten seeds and dried fruit, or dark chocolate. I shouldn’t have listened to the eternal chorus of the dieters, and just brought in what I wanted to eat, and not been sucked into complaining about my thighs as a bonding method.

The cake thing is pretty difficult to navigate, but I’d say the rule is: if somebody’s made it, have some. Just take a small bit, and deal with it. If someone has just purchased something from a supermarket, forget it. Tesco won’t be offended by your eschewing of their brownies. I promise. For the caffeine issue, just either say ‘no, thanks’, or get up and make it yourself. Your colleagues will love you, you’ll get a tiny bit of leg exercise, and you can just make yourself a herbal tea. Done.

Pack your own lunchbox every day, full of exciting salads and grains, and change it up so you don’t get bored having the same thing constantly. Forewarned is forearmed – bringing in your own food and planning for your meals in advance means less likelihood of you ending up in Marks, crushed between a pensioner and a mother with a ginormous pushchair, forced to grab a 600 calorie sandwich.

Force yourself to exercise. As Nike say, just do it. It’s taken me 5 months to put myself back together because of the toll unhealthy living during this job took on me. I just drifted for a while, my eating habits broken, my fitness level at rock bottom. In the last month, I’ve made better food choices, given up caffeine, more or less completely given up sugar, and started exercising. I’m working twice the hours I worked at that office on many more projects, so my workload has become infinitely more stressful, and yet I feel incredible. The changes in my eating and exercising have made me able to cope with anything. I’m more focussed and driven, and I’ve got boundless energy without having any caffeine.

I was totally wrecked, exhausted, unhappy, unfit, and unmotivated not too long ago. Had I visited any GP, they’d have wanted to plonk me straight away on anti-depressants, and I probably would have been tempted to take them. Thanks to cleaner living, I sleep well, I wake up early with no alarm, I work my ass off and have the energy to plough through 16 hour working days with no problems. I am calmer, happier, more confident, and free of the panicky spells and long dark nights of worry that characterised six months of my life. If I can inspire just one person to make a few easy choices that will make them feel better, I’ll be happy. I’m going to be writing a series of blogs on eating well, and working out, so keep reading if you want to, and feel free to ask me any questions.

It’s another very long blog from me, but I wanted to give people a context for why I’m making changes in my lifestyle.

Snogs (frozen yogurts that is),

Amelia xx

3 thoughts on “How advertising destroyed my health

  1. Pingback: Healthy Living: End of week 2 « ameliaflorencesimmons

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