7 Healthy Habits to Keep Freelance Writers Slim - Make a Living Writing

7 Healthy Habits to Keep Freelance Writers Slim

Carol Tice | 54 Comments

It’s hard to stay thin and fit as a freelance writer. After all, we’ve got all those hours at our desks sitting and writing.

And we’ve all heard the bad news about sitting — it’s the new smoking.

Still, it’s not impossible to stay fit in this line of work. Plus, staying fit can go a long way to keeping your self-employed health insurance costs down!

I’ve been working brutal hours between Freelance Writers Den and my own freelance writing assignments, but I still recently managed to slim down a dress size and get back into the single digits.

Which felt great!

I had a recent physical and my doctor was impressed — apparently my cholesterol levels are great, too.

How did I do it?

Here are my seven fitness tips for freelance writers:

  1. Exercise first thing. My best-case scenario is to go for a one-hour mostly uphill walk before I sit down at my desk. My kids go on early school buses and during the school year I try to walk straight from their bus stop so as to avoid any excuse-making. I’m already out of the house…let’s go! I find having to put on special gear or drive to a gym is time I don’t have, so I just walk, in whatever I’ve got on. The backup plan is to exercise after work, but I find it never ends up being as vigorous or as long as if I can get the workout in at the beginning of the day — and it’s too easy for life to intrude and the workout to get skipped when I wait until after work.
  2. Healthy snacks. I don’t know about you, but when I’m working on a complex writing assignment I’m a bit nervous about, I tend to crave a snack. If you put a bag of Cheetos or cookies in front of me in a scenario like this, I’d probably rip right through the whole bag. That’s why we strive to keep unhealthy snacks out of the house. My best writing snacks are nibble carrots or edible-pod peas. They’ve got nice crunch, healthy fiber, and satisfy my nosh craving without piling on a lot of calories.
  3. Portion control. I try never to bring a whole container of anything to my desk, even something healthy. Instead, pick up the smallest plate or bowl in your house and fill it with your snack item. Return to your desk, and don’t come back into the kitchen again.
  4. Sit on the ball. Speaking of sitting up straight, I sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. (I gather everyone at Google does it, too.) The ball forces you to sit upright — there’s no chair back to slump against. Also, you have to make constant small adjustments to keep your balance, which tones your abs. Even better, I like to roll back and do mini-crunches while I’m waiting for poky websites to load. Which beats tearing your hair and wishing they would load faster, while you stare hatefully at that stupid beachball graphic. You get a bit more workout, improve your posture, AND reduce stress, all at the same time. It also makes you feel a little more like you’re at play and less like you’re at work.
  5. Free weights. Typing exercises a few weird little muscles in our arms while neglecting the big ones. I counteract that by doing an arm workout while I watch TV with 5-pound free weights. Keep those arms toned, ladies!
  6. Inverted poses. If I’m stuck on a piece of writing or just feeling tired or frustrated, I might do a slow yoga-style headstand. Always energizing and refreshing — and it gets you up and moving.
  7. Weekend exercise blitz. Especially if I haven’t gotten in much exercise time during the week, I try to line up some major outdoor workouts over the weekend to up the total exercise time I’m getting in the week. Favorites include wheelbarrowing loads of dirt around my garden (work on that six-pack!), long bike rides, canoeing, or hikes in the woods. This is your chance to get in longer workouts and build some muscle — so grab it.

I know these tips really work because more recently, I lost my discipline for doing many of these fitness points above…and the weight crept right back on. So it’s time to get that ball back out and get back to exercising early instead of late.

How do you stay fit as a writer? Leave a comment and share your tips.

54 comments on “7 Healthy Habits to Keep Freelance Writers Slim

  1. Di on

    I try not to sit too long without taking a break and try to leave the house for a walk and perhaps the shops (on foot) after two hours. Strangely through a period of long walks last autumn (2011) I made more headway – wordcount wise – despite walking for several hours a day. Yes, I agree that ideas tend to come to you when you are walking. I carry a notebook in my back bag, plenty of water and something to read when I get to a peaceful place. Once I am back home I make a beeline for the computer and seem to achieve much more than I would if I hadn’t gone off for the long walk. Try it and see what happens to your creativity.

  2. Madeleine Kolb on

    I don’t necessarily recommend it, but in all the packing, hauling, cleaning, lifting, and unpacking with our recent move back to Seattle, I’ve lost about 11 pounds. I’m never moving again, so it’s back to walking and running.

  3. Kat Tate on

    Great post, Carol.

    I’m seven months into my full-time freelancing career and my issue is that whenever I’m not writing, I feel that I’m missing out on an income. However, as so many of your readers have said, just taking an hour or so a day (or taking little breaks here and there) really helps clear my mind and work more efficiently.

    I just need to start silencing that voice that says, ‘You should be working! You don’t know when this work will all dry up!’ and start pounding the pavement!

  4. cassie hart on

    I think what helps me most is that I’m writing very part-time right now…chasing after a toddler during the day definitely keeps me moving! But I also belong to a very affordable gym that opened last year super close to my home ($10/month). My neighbor and I signed up together and work out together 2x/week. I also try to snack on what I want my kids to eat: yogurt, cheese sticks, fruit, etc. (Although those cookies my husband insists on having around at all times are tempting!)

    Thx for the post…this is a great topic!

  5. Neil on

    Awesome post! Can’t wait to someday follow the tips.

    Seriously, the whole working from home thing is still new to me, after having spent the last 34 years working for others at their locations. Now it becomes a mental focus to make myself start a regimen. One thing new is my son and I have started taking a martial arts class once a week and that creates cardio. But , to get a focused regimen going is something else.

    Since I am not a fast typer my time seems taken up with keyboard usage, so I have to get up and walk around aa bit after a period of time.

    Just need to create time I guess.

    • Carol Tice on

      Consider taking a typing class to improve your speed — it’ll be worth it. I type about 120+ wpm and I don’t know where I’d be without that speed.

  6. Terri H on

    Love this post. I walk/jog five days a week at 6:00 am. I do this not only to improve my health, but to improve my productivity. There is definitely a noticeable different between the days that I go for a job in the morning and the days that don’t. Nothing ever gets done!

    Another way I manage to stay fit is by getting away from my desk and walking around for a few minutes every two hours.

    • Carol Tice on

      Now that I’m at a coworking facility, there’s a balcony nearby we can go out on, and I find myself getting up and taking quick breaks every couple hours, too. I think I’m a lot more productive, and I’m hoping to keep that habit when I head back to my home office in the fall.

  7. Kinya on

    I tend to do what Karen does: I eat 5-6 small meals a day. We went out and bought small packs of dried veggies this weekend. The servings we bought are about as big as a small bag of chips. They’re DELICIOUS! They’re well seasoned and crisp, so it feels like you’re eating a potato chip but it’s much, much healthier. It also satisfies cravings for salty things.

    Another thing I found helpful for me is to work where there’s plenty of sunlight. I got this advice from my doctor: Sunlight contains Vitamin D, which your body needs in order to regulate moods, among other things. People who don’t go outside a lot tend to be less energetic than people who do. If you can’t go outside, you can ask your doctor if it’s OK to take Vitamin D supplements. My doctor recommended a certain dosage for me since it’s been in the triple digits (100-110) around here and it’s dangerous for me to go outside. But I still sit in front of our huge picture window in the living room so that I can get an instant burst of solar power. 😀

  8. John Soares on

    I average about two hours of exercise a day, ranging from mellow stuff like yoga to aerobic strength training.

    And I do a lot of hiking. While not typical of most hikes, yesterday I did 13 miles, 3500 feet of elevation gain, and two miles of cross-country scrambling over steep granite slopes.

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, clearly you are the model to which we all aspire, John. 😉

      I know they say people generally get sedentary as they get older but I feel like the opposite is happening to me — I CRAVE exercise. I can’t wait to go outside and move around!

  9. Karen on

    What a great topic! And timely. I’ve been scouring the web for tools I can add to my health and fitness toolbox (for those of us who drive a desk 40+ hours a week).

    I get up at 4:00 a.m. and get in an hour-long workout. If I don’t get up and do it first thing, I won’t do it. Then, I try to eat, if not a big breakfast, at least a protein-filled one. I also eat 5 to 6 small meals a day to keep my blood sugar in check.

    At work, I try to walk at lunch. Though, living in the sauna that is Florida, my lunchtime walks are on hold for the summer.

    I’ve also tried to limit processed foods. The less ingredients on the label, the better. So instead of grabbing a packet of Welch’s Fruit Snacks, I just grab fruit. It’s not as satisfying at times, but it’s helped my waist fit into my pants!

    Last, but not least, I try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. The less tired I am throughout the day, the less I’ll eat to keep my energy up.

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, my hat’s off to you. Don’t know WHAT could make me get up at 4 am anymore 😉 Thought being a freelancer meant NOT having to do that? 6:15 am is about as early as I swing it…but that’s partly because I sometimes book an 8-midnight type work shift after kids go to bed…so that’s still pretty early for me.

      But I could certainly get more sleep…putting that on my own list.

  10. Judy Cullins on

    Hey Carol,

    Thanks for all these tips! I will share them in my Linkedin book group! As soon as I read this post, I moved my office chair back and dragged out my big ball to sit on! It’s great and I’m much older than most people here, and salute fitness with stretches, weights and walking as my “HIgh Energy Youth Pill.”

    Great reminder for the writer who sits too much!

  11. Susannah Noel on

    Hi Carol – Thanks for this great post. I think about this topic A LOT.

    I recently bought a Surfshelf for my treadmill and I’ve been spending up to two hours a day working while walking. I typically walk 3-4 miles without even thinking about it. The advantages are obvious, but I’ll spell them out anyway:

    – I’ve lost about 3 pounds without thinking about it
    – I’m much more energized
    – I do better work
    – I avoid napping, which tends to happen even when I’m not sleepy while I’m working alone all day at home
    – I’m less stiff and sore from sitting for long hours and get fewer headaches
    – I’m less apt to snack if I’m well exercised
    – it gives me a different place to work, which keeps me engaged
    – it takes a little getting used to, but it’s much easier than it seems

    Here’s a link for the Surfshelf: http://www.amazon.com/SurfShelf-Treadmill-Desk-Laptop-Holder/dp/B001M04RBK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343752552&sr=8-1&keywords=surfshelf – I highly recommend it. In addition to the Surfshelf, which is for my laptop, I laid a plank across the arm rests of the treadmill, too, and put a wireless keyboard and mouse on that. It’s fully ergonomic!


  12. Susan on

    Big fan of the early morning workout. Exercising holds as much as importance as my writing.

    As far as taking breaks, I do lunges during my time away from my desk. This activity prevents me from heading straight to the fridge.

  13. Anne on

    Great tips, especially sitting on that ball. This is the only one I don’t do (as yet). Like you, I walk my youngest to school and back. That’s 40 minutes in the morning – if I’m not filming.

    I’m buying a ski machine and will use that too first thing. I find it better to exercise in the morning too. As you said, it’s so easy to put it off when you leave it for when you’re most tired.

    Portion control is one of the most important ways of curbing weight gain. I found that in my research (while writing my healthy lifestyle book).

    There’s only one thing I’ll add: get up regularly and walk about your house, run up your stairs, do lunges while making a cup of tea etc. Some may think this is disturbing the artistic flow, but it actually does the opposite. I use the upstairs loo instead of the cloakroom downstairs, just so I could get up in the middle of an article and run upstairs with haste 🙂

  14. Jane on

    As bloggers and freelance writers we tend to sit for long hours and this is where calories are not spent. I love your idea about sitting on an exercise ball (never heard of this sweet idea before :)); sure, it helps in toning the ab muscles and tones our muscles. Plus, it always keeps us in focus (this mean more productivity + better health).

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips Carol.

  15. Anita on

    Thanks for the good reminders.
    I walk in the evening, after my little boys are in bed. Forty-five minutes of fresh air and exercise helps to clear my mind and often yields some good ideas for when I return to the computer for another hour or two of writing.

  16. Candace on

    About six months ago, I converted to a standing desk. The first week was torture but now I don’t even notice. And I’ve lost five pounds with absolutely no effort.

  17. Anabelle on

    I remember working a lot from a swiss ball while doing my MA. My problem is that I’m really short and finding a ball that’s high enough to sit me comfortably was a problem.

    The mind cannot be sharp if your body is filled with junk food and isn’t getting exercise. Haruki Murakami runs marathons when he writes his novels.

    Have you ever thought of getting a standing desk? I’ve seen a ton of contraptions, include one that lets you work while walking on a treadmill. Oh, if only I had some DIY talent…

    • Carol Tice on

      Yeah, there’s the TrekDesk and others…just seems too weird to me! But I’m working this summer at a coworking place that has some ‘tall’ desks people stand at, and people do use them.

  18. jason on

    Great post to read while I let myself cool down from my run. I thought those were some great tips, except for the carrots. If I pull out a bag of crunchy carrots I get so lost enjoying the crunch that I forget the rest of the world. And making the argument that they are good for you only provides me a better excuse to eat ALL the carrots. I have a similar problem with pickles. I don’t usually stop on the pickles until my fingers are solid green. No more Sam’s club giant pickle jars for me! I can’t even do it with the small bowl because I will have so forgotten the world that I won’t remember I’m supposed to stop at one bowl 🙂 Thanks for the great work, I’ll have to look into one of those balls.

    • Carol Tice on

      I get TMJ from stress so the crunching helps relieve it. And even if you DO eat the whole bag of carrots, not a lot of calories there, yes? 😉

  19. Debbie Kane on

    What a timely post. I’m a true believer in the importance of exercise. In fact, I schedule writing around my workouts, especially since becoming self-employed. After exercise, I’m a better writer and 100% more productive. I’m an early riser, so I often go for a run or bike ride before my kids get to school or right after. I typically end my workouts by 9 a.m. so that I’m at my desk tackling work (or I’ll squeeze in a workout during lunch). I know this isn’t a solution for everyone, but I actually schedule participation in events like road races or bike tours so that I have a training goal that makes me get out there and exercise regularly.

    I also practice yoga, which makes me more focused and allows me to leave deadlines and work pressure behind. I’ve read that you should take a break from the computer every couple of hours to stretch or talk a walk (I, too, have been known to do a yoga headstand to clear my head, weird as that sounds). And my office is downstairs in my house so getting to the kitchen is a pain. I never, ever eat at my computer; I make myself go upstairs and sit at the kitchen table for an actual meal.

    I could go on and on, but you get the point. Exercise is a must.

    • Carol Tice on

      Wow, can you teach me how your kids get ready for school while you’re out on a bike ride? That’s SO not happening at my house. But fortunately their buses are early and by 7:20 (during the school year, anyway), they are away and I can walk. I try to get to the desk by 9, too.

      Sometimes I do Wii Fit Yoga with my kids — it’s a little silly but fun and they get into it, and it’s good stretching and balancing stuff. I think all the sitting isn’t great for our balance, either.

  20. Missy on

    I have always wanted one of those inverted machines where you end up looking like a “bat” hanging upside down. And now that I work from home writing all day sitting on my butt seriously need one, so am going to look around Amazon to see what I can find.

    Good tips above and yes sitting is definitely…”the new smoking”. Ack.


  21. J. Delancy on

    Speech writing for politicians creates all sorts deadlines and time crunches. In the last five years I’ve been at my desk until 4:00 a.m and pulled 18 hours straight on the job. Here is what I’ve learnt:

    1. Walk often. I walk about two blocks during my lunch hour. During that time I get new ideas, clear my find and become focused. Since I work with less than thirty people, I get up and walk instead of e-mailing or calling them.

    2. CRAISINS mixed with unsalted peanuts and almonds make a delicious snack. Buy all three in bulk. Mix them in all container and keep it in your desk. The mix is even better when chocolate chips are added. Health benefits galore.

    3. Another antidote to sitting for long periods is to put both feet up on your desk for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day.

    • Carol Tice on

      LOL! Buying 3 lbs of nuts and craisins and chocolate would NOT be a weight-loss recipe for me! I actually did something similar in college — I got addicted to the peanut-and-carob chips mix at the local health food store — think it was good for a quick 10 extra pounds packed on.

  22. Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. on


    I was just lamenting about what happens when I put a whole bag of salty, crunchy Cheetos, or other such sinful treats next to me while I’m writing. I plow through them in no time, and then feel guilty and fatter afterwards. My best bet is not to buy these in the first place or not bring them in the house. (For some reason I can stretch them out for days if I leave them in my car.)

    While I don’t see pushing a wheelbarrow of dirt in my future, I do love to walk. Getting my walk in first thing in the morning, howevver, is essential before sitting at the computer for long periods of time.

    Thanks for an article that is timely and essential for writers.

    • Carol Tice on

      Aagggh! Out, out with you Cheetos! I have a weakness for those, or Fritos Scoops…nature’s perfect food! I’m only allowed to buy these when I go on vacation or we’re having a party or something…they CANNOT be hanging around my house on any regular basis.

      And when we do feel we MUST HAVE Cheetos or whatever, we try to buy that tiny snack-size bag. That at least limits the damage.

  23. Cynthia Rosi on

    Great tips! I swam in the afternoons all last winter until I found out I was skipping workouts because I prioritized my freelancing. Now I go to a fitness class before work – my brain doesn’t kick in until 10am anyway, so may as well use my muscles at that time. Putting in a hard workout first thing in the morning makes me feel better and crave less during the day, and I often get inspiration about stories while I’m mindlessly cycling or keeping up with the step instructor.

    • Carol Tice on

      Oh, me too — I’m always getting ideas on walks and bike rides. Great point.

      Often, we get trapped in this cycle of “I don’t have time to exercise.” But exercising CREATES time — it makes you more focused, productive, and creative. Without it we’re less efficient, not more.

      • Katherine Swarts on

        I’ve heard people say the same thing about prayer/meditation–somehow you find the time you used again, and then some, by getting your whole self focused as first priority.

        Incidentally, quite apart from straight exercise, it’s pretty well accepted in medical circles that getting adequate rest and sleep is an effective weight-reducer in its own right–tense and fatigued people have less efficient metabolism.

  24. K.D. Storm on

    This is awesome advice. I have been looking for things to keep myself in shape since I will be sitting at the desk more when my son goes back home. I will be testing these out. Thanks so much.

  25. Samar on

    Such a timely post Carol!

    I’ve been walking since college. Missed my bus every morning for a year before I decided to make walking to class my preferred mode of transport.

    I managed to keep the weight off even when I started freelancing and stopped taking daily walks. Then I had my daughter and I’m still struggling to lose my pregnancy weight two years later.

    I’m a snacker too and make it a point to keep junk food out of the house. Doesn’t always work out though since I’m a huge fan of ice cream and chocolates. Somehow, grapes just don’t do the same thing for me!

    • Carol Tice on

      Chocolate to me is an essential item — we should probably have another post about that!

      My system there is NO chocolate during the day, and we only have small-portioned things like Hershey’s bliss or those Ghirardelli chocolate squares, where you can eat one little square (OK, maybe two) and feel indulgent.

      I will often pay more to get things in tiny packs, especially snacks for kids’ lunches, so that we won’t be tempted to break one open and eat it, as then it’s no good for packing…and if we do decide to eat one thing, you tend stop at one. As opposed to just having a big box of Goldfish or something like that in the house, where you find yourself eating a ton of something you don’t even particularly like that much…which is what happens anytime there’s a box of crackers or anything snack-y in our house!

      And no ice cream in the house…my husband will eat a whole gallon and we’re trying to help him slim down.

  26. Rosemary ONeill on

    Thanks for these! One question, though…what type of desk are you using when you’re sitting on the exercise ball? I work on a laptop, and have a hard time finding a surface that’s at the correct height for sitting on a ball…do you have a tip?

    • Carol Tice on

      Yeah, it definitely takes a little monkeying. I ended up with a desk from Walmart (if you can believe it!) that has a lower pull-out shelf for the keyboard that puts me at the right height. I actually put my screen on a couple of phone books to adjust the height on that to where I want it with the ball.

    • Carol Tice on

      You can’t do a headstand? 😉

      Everyone should be able to do a headstand. I like the yoga kind where you put your head in your hands and form a triangle with your forearms. Going slowly up and down from the position helps build a lot of good core muscles. Very relaxing and energizing!

  27. Shamelle on

    Useful tips. I tend to sit in front of the computer for about 8-10 hours on a given day.
    I like the idea of doing the exercise first thing in the morning. Often when I start working, I don’t feel like doing exercise 🙂

    • Carol Tice on

      Yeah, I know what you mean. From a stress dynamic I love to exercise at the end of the day to blow off tension. But I find I never end up with as much workout time as if I go in the morning. And planning the morning workout makes me care for myself before I sit down…because once we sit down, we all know what a bottomless pit work can be as a freelance writer/blogger! Too many days, I end up feeling like I “can’t” get away for even 30 minutes of workout time the rest of the day.

      It’s easier now after work where I live, where it stays light very late and we can bike after dinner and stuff…but most of the year it’s dicey leaving it until after hours for me, especially since I mostly like to work out outside.

  28. Brandy on

    Hmm, I usually do 20 minutes of yoga + 10 minutes of cardio right before my morning shower (I.E. before work) and I’m a zero so it must work…
    but I guess I could also put that down to being engrossed in typing intending to have breakfast and then I look up and it’s dinner time

    great tips!! love the ball idea as a chair! I’m so getting one!

    • Carol Tice on

      I haven’t made it that far but sometimes I think I’ll just check email quickly and then go eat breakfast, and then around 11 am I’m like, “Why am I so hungry?”

      But in general, as my dad likes to say, I didn’t get this shape by missing meals… 😉

  29. Mustafa Khundmiri on

    Nice topic Carol!

    I have to admit that being a blogger it’s very easy to forget the importance of keeping fit and staying healthy.

    Besides what you’ve mentioned above, the least you can do is take a 5 minute break every 30 minutes or x minute break every x minutes. Simply walking around the house or doing your daily chores during this break time can help you stay active. The aim is to stay away from the computer for a while.

    This not only gives your eyes the needed rest but also helps you minimize the risk of developing any lifestyle diseases.

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