The art of becoming less efficient

I can’t remember where I first read this quote, but it has stuck with me ever since: Obese people are very efficient. It’s something that has been on mind lot lately and it has become the inspiration of today’s post.

Let me explain what it means because as soon as I do, it will make sense to you too. It’s not based on a concept of work efficiency or on personal productivity. Instead, it’s based on a concept of physical efficiency leading to a lack of movement. Think of it this way. If you needed to get a glass of water and a pen from the kitchen, you’d do them both in one trip. Let’s assume, however, that you have a goal to get 10,000 steps each day. You might make two trips to go to the kitchen. And you might not go from living room to kitchen. You might walk out your front door and go around the house to get to your kitchen through the back door. Doing this, you might accomplish your goal of 10,000 steps without actually adding a scheduled walk to your day.

Obese people are highly skilled at being efficient with their movements and the result is that they move less all day. In fact, they tend to be very good at keeping all their anticipated needs within reach. It’s brilliant, right up until it isn’t, which is right around the point that we gain weight. We have a world of apps that remind us to take breaks at work, go for walks, go to the gym, and just move for 30 minutes in a day. But maybe we don’t need another app. Maybe what we need is less efficiency.

Obese people are very efficient.

I work from home. This is a bit of a mixed bag. It means that I can skip every single piece of annoying lifestyle issues. No traffic for me. The line to the coffee maker is non-existent. It also means that in my first year of working from home, I gained fifteen pounds – and I didn’t really have much wiggle room in where exactly I was going to fit an extra fifteen pounds in the first place. I wasn’t just a master of efficiency, I had actually lost all of the normal places in a day where I might take steps. I didn’t walk to my car. I didn’t walk to the lunch room or the coffee shop. If I needed a new pen, I spun my chair around and pulled one out of the cupboard behind me.

One day I decided to dig out my old UP band and see how many steps I did in a day. I mean, I couldn’t help but notice I had gone from a size medium to an extra large, so I thought a little investigation was in order. The results shocked me. On the day I went to the grocery store: I walked 468 steps. On the day I didn’t have to go anywhere: 212 steps. I lived in a 760 square foot house, so it wasn’t like I could go skipping through the mansion on my way to work in the left wing. I could cross my largest room in three strides. But I had to do something because my health was at risk.

And just so we’re clear: my mother died of a heart attack when I was ten. Hoping my health wouldn’t be affected by an annual fifteen-pound climb was tantamount to letting a kid play on the freeway. It wasn’t a matter of “if.” It was a matter of “when.”

My first step was to get a trampoline. No, not some giant monster that belongs in a backyard. I mean one of those small things that appear at garage sales for five bucks. (Unless of course you’re looking for one, in which case you go to Canadian Tire and pay $49.99.) I figured I could do teleconferences from a trampoline. Soon I figured out that I could watch TV from it as well. I mean, if I’m going to binge watch Netflix, I might as well do it while lightly bouncing. And best of all, I was in my living room. I could do this in jammies and slippers if I so chose. Yes, the tiny little trampoline took up a lot of space in my equally tiny living room, but I figured it was “make space for the trampoline,” or “make space for my gigantic increasing ass.”

Sure enough, the weight began to come off. My UP band began to hit daily goals of 10,000 steps. My eating began to change, too, which helped enormously. I made it back down to a size medium – and while my weight still has a fairly long run before my BMI stops calling me “pre-obese,” I’m ok with the declining weight. I don’t have a rush. I just need to be faster than my genetically pre-disposed possibility of heart disease. And since I continue to get more active, I’m a lot less worried than I was that day I discovered I moved just over 200 steps in a day.

Which brings me back to becoming less efficient. It’s actually my dog who has been the primary contributor to this life lesson. First of all, I got a dog. Hello daily walks. It’s unavoidable in all weather.

Max has a hard time with stairs. I now live in a two-level 2000 square foot house. We live on the main floor. The laundry is downstairs along with the freezer. Max likes to keep me in view at all times. (He’s sleeping practically on my foot as I write.) So I have a choice. I can take the stairs to the basement when I need to grab something from the freezer, and leave Max mournfully upstairs on his own, or I can walk out the front door, down the hill, around the house, and enter the downstairs through the basement door, while Max trots joyfully along beside me.

Now I have to say, I like my dog and I have no problem with a dog who feels it is his personal duty to protect me from marauders. (As an aside, it turns out he’s a coward. After he barks his fool head off to alert me to intruders, which currently includes the mail lady, the UPS guy, every neighbour who walks down our street, and my husband, he looks at me as if to say, “Do something, would ya?!” and then promptly scuttles behind me.) But for the first few times I realized I was setting a bit of a standard if every time I wanted a slice of frozen avocado with my toast, I was going to have to shuffle down the driveway in my slippers and bathrobe. I mean, this isn’t horrible during summer, but at the first sign of autumn rain, this was going to be, as we say in Nova Scotia, a right pain.

Then it hit me. No, not the piece about me shuffling down the driveway in my bathrobe and slippers in front of the neighbours. I mean, let ’em look. I’m 47. If they like what they see, we both win. What hit me was that by always taking the shortest route possible, I was being efficient with my movements. And efficiency, as we have already identified, is synonymous with “obese,” something I am working hard to avoid.

I changed my mindset then and there. Rather than worry about the idea of braving the elements just so I can take a shortcut to my avocado, I can keep weather appropriate footwear by the front door and take the thirty second walk.

This mindset shift has spilled over into a lot of other places as well. Becoming less efficient has become my new mantra. If my plan is to binge watch Netflix, then what does it matter if I make one trip or five to get tea, a blanket, my colouring book, my agenda, and a hair elastic? My pens stay on my desk, so if I want a pen, I need to come get one. And when I am done, it comes back to my desk. There is nothing I need to write in my agenda that is so critical I need to dot my house with pens. I can walk to a pen and achieve the same outcome only in one scenario, I move a little more.

My goal to become less efficient isn’t the end goal. My end goal is to sink into a bath or a shower each day feeling like I had a workout, even if this wasn’t a day that I went to the gym. I want good health and intend to make all the life shifts I can to not only create optimal health, but to maintain it.

We would all do a little better if we became less efficient. By moving just an extra two minutes in every day, we could make our bodies a little better.