In my experience, being a professor is a very fattening activity.
Throughout most of my life, I had a healthy weight, which I managed to maintain alongside varying levels of activity. But then I took a tenure track faculty position (in 2004). At that point, I had one kid, and my husband stayed back at our alma mater trying to finish his PhD, so I was effectively a single mom for the first two years on the tenure track. The first year was absolutely brutal. Lots of teaching duties, all new courses, writing innumerable grants. I was extremely stressed out. During that year alone, I packed on 20 lbs.
Over the following years, slowly but surely, I ended up packing 30 lbs more. I had two more kids, but the physical act of pregnancy is not particularly fattening in my case, as I vomit a lot and lose weight in early pregnancy. After giving birth, I lose weight quickly in the first couple of months, when the universe gives me permission to just feed and care for the baby and nap whenever I want to. But eventually comes the time to resume all my usual duties, including caring for the rest of my family and doing my work, and my weight begins to climb back up. The main reason is that there are not enough hours in the day, and the only place to generate them is to cut back on sleep. Now that I have a baby, I sleep very little (probably no more than 5 hrs per day, and not in a row), and in order to keep functioning I tend to consume too much carbs.
Even without an infant, every time there are additional deadlines or elevated workload, stress levels go up and more sleep is lost, and the intake of food goes up.
So here I am, about 50 lbs over what I had when I came into the tenure track position. I am pretty tall so I don't look horrible and I am quite healthy (great blood pressure, lipids, cholesterol, the works) but lugging all that extra weight around is bad for my mood and my energy levels, and makes me look too matronly for my taste. I have a baby of about 20 lbs and a 4-year-old of about 50 lbs. Picking my kids up gives me a vivid reminded of how large a weight 20 lbs or 50 lbs actually is.
When you are a working parent, finding the time to exercise can be tough. You need to have iron will to squeeze exercise into the schedule, while keeping enough time for kid pick-up/drop-off, cooking dinner, cleaning up house, and perhaps spending some time with your partner. Having a very young child throws you another curveball, because they have erratic sleeping schedules and are often much more demanding on one parent than the other. With multiple kids, both you and your partner are stretched thin just covering extracurriculars, dinner, cleanup, and bedtimes; it's easy to simply plop on the couch and watch TV after the kids are in bed or spend time surfing the web.
A couple of years ago, I finally started exercising at a women-only club in the neighborhood. It was great! They had fun classes that combined aerobics with strength training, and I went there three times a week early in the morning. After several weeks, they announced that they were going out of business. My husband teases me to this day that it was me who jinxed them out of existence.
Meanwhile, I got pregnant, had another baby, and a new fitness franchise moved into the premises occupied by my former club. One of my sabbatical resolutions was to get in shape, but I have been busier than usual with the infant, associate editor duties, and a fairly large conference I am organizing in the spring, in addition to all the things a faculty must usually do -- grant and paper writing, advising students, etc.
Excuses, excuses... right? So when I heard on the radio that the new franchise in my neighborhood was starting a 10-week fitness challenge, I knew it was time to do something.
As of tomorrow, I will be starting a 10-week, 6-days-a-week fitness program. The total cost is roughly $400. It's three days -- MWF-- of kickboxing (I've got some pent-up rage to release) and three days of resistance training; Sunday is off. We had the orientation yesterday, they measured our weight, body fat, pulse after a 4 min step test, time on a mile run, and the number of push-ups and sit-ups in a minute. They repeat the tests after 5 weeks and then again after 10 weeks. The person who improves the most in these stats after 10 weeks receives $1k; the catch is that you must let them take and use a "before" and "after" photo in a two-piece bathing suit. Being a faculty, I am really not comfortable with bathing suit pictures of me available freely on the web; I would not be comfortable even if I were super hot -- I think there are just some things that my students and colleagues should never know out about me, so I won't be going for the handsome monetary prize. But, we all got cool boxing gloves and, surprisingly, my eldest son thinks it's super cool that mom will be doing kickboxing -- who knew?
I will be going to the 9 am session, after all the kids have been sent to their respective schools; thank God for the sabbatical, which is the only way I can pull this time slot off. I know that it's about a lifestyle change and committing to exercising for all eternitiy. When I get back to work, I will likely have to do the early morning (5 am or 6 am) slots, but hopefully by then the baby will be sleeping more predictably so I will be able to manage the early times without compromising everyone's morning routine.
There is a whole class of about 90-100 people starting with me tomorrow (at different times in the day), so we're all in the same boat. One interesting observation -- there are about equal numbers of women and men signed up for the program. Women are overwhelmingly there to lose weight; most men who signed up are quite fit already, and are doing this for additional exercise. There was an occasional overweight man, but most are quite fit, whereas nearly all the women who signed up are overweight. This tells you that men and women seem to want to exercise for different reasons, likely linked to what is expected of them (looks vs strength/stamina). Most people of both genders were young and without wedding rings. There were a few people older than me, but not many.
Anyway, I am quite excited about this program (if a little sore from the testing yesterday), and can't wait to break in by kickboxing gloves!!!
To my readers who are working parents: do you exercise at all? If yes, what do you do, when in the day, and how often? How did you manage to squeeze it into the schedule? Is your partner supportive? Does s/he exercise too?