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Better health, better job

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

You may start out the new year with the intention of taking better care of yourself.

But then you go to work.

In the break room is a birthday cake. The boss orders pizza when everyone is forced to work late.

The vending machines have offerings that include chips, candy bars and sugared drinks. You get swamped at work and decide to skip lunch — after breakfast was a giant cup of coffee.

As for exercise, when you get home from work you're too tired to get off the couch.

The best way to stick to your resolutions may be in looking at those things as career-enhancing strategies, experts say. That way, you won't push them aside.

If you want to grab that big promotion, earn a better paycheck or impress the boss, then you need to be more aware of what you eat and how you move.

One of the first steps to being healthier is to stop focusing on your weight, because it is not a great indicator of health, says Alexis Conason, a New York-based clinical psychologist who teaches mindful eating. So when you eat a piece of a colleague's birthday cake, stop seeing yourself as being bad.

She considers it a bad idea to respond to overeating pizza by doing something like a juice cleanse, which she argues will throw your body out of whack.

“The more we fight against our bodies, the more disconnected we are,” she says. “We will eat an entire pizza and lose touch with our internal cues that tell us when we're full.”

Conason advocates mindful eating, learning to notice when you're hungry or full, and being aware of how certain foods make you feel.

Instead of seeing yourself as bad for eating chips at work, think about how those chips make you feel.

Do you feel energized? Do they help you think more clearly, or do you feel foggy and tired?

“Mindful eating is a process,” she says. “Each person needs to discover what works for them. Everyone is different, and what works for me won't work for you.”

The key is not denying yourself access to food, she says.

“When we deprive ourselves, it sets us into a crazy mood around food,” Conason says. Mindful eating can help raise our self-esteem and allow us to stop punishing ourselves for what we eat. That confidence in our own decisions and body can translate into making food decisions that leave us energized and focused — and that can make us more successful at work, she says.

Another way to boost job performance and confidence is through movement. Research finds that workers who exercise are less likely to have conflicts between work and home roles and more likely to be able to take on tasks and get them done, says Russell Clayton, one of the researchers.

While exercise may seem like one more task to add to a busy workday, it decreases stress, Clayton of St. Leo University's Donald R. Tapia School of Business writes in Harvard Business Review.

“A reduction in stress is tantamount to an expansion of time,” he writes.

Write Anita Bruzzese in care of USA TODAY/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22108. For a reply, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Twitter: @AnitaBruzzese.

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