Desk Tweaks and Ditching Coffee

Two things happened this month that are having a big impact on my life, I kicked coffee and I now stand at my desk. These two things may seem unrelated not only to each other but also to this blog, though they are both within the realm of the underlying theme here, health and well being. These weren’t New Year’s Resolutions. Those are meant to be undone. I find that change sneaks up on me when I least expect it and when it does, the sticking power is always greater.

Part 1 – Kicking Coffee to the Curb

I’ve long suspected that coffee was the final piece of the puzzle to unlock the cure for my debilitating migraine. I haven’t let on to most of the outside world that I suffer from migraine, though for over 12 years I’ve quietly retreated to my bedroom once or twice a month for up to three days to try to quell the pain that drives me to want to plunge an ice pick into my right temple. Dramatic, I know. I can’t believe that’s what my brain thinks would bring relief either.

Other than that, I consider myself to be relatively healthy, though this has been one of the forces behind many of the food trends and natural remedies I’ve embarked upon over the years. I’ve run through quite a few including vegetarianism, raw food, dairy-free, a slew of vitamins, supplements, green this and that, juice fasts, Chinese herbs, meditation, yoga, and cleanses. I’ve even snorted carrot juice. I love to experiment on myself. My latest venture, one and a half years in, is eating a primal based diet. For me that means eating organic whole foods, no sugar, no grains, no legumes, and no processed foods. Of all my food eating trends, this one, by far, has shown the greatest real life benefits and potential to ease my migraine.

…but, there was still coffee.

I’ve heard Paul Wheaton say he’s coffee’s bitch and I’m here to tell you he’s not alone. I only drink one or two cups a day, but I’m so addicted to coffee that I can remember the last time I didn’t have it – two weeks in 2007 when I was taking my permaculture design course and I elected to wean myself off. Coffee has been my final barrier to cross. As luck would have it, I came down with a nasty head cold in January. No, that didn’t prevent me from having my coffee, until it collided with a migraine and symptoms that were so severe, my hubby and I were beginning to consider that I might have meningitis or something more serious. Coffee was not an option as I couldn’t even keep water down.

…and miraculously, I’ve been off coffee for a month.

No migraines, so far. Fingers crossed.

Part 2 – My Crudely Assembled Stand Up Desk

It’s not like we haven’t known about stand-up desks or the side effects of sitting for long periods of time. This isn’t rocket science and I’m not claiming to be a revolutionary. The latest studies show that even exercising regularly doesn’t undo the damage of sitting for hours every day. Move more, sounds easy, right?

It’s not that I’m lazy mind you. For the last 16 years of my life, I have been a design professional, requiring me to be glued to a computer screen. I’m a terrible sitter. My body doesn’t know how to sit in a chair properly and as a result, I’ve acquired neck pain, wrist pain, and general malaise that has manifested itself into pure disdain for the very work I used to enjoy doing. When I worked in an office, I often took bathroom breaks, phone breaks, water cooler breaks, filing breaks, whatever I could think of to get up from my desk. At the time, I didn’t realize that I had such an aversion to sitting. Forget about the notion of a stand-up desk, the firms I worked for prided themselves on every office detail including the custom designed and built sitting work tables. Funny to think now, before the computer, we did a lot of standing at our long gone adjustable height drafting tables.

Following in my employers’ footsteps, I too designed my own desk…for sitting, of course, because I’m obviously slow to learn. The previous investment of my custom desk prevented me from seriously considering a new one although I tried numerous other solutions to get comfortable over the years: fancy chairs, ball chairs, stools, ergonomic keyboards, and a roll out keyboard caddy to name a few. After almost a year sabbatical from design, I jumped back into my work with renewed optimism and inspiration. It didn’t take long before the toll of sitting in front of the computer was once again draining my ambitions and verve.

stand up deskAt about the same time I was about to embark on my coffee free journey, I read 10 Ways to Make Your Workplace Healthier and More Productive on Mark’s Daily Apple. For some unknown reason to me, I immediately stood up, took the wheels off my keyboard caddy and hoisted it on top of my desk where I promptly put my monitor. I retrieved a Styrofoam cooler from the back porch and a piece of plywood from my faux finishing days and put the two together, rigging up the perfect height keyboard platform when standing. I ordered an anti-fatigue mat to stand on, put on my Vibram’s and I haven’t looked back since.

I’m only a month in using my new stand-up desk, but I think it’s here to stay. By the way, I am aware of the sit-stand contraptions that turn your existing desk into a standing desk. I actually have my eyes on the Kangaroo, but decided I should try standing before taking the plunge. My anecdotal observations of health benefits so far: increased energy (being off coffee helps too), sleeping better (coffee again), decreased neck pain, no more wrist pain, more productivity, and I’m learning to stand up straight again. Standing up straight always felt completely unnatural because I spent so many years slouched over my desk that my body literally forgot how to do it.

That’s just wrong.

Why did it take me so long to make a stand-up desk??!!! If I ever have the opportunity to create a work environment for other people, my inspiration is the ff Venture Capital office in NYC. Read about their office set-up in this post, Reinventing the Office: How to Lose Fat and Increase Productivity at Work.

I’ve since come to understand that my aversion to sitting in a chair isn’t so weird. Sitting in a chair is unnatural and to achieve perfect posture while sitting in a chair is actually impossible.  Check out this short book review of The Chair by Galen Cranz.

Who else has given up coffee or stands at their desk? And have you noticed any difference in your life?

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I see you have been doing the primal diet. I have been thinking about making the change. I was wondering how hard it is to do. I have Mark Sissons book, but somehow I still don’t feel completely clear. Any word of advice/wisdom would be very welcome. I sure hope you kick those nasty migraines!

    • Chandra Hartman says:

      Hi Terrilyn,

      Thanks for commenting. My husband and I started the primal diet a year and a half ago and we love it. Mark’s book is a good one. I’d also recommend The Perfect Health Diet and the book that got me rethinking my eating, the Vegetarian Myth.

      I would recommend completely cleaning out cupboards and fridge of non-primal foods and restock with a week’s worth of primal food to get you started.

      I have found that thinking ahead is crucial. I keep a list by the fridge of all the fresh veggies and meats we have and I plan meals at least a day in advance.

      It’s taken some getting use to, but the benefits are amazing. Thanks for the encouraging words about the migraines.

  2. I bet if I actually rigged my desk for standing, like you have, I’d be a lot happier. I love standing but I kind of stand and lean as it is, and that’s almost as bad as sitting. Although, one of my favorite remedies for this is getting off of the computer altogether for days at a time, and also using the rowing machine to build shoulder/back/core strength. Rowing seems like the perfect antidote to the office slump.

    I’m with you on the issue of migraines, btw. I spend much of my life crafting my day to avoid stress- or hormone-induced migraines. I get them about once a month, for 3-4 day spells. Sometimes I get a lucky break and get a few months without any. They started probably about 7 years ago for me, at least at the intensity I have now. Sometimes the pain is unbearable, but sometimes it’s the auras, dizziness, light/sound sensitivity that’s more frightening. I’ve worried over meningitis, too, and I’ve always had a fear of brain tumors (since childhood) so unfortunately for me THAT fear is never allayed when the migraines flare up.

    Anyway, I just felt compelled to respond because I’m in a similar place with coffee. I don’t think it’s the primary culprit since I just started drinking it routinely about 3 years ago. I don’t think coffee helps though, and I don’t much like it anymore. I’m trying nettle infusions and herbal teas. Hopefully they’ll fill my need for some routine warm beverage while adding more of a nutritional boost than the coffee does.

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