Chair Free Project

Remember Ms. Hale? The crazy chair lady? Check out how she got herself organized…

Kathleen Hale

I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the research. I’m ready to take on these evil chairs. (Cue superhero music…)

But being a planner, I needed a plan. I decided to evaluate my typical day and see where and for how long I was using chairs. Here are the big areas:

– Eating meals

– Reading, homework, or playing games with my kids

– Riding the Metro

– Traveling in a car

– Meetings and presentations

One thing missing from my list that likely would be on many others is time watching TV and movies. I haven’t owned a TV in years, mostly because I just don’t have the time to watch it. While a love a good movie as much as the next person, I don’t spend a lot of time watching them mostly because by the time the kids are asleep and my work is done, I’m in bed!

In the time I did observe, sitting while eating really stood out to me. I feel like I hardly have time to eat most days, yet it turns out that I was spending a good portion of the day sitting while eating. This number could be greatly impacted if I had a networking lunch or dinner, which easily can be 1.5 hours themselves.

According to a survey by the USDA, people over age 15 spend 67 minutes in “primary” eating and drinking. We also spend an additional 23.5 minutes “eating while doing something else considered primary.” The most common other primary activity was watching television and then performing paid work.

So tackling chairs while eating seemed like a good place to start. I decided to start by eating breakfast at the island in my kitchen. This plan worked out okay because I usually eat breakfast while also packing lunches, brushing hair, tying shoes, and searching for lost gloves. Running by the island to catch a bite of egg burrito was no big deal.

I needed more of a challenge though. When dinner rolled around, I did not want to eat at the kitchen island while everyone else ate at the dining room table. I also did not want to stand at the dining room table while everyone else sat. Our traditional dining room table actually was perfect standing height for my kids, but not so much for me. After a few messy attempts to eat salad while standing, I did what any reasonable person does in the face of furniture crisis: I went on Craigslist.

I searched for “tall table” and it turns out that I found quite a few. Quickly I learned there was a difference between counter-height and bar-height tables. A typical table is 28″-30″ high. Most counter-height tables are 34″-36″ high. A bar-height table is 40″-42″ off the ground. Although I was a bit concerned about the possiblity of a counter-height table being too short for me and my husband, I also did not want the kids to be climbing up on very tall stools. So I found a good deal on a counter-height table and exercised my savvy Craigslist negotiating skills to land it. (In other words, I offered a few dollars off the list price and made clear that I could pick it up.)

I was getting excited for the arrival of the tall table when I came across some articles giving standing while eating a bad rap. I couldn’t believe it. I’m trying to avoid sitting at this nasty 90 degree angle that is making my back hurt, my butt bigger, and my energy zapped. And now I’m told that standing is not a good choice either. I was not dissuaded so quickly though. I dug into the data I could find and concluded that standing and eating has a bad rap largely because it’s associated with being in a hurry.

For people trying to lose weight, they often are advised to never stand while eating. The thinking is that if you sit, you will take more time to chew your food, ultimately consume fewer calories. There is not particularly good data that I have found to back this up. One study shows that those who sit down to eat spend 34% longer on meals than those who stand. Depending on the setting for the meal, that could mean eating a lot more calories.

Some also say that sitting while eating results in slower eating and reduces indigestion. Again, I could not find good evidence for this point. One study that looked at this connection found that eating speed had nothing to do with rates of indigestion.

Some of the benefits of eating on your feet is that it reduces your sitting time and it can help you to use your food more effectively. Engaging your muscles and making it more likely that your body uses the fats and sugars you are consuming.

grossThis picture shows levels of dietary fats taken from an experiment comparing eating while sitting or standing. The left one is someone who ate while sitting down. The right is while standing. While standing, your body is more likely to use those fats and sugars rather than have them sloshing around in your bloodstream.

Once you’re standing, it makes it more likely that after the meal, you will stay on your feet and move around or go for a walk. Moving around after a meal is key not just for using the calories you just consumed but also for avoiding that gross overstuffed feeling.

So derailment averted. Back to that new tall table!