Don’t Let Your Company’s Scale Tip Your Bathroom Scale

Any programmer or blogger knows that when you work on the Internet, on a computer, it’s easy to gain weight. Tech office pantries are stocked with Red Bull, candy, chips and even things you wouldn’t think were too unhealthy, like protein bars. Protein bars are basically injections of sugar. That’s why they taste like a Snickers.

But what no one talks about is that the “Startup 15” or 40 is avoidable if you put in the effort, not to diet, but to be healthy.

Because she is constantly around tech geeks and herself works online, blogger Darya Rose, who is both my friend and the wife of Google Ventures Partner Kevin Rose, is acutely aware of this pain and has a solution: Foodist, a way to stay healthy without going crazy dieting.

Reading her book a couple of weeks ago, I came across a passage that struck me as truth. In “Instagram, A Parable,” Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom described a breaking point in his work/life balance as he tried to build the company. If you’re shoving down burritos in between database sharding, you probably can relate:

“We never ate healthy at the release,” recalled Systrom. “At least in the beginning, we’d be so into our work that crafting a salad out of arugula and radicchio just wasn’t going to happen midday.” Instead, they’d opt for the local food trucks or burritos near the office. Without their even realizing it, weight started to creep on.

“We were looking at old pictures from Instagram, and people were like, ‘Oh my God, you look so young,’ and I was like, ‘What does that mean? Do I have gray hair? That was like six months ago,’” Systrom explained. “After that I kept telling myself, ‘I’ve got to get healthy again.”

Systrom had gained 25 pounds between Instagram’s launch in October of 2010 and its first 10 million users. “I bought a scale one day and realized my weight was up to 235,” he writes in Foodist. “And I had never been this heavy in my life. I used to be 210, and I was like, ‘That’s not okay.’ But I knew I was not going to pull a sorority girl and just eat salad, because I love food. I can eat less, but I’m not going to stop eating food I like just to lose weight. That would make me unhappy.”

How did he do it? Exercise, by waking up earlier, making sure healthy food options were available in the Instagram office, the buddy system and saving indulgences for the real deal. He also packed a gym bag before bed, like a true hacker of life. “I knew that if I didn’t pack my gym bag with the clothes I was going to wear the next day, I wouldn’t make it to the gym. I also needed to lay out my workout clothes. I’d wake up in the morning and just make myself a deal: ‘Listen Kevin, all you need to do is put on those clothes and you’ll wake up on the drive to work and you’ll be fine.”

Instagram ended up getting acquired for what was a billion dollars at the time. And Systrom (and Instagram developer Shayne Sweeney who was his partner in crime) ended up losing all the startup-induced weight: “We can tuck our shirts in finally. Seriously, I can fit into a large now and not the bulky extra large, and that felt really good.”

Instagram: A Parable