Last week was a travel-for-work week. And this wasn’t just any pop-up-there-for-a-night trip. We had three nights in Chicago (a little city you may have heard of in Illinois – right on Lake Michigan) for a decently large meeting that included an awful lot of the sales team. One of the things to know about this particular group is they eat well. Very, very well. As in, there really isn’t “activity” time or “down” time or “team morale” time in these meetings – nope, all of that happens at dinner. And drinks before dinner. And cocktails in the hotel lounge after dinner. And around the lunches and twice-a-day snack selections that the hotel brought in.
You get the picture. Lots of food, is what I’m trying to say.
And then I got the list of restaurants that they had booked for dinner. Holy moly.
I’ll give you a minute to click through those links and check those places out. They are no joke, and each was amazing.
So – I had to have a plan if I didn’t want to gain 8 pounds while I was there. And so I formulated a plan. Now, there is no tension or surprise ending here – I followed my plan, and my weigh-in still showed I gained weight last week, for the first time in several weeks. But not much, and certainly not enough to get worked up about. Here’s betting it’ll get made up this week.
Without further ado, 5 strategies for keeping a foodie work trip from becoming a fitness disaster:
1) Talk freely about what is going on
One of the issues about being the fat guy in the constant state of hunger that also happens to love food and eating and food culture and everything about it is that you get known as that guy. And when you go to restaurants like this, people expect you to be that guy when ordering, including drinks, appetizers, entrees, desserts, the whole thing. My co-workers would have thought odd things, and also would have constantly been mentioning my choices (as well as offering me food), if I hadn’t been very open up front that I was being good that week. I probably got obnoxious after a while (OK – WE GET IT!), but it got the job done.
2) No alcohol
Let me be clear – I have no problem with alcohol. I enjoy alcohol, though I have learned the hard way not to get carried away drinking with co-workers. But there is no moral objection here. There also isn’t really a caloric objection here. I know that alcoholic drinks have calories and sugar in them, and that they therefore are an insidious way to screw up a day’s worth of being good with food. But I’m even OK with that if I’m only having a couple of drinks. I’m willing to make it work.
No, the problem that I have with alcohol is that, once I start drinking, I lose all control around food. Get a bourbon or two in me and then just bring me all the wings. All the wings. The effect is much like that of the drinking games that are played with That Old Janx Spirit in the hyperspace ports that serve the madranite mining belts in the star system of Orion Beta – once you start to lose you’re probably going to keep losing.* So the best bet is to just not start losing and swear off the alcohol. I had one drink at the end of the night on the last night. And then immediately went to bed. No food was consumed “because the alcohol made me do it”.
3) Working out each morning, on the normal schedule, is not optional
One issue I often have with these meetings is that I stay up too late – I’m no good on my own. And when I stay up late, I struggle to wake up early. And on any normal weekday my alarm goes off at 5am. So, for this meeting, there was going to be no sleeping in. When the alarm went off, at 5am, I got up. No crossfit (one day I may be confident enough to drop in to another box), but I did run for all three mornings I was there, including the final morning when I had to get up at 4:30am in order to get the run in and make my flight out. Two of those runs were on treadmills, which I hate, but one was a very fun run down to Millennium Park and included a selfie in the shiny bean. These kept me on schedule and tired for bedtime, which matters.
4) Understanding what dinner is going to be, back WAY off during the day
Here’s a story. Lunch on the first day was a buffet of Mexican food that included a taco bar and tortilla soup. I did well – I skipped the tortillas and made kind of a taco salad thing that was good. But, as they always do, they served dessert, as well. This consisted of several shelves of goodies, running from hot churros with chocolate sauce to key lime tarts. Now, you may not know this about me, but I love lemon or lime desserts. They are the best. And, during one moment on the way back into the meeting room, I caved and reached for one of the tarts …
… but then caught myself, and put my hand in my pocket and walked away. It was a little moment where I made the good choice even though nobody was watching and I could have eaten that thing in one bite and moved on. Turns out, though, somebody was watching – one of our sales leaders saw that little moment, and mentioned it that night at dinner. And gave me no problems about trying to take it easy with the food.
When dinner is going to be a high-calorie affair, you have to plan for it during the day.
5) Appetizers are killers when trying to make good choices at nice restaurants – be very, very careful
That same sales leader also has an appetizer ordering technique for big groups. He calls it “sprinkling”. He’ll pick 3 -5 things on the menu that he thinks people will like and then just tells the staff to bring enough for the table. He literally sprinkles the table with the food. I also love appetizers (do you sense a pattern involving me and loving food?). Appetizers are such a great low-commitment way for both the diner and the kitchen to try new and unique things. Often my favorite part of a meal is the appetizer course. Of course, some of that goodness is because appetizers also don’t try to be too health conscious. They also tend to be fried and/or buttered to death. But because they are smallish, and represent a bite here and a bite there, they sneak up on a diet in a big way. Making good choices for the entrée is usually not a problem for me – so this week I had to make some good choices throughout the meal.
And there you have it – my 5 strategies for dealing with a week full of food. I was up just under 2 pounds, but had been down 2 pounds the week before and expect to be down more than that after this week. If the average of those three weeks is anything under zero, I’ll be happy. If it approaches minus one, I’ll be thrilled.
What are your strategies for avoiding a fitness disaster on a food trip?
*A shiny dime the next time I see you if you can place the reference without using the Google.
I’m traveling for work this week – and, dear god, these people are trying to make me gain 5 pounds this week with the food. Steak place, seafood place, tonight is Italian. I’m not going to complain about good food, but making good choices is challenging this week.
Geocaching is something I do, and so going to new-ish to me cities is fun. We’re in Chicago, which I have visited, but not extensively, and there is a “virtual” geocache at the Cloud Gate, that big reflective bean in Millennium Park. The way to get credit is to take a picture of your reflection in the bean with your face clearly visible. So, I routed my run this morning to take me right past the Cloud Gate, and snapped a quick picture on the way. This picture combines a good angle, good light, and a favorable drape of my shirt, to make me, for an instant, not feel like a 300 pound man. I like it. I’m in.
They say that setting goals is important, and communicating them is equally important. In that spirit, lets talk about goals.
Back in February I turned 38, and on that day I weighed 314.8 pounds. Which is not as heavy as I was back in 2012 when I started this blog, but still much heavier than I was in 2013 when I ran the Ragnar. Now, I know that a healthy rate of weight loss is about one pound per week. And I also know that BMI and other models indicate that I’m at least 100 pounds overweight for my height, if not body structure. (FTR, I don’t like BMI, either.). In two years, I will turn 40. There are 52 weeks in a year. I’m 100 pounds overweight. I want to lose about 1 pound per week. These numbers seemed to work too well, and led to the following goal:
I will have lost 100 pounds by my 40th birthday, and I will do that by losing, on average, 1 pound per week beginning on my 38th birthday. I will establish benchmark weights for each week along the way, and I will weigh myself weekly and track against those benchmarks.
The goal-setting model I have learned in my business career is called the SMART model … goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. That obviously informed the articulation of the above goal, and I think I hit everything. The goal is:
Specific – I articulate numbers and timelines and even expected rates of loss
Measurable – We’re weighing ourselves here, so that’s easy – and I have a benchmark to track against.
Achievable – After having lost the weight I did in 2013, I’m convinced that this is very possible. Even after it has been achieved, BMI will consider me overweight, if not obese. Physically, if I want it I can get there, no question.
Realistic – Different animal. I do think this is realistic, but will require a big change in how I do things. I have not missed a weekday workout since mid-May, so that habit is coming along. And I’m doing well with food, though that will be my downfall if I have one. I can change how I eat, and in that sense, it is realistic. What I worry about more is how realistic it is that I will keep this weight off once I lose it. That’s a topic for another time.
Timely – Specific start and end dates, with specific check-in dates. Time isn’t an issue.
So … that’s the goal. It is a big one, and I guess I’m nervous having it out there. I started off with a bang and immediately gained weight after my birthday. From that 314.8 in February, I got as high as 322.6 in late March. That’s when I made the decision to start Crossfit, and so far, that has really turned things around. The exercise itself of course is very good, but mostly it has helped me focus on my food consumption. No formal tracking process this time – I’m just working hard to make good choices. So far, so good.
As of this week, I’m 1.2 pounds (so just over a week) behind schedule. In order to be back on schedule I need to lose 2.2 pounds this week – but I’ll take anything over 1 pound just to make progress. I’ve lost, on average, 1.9 pounds per week for the last 12 weeks, and until I get caught up anything over 1 is a successful week. Once I get caught up, I’m as happy as I can be with 1 pound a week.
In Pangburn, Arkansas, where I grew up, they have been blowing out their 4th of July celebration for decades. The event is an all-day affair that starts with a parade in the morning and ends with fireworks at night. There is live music, free BBQ (a full blown pig-in-the-ground when I was there), games and contests, and any politician running for anything in the state of Arkansas is obliged to make a pit stop and a quick stump speech. Folks all over the state, if they know Pangburn (pop. 601) at all, know it for this. And this celebration was my introduction to national and civic celebration of the United States of America’s Independence Day.
For amber waves of grain,
And then I grew to be a teenager, and young adult, and on – and I apparently got too cool for that kind of civic engagement. Newsflash for anybody that doesn’t have a calendar – July is hot! And fireworks are OK, but seem to become less awe-inspiring over time. Not to mention the hell that is fireworks traffic. No traffic is good traffic – and fireworks traffic can be the pits. So, for years I pretty much floated above it all. If seeing fireworks was easy, I did that, but otherwise the 4th of July was just another three day weekend in the summer.
For purple mountain majesties
We moved to Florida last year at the end of April, so by July 4th we hadn’t been around for very long. We moved into a town, Celebration, known for its civic engagement and pride, and they don’t disappoint on the 4th. There was a big party downtown, and fireworks, and a parade in the morning. One of the local moms that my wife became friends with signed up an entry into the parade called “The Red Wagon Brigade” – everybody to decorate their red wagons and pull their kids in the parade. We had a 3-year old and a 4-month old, so that seemed to be very do-able. My wife decorated the wagon, we got all excited … and then both kids came down with fevers the day before. No parade, though my wife did go make an appearance at the evening party thrown by that same mom. I listened to the downtown fireworks booming and kept my fingers crossed that they wouldn’t wake my sleeping kids. July 4th, 2015, was a dud.
Above the fruited plain!
Not July 4th, 2016, though. This time the 4-year old could ride a decorated bicycle, and both kids were in great shape going into the morning. We met up with the rest of The Red Wagon Brigade and prepped for our part in the parade. It was hot – holy crap, it was hot. And we staged in a parking lot, so no shade. But once things got moving, everybody started having a blast. Because I wasn’t needed to wrangle kids once things got started, I ran ahead on the parade route with my camera and acted as the official photographer for The Red Wagon Brigade. When they’d pass my position, I would sprint ahead and take more pictures. The kids had a blast, and then we all went home and took two-hour naps.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
As I was out and about with my camera, it dawned on me that the 4th of July, Independence Day, is and ought to be a special holiday in America. This is a day for us to celebrate those things that make us uniquely us, and a day to remember that it wasn’t all that long ago that our forefathers had to fight, and sacrifice a great deal, to make sure we today have the unfettered ability to participate in, or ignore at will, great displays of civic pride. Though the parade was fun, I was most struck by the quieter moments. A slowly filling downtown decorated with American flags and kids on bicycles. A woman straightening the flag she’d hung from her second story balcony. The milling about in red, white, and blue before the parade started. These are the moments that hit me – we are a community, both our community in Celebration, Florida, and the broader community of the United States of America. Black, white, red with yellow polka-dots, we love our country and we all want the best for it, even if we disagree on what the best is. And, crucially, if we wall ourselves off and decline to be a part of this community and engage in these displays of civic pride, we allow ourselves to be typecast and stereotyped and defined as “other”, when what we need to be doing is engaging and shaking hands and showing each other that, though we all came in on different ships, we’re all in the same boat.
And crown thy good with brotherhood
My son is scared of loud noises, so when it came time to walk from the after-party over to the fireworks he decided he’d pass. We were disappointed – this was to be his first fireworks – but also supportive – it would just be cruel to make him suffer through the booms. We got home at about 9:15 with two exhausted kids when the booms started, and my wife happened to look out the window. To our surprise, the house that we bought in January has what turns out to be an almost completely unimpeded view of the fireworks! We stood out in the backyard and watched them all go, and got to experience fireworks again for the first time, through our 4-year old. Not to get all cheesy, but it was a little bit of magic to end a really long day.
From sea to shining sea!
The 4th of July is going to become a legitimate holiday in our house. I want to teach my kids about that kind of civic engagement, and I want them to feel pride in their community and their country. If they don’t have that pride, and don’t know how to engage, then they won’t care enough to fight for it when the time comes – figuratively and literally. Good, active citizenship requires more than just voting and bitching about where the country is going – it involves participation, in the good times and parties as well as the bad times and disagreements. It involves knowing and understanding what is going on, and that isn’t possible without being engaged with your community. That engagement is something to be taught and modeled, and is my responsibility to teach and model – so teach and model it I shall.
Happy birthday, America – see you at next year’s party!