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.