5 Strategies for Surviving Business Travel Without Gaining 18 Pounds

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.

Prime & Provisions Steakhouse

Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House

The Original Rosebud

I’ll give you a minute to click through those links and check those places out.  They are no joke, and each was amazing.

Frog legs at Hugo’s – picture from their website, which I don’t think they’ll mind since I’m basically advertising them. Buttery, garlicky goodness…

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”.

wings meme

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.

No, seriously – LEGO DINOSAURS

I mentioned at last Friday’s weigh-in that we had a plan to visit Legoland Florida over the weekend – and visit Legoland we did.  The tickets are pretty expensive (and don’t include parking!), so we found that it made sense to buy season passes.  All we have to do is go one more time and they more than pay for themselves.   I ordered them online last Friday, and off we went.

Legoland Florida is in a town called Winter Haven, and has only been in existence since 2011.  I’ve been coming down here now for 9 months, and from the beginning I’ve thought that Winter Haven was a weird place to put a major amusement park.  It turns out, though, that the site for Legoland is the site of an old Florida institution called Cypress Gardens.  Cypress Gardens went bankrupt in the 2000s (9/11 and the three-hurricane year of 2004 did them in), and Legoland bought the whole shebang and fixed it up.

Our first impression was that the administration of the park, and in particular the lines, feels like an old, somewhat rural, amusement park.  Disney World is famous for how well than handle a huge number of people and their line management.  Busch Gardens is also quite good at it.  Legoland?  Not as much.

Not that this is going to be a negative post – that’s pretty much my only critical comment.  We had a really good day.

2015-09-26 11.48.24
Right inside the gates. This little chef is amazing, and is just a tiny taste of the Lego creations…

Two things really stood out early in the park.  First, the large-scale Lego “statues” are unbelievable.  The chef in that picture above is almost an afterthought, and had to have taken hours and hours to build.  Second only to the grandeur was the attention to detail – there were little Lego details everywhere.  Squirrels in the trees, stop signs made out of Legos, just every detail.

Right inside the park there is a carousel.  In retrospect, we should have headed straight to the back of the park and worked our way forward – the line was long and the rides were short.  But we got in line, and rode the Lego horses.

He was already anti-picture
He was already anti-picture

And then we came to the most amazing thing.

They call it the Mini-City.  They have all of these scenes and cities that they re-create … with Legos.  The attention to detail is mind boggling.

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge
On the pirate ship
On the pirate ship
The grandstand at the Daytona 500
The grandstand at the Daytona 500
The infield at the Daytona 500
The infield at the Daytona 500

They have the Florida State Capitol, Washington DC, Times Square and Grand Central Terminal in NYC, just an unbelievable spread of Lego detail.  We were amazed.

Just up from that is a sandwich place for lunch, and then we split up so I could take a look at a couple of different things.

Lunch time is the best time...
Lunch time is the best time…

The original Cypress Gardens Park had been built around a big botanical garden, which itself was built around a big banyan tree that was planted back in the 1930s.  As the park started going through financial distress and started changing hands in the 80s (and all the way through 2011), there was some concern in Florida about the “old Florida” elements of the park – and particularly the botanical garden – being dismantled and swept away.  At one point either Polk County or the State of Florida actually owned the property and just leased it out, to make sure that this didn’t happen (not sure how that ownership works now).  As part of that, in the middle of Legoland and on the edge of the lake, the old Cypress Gardens Botanical Park still exists – and I needed to go take a look at that.  So my wife took the bigger kid and they went looking for rides, and I took the baby and we went for a walk.

Obligatory alligator, because Florida
Obligatory alligator, because Florida

Right inside the gate we saw our alligator, so we got that out of the way.  Little guy, but he was there.  And then we started winding through the grounds.  Because of the middle of the day and the fact that I couldn’t chase birds and butterflies (babies, you know – plus people waiting on me), I didn’t get a ton of pictures.  But let me tell you, the place is beautiful … and then you walk up on the banyan tree.

Pictures do not do it justice
Pictures do not do it justice

This thing – wow.  As the limbs grow, they send out their own roots that, when they find the ground, develop into their own little trunks to support the limbs.  Over the course of 80 – 90 years, it develops into this massive system of limbs and trunks and roots and just an amazing piece of nature.

Just past the banyan tree
Just past the banyan tree

We walked around a bit more, and then hurried back to meet up with the other two.  When the weather breaks a bit here, I’ll go back during the day (I only work 15 minutes from Legoland) and get some good pictures.

And then came the rides and the ice cream.

He got a driver's license for this.
He got a driver’s license for this.
This is his
This is his “don’t take a picture” face
Coastersaurus - and his first roller coaster!
Coastersaurus – and his first roller coaster!

At this point, the day was hot and we were starting to lose our children to tiredness and crankiness, so after that dinosaur roller coaster we mostly just pushed through.

2015-09-26 14.48.59

One thing we had missed, though, over by the Mini City, was the Star Wars section.  They had scenes set up from the movies, but the cool things were the statues.

Darth Maul is apparently a short guy
Darth Maul is apparently a short guy

Here I will say that Darth Maul is an under-rated Darth, I feel.  There was also a Darth Vader, but the line for him was several people long.  We waited zero minutes at Darth Maul for the opportunity to take a picture – and he was really cool.  #nerdalert

We really had a great time, and we learned some things.

  1.  11am on Saturday morning is not an ideal time to arrive.  Chaos entering the park, but it was calm and quiet by the time we left around 4pm.  Either get there early or go ahead and wait until after lunch.  This may change when the weather gets better – if the park fills up, all bets are off.
  2. When it is busy, head straight to the back of the park and work forward.  You’ll be working the opposite way of the crowds.  This is a good thing.
  3. There are lots of scheduled things – shows, etc. – that, now that we’ve seen the whole park, we will be sure and make time for next time.

Will let you know how it goes when we take our next trip.

Coins Damage Fountain

I’ve been looking for a jumping off point for this post, and today’s Daily Prompt provided just that starting line.

As I’ve now said multiple times, I was in Washington DC last week, and was reminded every day why DC is one of my favorite cities.  There are the obvious things, of course – the monuments, the buildings, the museums.  And then there are the more subtle things – the energy, which is rivaled only by New York City for me; the men and women in suits that look like they’re on a mission to save the world; the guys in black that are patrolling the roof of the White House and that you can see if you look really closely.

I share my birthday with Abraham Lincoln (Charles Darwin, too, though that doesn’t get us anywhere in this post).  Since I was small I have had a fascination with Mr. Lincoln, almost an obsession.  One of the manifestations of that interest involves visiting the Lincoln Memorial any time I am in DC, and preferably at night.  The walk this time took me through the WWII Memorial;

Three states I happen to be very familiar with...
Three states I happen to be very familiar with…

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (which really is stunning at night);

No picture can do this scene justice
No picture can do this scene justice, particularly a crappy iPhone shot…

And then finally to see Mr. Lincoln:

The juxtaposition of how big he is up close to how big he is compared to the temple is ... striking
The juxtaposition of how big he is up close to how big he is compared to the temple is … striking

My time spent at the Memorial always leaves me feeling both invigorated and melancholic, if that is even possible.  I am inspired by his life and his work ethic, and being there makes me feel that I am a part of something much larger than myself, something grand and glorious.  But I get melancholic both at the sense that my life is passing and with each day it becomes less likely I’ll ever change the world, and also in that way melancholia always creeps up when you’re in a temple to remember the dead.

This trip, though, introduced a new introspection and thought process centered on the idea that Mr. Lincoln would disapprove of us today.  That he’d look at all of the fighting and bickering and gridlock and lack of progress and he’d get his hackles up and tell us all, in that high nasal voice of his, to knock it off.  Knock it the hell off.

What does this have to do with the Daily Post prompt about coins in a fountain?  I did not take the below picture, which is almost certainly from the FDR Memorial (which I visited but didn’t photograph), but I saw these signs everywhere, as well as the clear evidence that they were being ignored:

Coins Damage Fountain
Coins Damage Fountain

This illustrates my point better than I ever could with words.  This thing we have – the United States of America – is a precious thing, and a startlingly young thing in the grand scheme, and no guarantee exists that what we have must endure for ages. Instead what we have is an experiment that will only ever be as good and as successful as we make it, each of us.  Sure there are big decisions every day that we don’t understand – things like the budget, and health care, and military involvement around the world – and that we can’t influence.

But there are millions of small choices made every single day, the sum of which decides whether we have, for example, a clean and poignant fountain or a broken puddle full of loose change.  I want to live in a country that has the former, and the only way I know to do that is to learn, and care, and teach.  I’ll be bringing my sons to these places, and I’ll be teaching them that these are THEIR places, and that those places deserve our respect. That’s the least we can do to pitch in and make this whole thing work.

To make it a place I’d be proud to show Abraham Lincoln around.

Also, keep your pennies in your damn pockets.

7 Things to Remember When Traveling

This week I had a quick trip down to Atlanta for a business meeting.  Left on Tuesday afternoon, came back on Wednesday afternoon.  Traveling tends to completely hose up my weekly food and running routine, though I’m starting to notice some patterns. Without further ado, here are seven things that it is important to remember when traveling:

#1 – Calories consumed in an airport count. So one of the associations that I’ve always had with traveling is an all-bets-are-off mentality about food (though, to be fair, that was a common mentality whether I was traveling or not).   This was both about quantity (hey – gotta fuel up so I can sit on this airplane or in this car!) and quality (immediate access to beef jerky and Dr. Pepper and cheese danishes?  Umm, OK!).  I’m not sure where that association came from, but as far back as I can remember it has been there.  It is as though travel food magically is different than “regular” food. So, yeah … it is not.  Crappy food is still crappy food.  And too much of it is still too much of it.  Walk away from the fried chicken.

This is still fried chicken.  Tasty, glorious fried chicken.
This is still fried chicken. Tasty, glorious fried chicken.

#2 – Water is your friend. We hear that airplanes dehydrate us all the time.  We hear it so much that we might be tempted to ignore it, or block the message. Yeah – don’t do that. Because dehydration on airplanes is real.  That little thing that you twist to get the cool air blowing on top of your head?  That thing is blowing almost perfectly dry air that is nearly guaranteed to make your skin itchy, chap your lips on the spot, and drive you to extreme thirst.  And ginger ale, while great on airplanes, doesn’t do the rehydration thing enough. Drink your water.

#3 – Bring your running shoes.  They are a pain in the ass to pack.  And you might wind up not using them while you are there because of unforeseen timing pressures.   But if you don’t bring them, you are guaranteed to miss a workout.  Guaranteed.  Just knowing that I’d have to justify having brought the damn things is sometimes enough to get me to get up and go for a run.  Take your shoes – you’ll be better for it.

#4 – Plan accordingly for treadmill access. Whichever hotel you’re at almost certainly has a fitness center.  Most of them that I’ve seen have a large stability ball, a weight-machine-system thing, an elliptical or two, and at most 4 or 5 treadmills.  Some only have 2 or 3 treadmills.  Now, because you were traveling and didn’t want to pack anything more than shoes, socks, shorts, & shirt, you aren’t geared up to run outside.  You’re also in unfamiliar territory and may not want to risk getting lost.  So you plan on getting up and hitting the treadmill for those morning miles. You … and everybody else in the hotel. Rush hour (roughly 6am to 8am) at the hotel fitness center is almost certainly going to be busy.  And unless you are OK with the elliptical or something different, you may be disappointed by treadmill access.  If possible, plan to go during a strange time (evening, middle of the day, etc.) or get there earlier than you normally would. Also – treadmills suck.

Soul crushing, isn't it?  I hurt just looking at it...
Soul crushing, isn’t it? I hurt just looking at it…

#5 – There will be doughnuts. When people are hosting a meeting that includes out-of-town guests, they naturally want to be seen as hospitable and accommodating.  They want to be good friendly hosts.  And for whatever reason, that usually means doughnuts.  Plates and plates of doughnuts. They’re going to look yummy.  And let’s face it – they’re going to BE yummy.  There are several ways to deal with this – politely eat half of one, or even a whole one that you considered in your broader day’s meal plan, or claim you’re diabetic or whatever.  But you’d better have a plan for how you’re going to deal with that glorious plate of doughnuts, or it is going to deal with you.

Doesn't it look yummy?
Doesn’t it look yummy?

#6 – Shit happens. So on my trip this week, the travel gods were not with me.  They chose yesterday to get the pound of flesh they were owed for a largely uneventful travel season for me.  And that meant, for a large list of reasons, I was stuck looking for dinner in suburban Atlanta at roughly 11pm on Tuesday night.  And I was unable to resist the siren call of the black letters in the yellow boxes.

Picture taken at 10:49pm in Duluth, Georgia.  True story.
Picture taken at 10:49pm in Duluth, Georgia. True story.

Yep – Waffle House. And I’m just going to straight-up tell you like it is … my triple order of hash browns (scattered, smothered, and covered) was glorious. Glorious. And I don’t feel guilty. However…

#7 – If you know that kind of thing is likely to happen, plan accordingly the rest of the week. Yeah – I knew that was likely to happen.  So I’ve mostly planned accordingly.  But you DO have to plan accordingly, because otherwise the whole thing will come off the rails.   How do you stay on plan and strategy when you travel?

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