By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
Ever wake up in the morning with the best of intentions to eat right and cram in more physical activity and then kaboom, it’s 3 p.m., you’re tired, overwhelmed, stressed to the gills, and diving into a bowl of M&M’s?
Face it: More often than not, staying on track with healthy lifestyle habits can be a tough challenge. Frankly, sometimes it feels like a war zone out there.
We’re being bombarded by hundreds of tempting media food ads; coffee baristas’ sugary, gooey delights; fast food places and smells on every corner; junk food on airplanes and trains; school and hospital cafeterias pushing fries; holiday feasts at mom’s house — you get the picture. Yep, sometimes it feels like war and we need to act like warriors: focused and vigilant.
So I decided to take 48 hours from my world and show you how I survive this weighty war zone. As an expert and a fellow human being, I’ve been practicing my habits for many years. Like you, I’ve had my ups and I’ve also fallen flat on my rear. The key is always to dust yourself off, learn the lesson and keep on truckin’.
Welcome to my world.
Sunday Night: It’s Sunday night and I’m scoping out how my week’s going to shape up. Monday morning I’ll be heading to New York on the speedy Acela train. As I pack, I check out the weather in New York and find out it’s going to be warm and sunny. Yes! So I pack my running shoes and clothes. If it was bad weather, I’d still work out but I’d be stuck in the hotel gym, which is painful for someone who loves nature and the outdoors. I’ve got to get to bed by 10 p.m. so I can get wake up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. with at least 7.5 hours of sleep to start the day. I pry myself from my iPad e-book reader and jump into bed.
Monday Morning: I’m up at 5:45 a.m. and feel refreshed. While the coffee brews, I meditate for 20 minutes to strengthen my focus and vigilance for busy travel. I eat my breakfast: 1% cottage cheese with chia seeds, walnuts, and blackberries. My coffee is half caffeinated — you don’t want to see me fully caffeinated. I pack several Ziplock bags with my secret weapon to stave off hunger, appetite, and cravings: mini-PBJ’s (organic peanut butter and a dollop of blueberry jam) made with two WASA multigrain crackers. These make terrific snacks. They’re my home-made energy bar. Then I pack several Ziplock bags with whole almonds and walnut halves. I use these as snacks and I also combine with yogurt on the road. I’m locked and loaded and ready to enter the battlefield.
On the train, I’m offered cold cereal or bagels or scrambled eggs with bacon and sausage. No, thanks. I already ate and my protein-plus-fiber breakfast is still keeping me satisfied for most the 2.5-hour trip. I drink my water, grab a dozen nuts, and hit the computer and the cell phone in this, my mobile office. After arriving in the city, I get to the hotel and quickly order lunch: a chicken Caesar salad with dressing to the side and some green tea.
Then I’m off to my 3 p.m. business appointment.
Monday Afternoon: Luckily, we’re done by 4:30, and on the way back to the hotel I eat one of my mini PBJ’s, as it’s been 3 hours since my lunch. Tossing off my suit, I hop right into my running clothes, eat one of my mini PBJ’s ,and out the door I go, dodging folks on the crowded streets as I brisk walk the nine blocks to my beloved Central Park.
Over the years, I’ve run the New York marathon and several half marathons in this beautiful park. So I feel at home and welcomed by the brilliant autumn leaves and the countless runners, walkers, and cyclists already enjoying the late afternoon sun and fresh air. That PBJ holds me as I jog the winding, hilly paths, inhaling the fragrant smells of fall. Soon, the sunset is casting shadows on the trees and it’s time to get back to the hotel. Passing by one food kiosk after another, I feel nothing but the joy of the run.
Monday Night: I’m hungry for dinner but not out of control. I could care less about the minibar temptations. My PBJ has hung in there. I order room service: endive salad, halibut, and veggies, a little bowl of berries, and tea. While eating, I take a conference call and watch a little news. Then it’s to bed for me at 9 p.m. With a 5:45 a.m. pickup to do a TV satellite media tour starting at 7 a.m., I’m hitting the hay early. My run in the park helps chill me out. After my evening meditation, I sleep like a log.
Tuesday Morning: Up at 4:30 a.m., I shower and pack up. A little hungry, I grab some nuts which hold me. Entering the studio, a bountiful breakfast is laid out. I choose scrambled eggs and veggies, coffee, and some mixed berries. I pass over the huge platter of baked goodies.
My protein-and-fiber combo works like a charm to kill my appetite for junk. Off to makeup to have my war paint applied and hair styled. Finally, it’s time to get into the studio where I will sit before the camera for about five hours, with breaks here and there.
I can’t stand sitting for very long. I recall my past blogs about “sitting disease.” Every time I can break, even for 5 minutes, I’m standing and walking around.
I eat every 3-4 hours and during one of the breaks I grab some vanilla yogurt and add some of my nuts and I am good to go. Finally, we’re done.
Tuesday Afternoon: It’s lunchtime before I sprint to my next meeting. Once again, there’s wonderful healthy fare and I choose a tasty chicken and veggie dish along with tea.
It’s easy to eat more than you need with the buffet-style set up, so I’m mindful of my mouthfuls.
Then I’m off and running to my next appointments. Done, I’m racing to the train station. Once on board, I have another PBJ as it’s now midafternoon and time for a snack. The train attendant offers me the salty mixed nuts and I decline. Salt makes me bloat up like a blowfish.
I’m now officially tired. I’ve been up for 12 hours and I’m feeling less focused. I warn myself to watch out. This is when we all make mistakes with our food and beverages. Business folks around me are ordering their celebrate-the-end-of-day alcohol while they wolf down the nutty snack mix. Although I’m not hungry, my appetite can start to roam. Whipping out my headphones, I lean back and listen to relaxing music while I chill out. Later, I’m on the phone with hubby and reading the latest news on my iPad. Finally, we arrive back in Washington. I’m a weary warrior.
Tuesday Night: I’m home in time for dinner. Grilled salmon and veggies does the trick. I love my jasmine tea with a few drops of agave to sweeten. I relax with family before collapsing in bed at 10 p.m. Although I didn’t do any formal exercise, my day was filled with activities of daily living. I did just fine. I’m looking forward to hitting the gym on Wednesday and a run outdoors.
Phew! I’m exhausted just listening to myself. Here are a few thoughts to help guide you on your own weighty battlefields.
Weight Warrior Rules:
1) Plan ahead: As I have always said, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I also say that if you wing it, you’ll look, feel and perform like it. I got into New York early enough to get my work done and treat myself to that run in the park. I knew my days would be long so I came armed with my snacks to manage my often erratic schedule and help me rein in my appetite while controlling my hunger.
2) Have a strategy for challenges: I’m used to the train food offerings and usually eat before I board. Occasionally I have had tried some of their healthy menu options and it hasn’t been all that bad. I’m also used to the buffet spreads for my TV work and make certain to eat my protein and fiber so I won’t be grazing on the pastries or overeating in general. Eating something every 3-4 hours really helps to control runaway hunger and appetite.
I also know that despite my best intentions, by midafternoon and evening, once I’m tired, my guard loosens up and I have to be extra vigilant. This is only compounded by what I call Toxic Stress — any kind of stress that leaves you feeling helpless, hopeless, and defeated. Toxic Stress plus fatigue equals overeating to numb your mental angst. I’m well aware of this and heighten my focus and attention as the day wears on.
3) Assume the vertical when you can: I find ways to stay vertical as much as I can. Sitting drives me crazy, and it’s a short drive. As the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James Levine has shown in his research, fat release enzymes all but shut down when people sit for too long. Yikes, I don’t want that. I want to keep those little guys rockin’. You don’t need a run to do this. Just get up more often, and if you have to sit, then fidget more to keep stoking your metabolism. This is all about increasing your activities of daily living. Do it and you’ll be richly rewarded.
4) Get your shut-eye: If you’re sleep-deprived, your appetite will be out of control and you won’t have the energy to be physically active. The result? You pack on the pounds. Strive to sleep 7-8 hours.