Protein Shakes – All your questions answered!

by Christine on April 30th, 2010

filed under Diet, Food, Nutrition, Exercise, General Information

Protein shakes are a dietary supplement. Many of the foods we eat every day contain protein: beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, and nuts are the items highest in protein. However, many fitness experts claim that these protein levels are not enough if you are undergoing intense workouts, whether cardio or weight training.  This is a highly controversial topic though. While many experts claim that protein supplements are a crucial part of a fitness program, other experts claim that no scientific studies prove that protein supplements aid in weight loss or muscle building.

Protein is essential for a healthy body. Protein builds muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissues throughout the body. It can be found in every cell and most fluids in our bodies. In fact, protein makes up about 16% of our body weight, and there are over 10,000 different types of proteins in our bodies!  We have relatively little capacity to store protein. If we stop eating protein for a sustained period of time, our bodies begin to break down muscle for its protein needs.

What types of protein shakes are there?

Whey protein is a mixture of globular protein isolated from whey (a by-product of cheese production). Whey protein is made from cow’s milk.  Whey protein works to provide the body with amino acids that are used for building muscle tissue.  Whey protein also works as an antioxidant and helps to support the immune system.  Whey protein powder shakes are easily found in most nutritional food stores and is arguably the most popular form of protein shake.  People who have milk allergies should avoid using whey protein.

Egg protein is an excellent source of protein. Before whey protein shakes came on the market, athletes were known to drink egg whites or cook dozes of eggs at a time. (Think of the scene in “Beauty and the Beast” where Gaston sings “When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs/Every morning to help me get large./And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs/So I’m roughly the size of a barge.”)  Eggs are also an excellent source of vitamins and nutrition, such as vitamins A, E, and K and a little B12.  Egg powder protein shakes are not very easy to find on the market; most people make their own protein shakes using fresh eggs. (See the recipe section below).  However, there are some supplements available if you do an internet search, which may be of particular interest for those people that do not like the taste of eggs and perhaps are allergic to whey protein.

Soy protein is the third type of protein shake available on the market currently. Soy protein typically is low in fat, cholesterol, and lactose.  Soy protein is a particularly good choice for those people who are lactose intolerant.  Soy protein can also be used for cooking instead of flour, which is a helpful tip for anyone who enjoys baking!  Soy protein contains saponins, phytosterols, and isoflavones. Saponins support healthy immune support, and phytosterols help maintain cholesterol levels in the healthy range. Soy protein shake powder is easily found in most natural food stores.

What benefits are there to protein shakes?

There have been preliminary studies that have indicated that protein shakes may possess anti-cancer properties and reduce the risk of other disease, although further scientific study is needed to verify these claims.

Other studies have shown that extra protein in the diet may help to prevent osteoporosis. (Sufficient intakes of calcium and vitamin D, combined with strength training, will also keep our bones strong. Protein is not the only factor in bone strength.)

Depending on the type of protein shake that you buy, some claim that protein can help to reduce cholesterol levels.  Soy protein can promote a healthy heart.

Will they help me lose weight?

Protein shakes are not a magic pill that will miraculously help you lose weight. Replacing some meals with a protein shake may help reduce your daily calories and may help curb your appetite. This may in turn help you lose weight. However, the shakes on their own will not magically help you lose weight. You still need to exercise and eat properly in order to achieve weight loss.

Some studies have shown that consuming protein helps to increase your metabolism every time you eat it by 20-25%!  (McArdle et al, 1986) Protein also helps to time the release of carbohydrates so that you get sustained energy throughout the day.

People participating in cardio activities should consume 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.  That means that a 150 pound person should consume approximately 90 grams of protein.

Will they help me gain muscle?

Protein shakes, especially whey protein, are lauded by the weight-building community as a way to build muscle quickly. The overall claim is that when you weight train with the goal of muscle building (small reps, heavy weight), you tear your muscles.  Protein helps to repair and grow your muscles as they begin to heal.  Bodybuilding website claim that whey protein increases the levels of amino acids in the blood, which is then used by the muscles to increase mass. Muscle-building atheletes claim that if you are weight training, you should consume your protein shake within 30 minutes following your workout in order to encourage muscles repair and growth.

This is an area of a great deal of controversy. For example, WedMD states that “adding protein doesn’t add muscle mass, though as many people believe.”   Further scientific study is needed to examine the effect that a high-protein diet has on muscle growth and development.

People participating in weight training activities should consume 1.7 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. That means that a 150 pound person should consume 121 grams of protein per day.

How much should I consume?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult needs 46 to 56 grams of protein per day, depending on the individual’s weight and overall health.  An average diet should already provide this amount of protein. If you are lacking in protein, you may want to consider a protein shake as a supplement.

The standard method by nutritionists for calculating how much protein you need is to multiply your body weight in kilographs by 0.8, or weight in pounds by 0.37.  This is the number of grams of protein that should be the daily minimum.  A 150 pound person should eat 55 grams of protein per day, a 200 pound person should consume 74 grams per day, and a 250 pound person should consume 92 grams per day.

If you are participating in substantial amounts of cardio or weight training exercise, see the sections listed above to see the recommended protein levels for your workout routine.

Are there any side effects?

People with milk allergies should avoid using whey protein, as those products are created using cow’s milk.

One source says that when you over-consuming protein, the extra protein is made into fat into the body. Rather than building more muscle, the extra protein is just adding to your waistline.

However, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the only known danger of consuming too much protein is an increased risk for kidney disease.  However, one report claims that extremely high doses of protein may cause the liver to overload.

Regardless of what is fact and what is myth, one thing seems clear: don’t overdo it.

How do I pick out the right protein shake for me?

If you want to try a protein shake as a dietary supplement, then you need to consider the amount of protein, carbs, fat, and calories in terms of your overall dietary goals. says that if you are trying to lose fat, you will want to buy a low-carb, low-calorie protein shake.  If you are trying to gain muscle, look for a high protein, high-calorie powder that is relatively low in sugar and fat.  If you just want a quick meal replacement, look for powder with medium carbs and medium calories.

Protein Shake Recipes

Mocha Shake

  • 6 oz water
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 6 oz coffee
  • 2 schools chocolate protein powder

German Chocolate Shake

  • 12 oz water
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon cream of coconut
  • 2 scoops chocolate protein pwder

Pina Colada Passion

  • 12 oz water
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 3 scoops vanilla protein powder
  • 1/3 cup pineapple chunks
  • 2 tsp. coconut extract

Orange Creamsicle

  • 1 to 2 scoops of vanilla protein powder
  • 6-8 oz water
  • 4-6 ice cubes
  • 1-2 peeled oranges

Egg White Surprise

  • 1 cup liquid egg whites
  • ½ cup of orange juice
  • ½ cup of pineapple juice
  • Optional: ¼ cup mandarin orange slices
  • Optional: ¼ cup pineapple chunks.

Egg White Shake

  • 1/3 cup egg whites
  • ½ cup pineapple chunks
  • ¼ cup pineapple juice
  • Add 1 packet stevia powder
  • 1-2 drops coconut extract
  • 1-2 drops vanilla extract

Become the Master of Portion Control!

by Christine on April 29th, 2010

filed under Diet, Food, Nutrition, General Information

Looking back on my struggles with weight gain, I believe one of the fundamental issues that I continued to screw up was identifying the correct portion size for a given meal.  Once I got my binge-eating under control and began to eat healthy foods, I still gained weight.  I amped up the exercise, and I still gained weight.

Unless you are carefully regulating how much food you are consuming, it doesn’t really matter what types of food you are eating.  If you’re eating too much, you’re most likely grossly under-estimating the amount of calories you are consuming. This will inevitably lead to weight gain. It did for me.

Restaurants do not serve you a normal portion size worth of food.

This bears repeating.

Restaurants do not serve you a normal portion size worth of food.

When I go to a restaurant and order a meal, it will usually last me three additional meals.  That’s right, three additional meals!  That grilled chicken salad that costs you $13 suddenly becomes a lot more affordable when you consider that it will give you four meals.  Each meal out of that dinner only costs you $3.25 which is entirely reasonable.

I cannot stress this enough: use your measuring cups and buy a food scale.  Use them often.  When you’re home and making mashed potatoes, do not just throw a dollop of potatoes onto your plate. Get your measuring cup out and carefully measure exactly ¼ cup of mashed potatoes.  I use my measuring cups so often that I actually have three sets of them because I go through so many of them.

You can also use visual clues for determining an appropriate portion size.  Here is a general guideline that you can use:

Grain products What one serving looks like
1 cup of cereal The size of a fist
1 pancake A compact disk
Half a cup of cooked rice, pasta, or potato Half of a baseball. (NOT a softball. Baseball.)
1 slice of bread A cassette tape.
1 cup of French fries About 10 fries
4 oz Nachos potato chips About 7 chips
Fruits and veggies What one serving looks like
1 cup of salad greens A baseball
1 medium fruit A baseball
Half a cup of raisins A large egg
Half a cup of vegetables 1 light bulb
Half a cup of fruit 1 cell phone
1 cup of carrots 12 baby carrots
1 cup strawberries About 12 strawberries
Half a cup of grapes About 16 grapes
Dairy and Cheese What one serving looks like
One and a half oz cheese 4 stacked dice
½ cup of ice cream Half a baseball
1 cup of milk or yogurt The size of a fist
Meats and Alternatives What one serving looks like
3 oz of meat (beef, poultry, fish) Deck of cards
3 oz of grilled/baked fish (flattened) Checkbook
2 T of peanut butter Ping pong ball
Fats and Desserts What one serving looks like
1 t of oil The size of your thumb tip
1 cookie 1 makeup compact
1 T salad dressing 1 shot glass
1 T mayo 1 poker chip
¼ cup of Almonds About 12 almonds
2 T hummus 1 golf ball

Here are some tips for helping you control your portion sizes:

  • When you leave for work in the morning, measure out your snacks and put them into ziplock bags or containers.
  • Look for those 100-calorie snack packs. My favorites are the natural almond packs by Emerald.  If you buy in bulk, such as a big bag of pretzels, make sure you measure out a real portion size into a ziplock bag. Don’t just eat out of the family-sized bag.
  • When eating at restaurants, share your meal with your spouse or significant other.
  • Make an appetizer your meal (just watch out for those unhealthy fried appetizers!)
  • Eat like a child. Order off the kid’s menu if you can, or ask the restaurant if you can order a half-sized portion of any item on the menu.
  • Avoid those gigantic glasses of soda.
  • Think of eating in terms of snacks instead of meals. I haven’t eaten a “meal” in over a year now. Instead, I “snack” about six times a day. If I approach each eating-period as a “snack,” I find I am less likely to overeat.
  • Never, EVER eat at a buffet. Ever.  It’s a freaking free-for-all, and don’t put yourself through that.
  • Just eat half of whatever you would normally take.
  • Eat off of tiny plates, rather than big plates. You can’t overload (and overeat) if you’re eating off a teacup saucer!

Best food scales

  • The OXO Good Grips Food Scale. It’s more expensive than most, but it offers fractions instead of decimals, which is good for some people and a con for others.  It is a digital scale and is ranked as accurate, sturdy, and had a unique pullout display so that the readout is not covered up by a big plate or bowl. It can weigh foods up to 11 pounds.  It also has a “tare function” which means that it automatically adjusts the measurement to subtract for the weight of the container.  $45.
  • The EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale. This digital scale includes a calorie count book and will also weigh foods up to 11 pounds. It also has a tare function, and it can easily convert between grams and ounces. However, large bowls and plates may block the display, and the platform doesn’t remove for easy cleaning. At $25 it’s a good budget buy.
  • EatSmart Digital Nutrition Scale. This digital scale has a calorie calculator built right in, so you can get all the nutrional properties of the food that you are weighing. It can analyze the food item by portion size. This scale also has a memory so you can track what you’re eating. It weighs 2 pounds and can measure up to 6.6 pounds of food. $69.95.

Cute Measuring Cup Products:

Heart Shapes

Gaggle of Geese or Giraffe Measuring Cups! These are totally cute!

More resources:

Wallet-sized portion control guide to take with you, by WebMD

Portion Distortion Quiz! How good are you at guessing?


Yoga background and Primary Series

by Christine on April 28th, 2010

filed under Exercise, General Information

Bootcamp came to an end for me last week, and to take its place I decided to sign up for yoga. I know, it’s hardly the cardio workout that bootcamp is. I plan on supplementing the workout with some gym workouts. (Gotta spice things up, right?)  I love yoga though, and I’ve been missing its place in my life.

I was a little bit spoiled because I began taking yoga classes from a really great Ashtanga yoga instructor. I felt a little uncomfortable at first for the male instructor to walk behind me, put his hands on me, and adjust my stance accordingly. I don’t like strange people touching me — I’ve got real social phobia issues associated with it. However, I soon learned that there’s an incredible benefit to having proper position. Not only do you cut down on the chance of injuring yourself, but much of the time you can go further into the poses than you would have before.

Syntactically, yoga has many meanings. The word is derived from the Sanskrit yoj meaning “to control,” which is a definition I prefer. Yoga is all about control – controlling your body in the poses, controlling the pain, controlling your mind, controlling your breathing.  An alternate root from which the word is derived may be yujir samadhau which means “contemplation” or “absorption.” This, too, fits the practice of yoga; without contemplation, the practice is only half fulfilled. To me, yoga is also the absorption of meditation with physical being.

Most yoga courses follow a Hatha yoga form of instruction; at least, my yoga classes did so.  Hatha yoga combines moral discipline, postures, purification, breathing, and meditation. Hatha represents hot and cold energies flowing through the body (think of fire and water, or yin and yang, positive and negative.)  The goal is to balance the body and the mind of these opposite forces.

If you are looking to start a yoga practice, start with the Primary Series of poses, which is called Yoga Chikitsa. This series of poses builds strength and flexibility and stamina.  After your practice develops, you can move along to the Second Series, called Nadi Shodana. This series strengthens the nervous system. It’s essentially the same as the Primary Series, but goes further into the poses and periodically offers new poses and variations.   The four advanced series are called Sthira Bhaga, which I’ve never done but would love to try someday when my practice gets stronger.

If you are interested in checking out the Primary Series, check these PDFs out:

If you are just starting off, it’s best to have a better visual (than mere PDFs) because proper posture is SO important.  This YouTube video is a decent depiction of just a few poses in the Primary Series: (60 minutes long)

This YouTube video series is something like a 17 part series (each segment is only about 10 minutes long, though, so don’t be too intimidated) that shows different poses. His physique is enough to inspire anybody! There is a strong emphasis on learning to do the Sun Salutation properly. The first video in the series is here:

There is so much that could be said about yoga: its background, the people, the poses, the meditation, the different branches of it, etc.  The great thing about yoga is that it can be modified to fit your goals, stage in life, fitness ability, desire for meditation, etc. It is intrinsically a custom-built program! Why don’t you give it a try today?


Binge Eating Disorder

by Christine on April 27th, 2010

filed under Eating Disorders, Gastric Banding Surgery, General Information

I didn’t realize it when I was growing up, but I had binge-eating disorder.  For the most part, I ate fairly healthfully and fairly normal portion sizes.  Then, suddenly, I would feel compelled to devour an enormously large portion of food. I think I realized that I ate more than a normal person the first time I devoured a large pizza…then scrounged the kitchen for something else to eat.  Clearly I wasn’t hungry at this point – in fact, it would be safe to say that I was quite full, but I kept eating nonetheless.

As time went on, I would binge eat more and more often.  It was usually an emotionally-charged situation that propelled me to dive into food for solace. However, the binge-eating became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: I became more aware of my overeating, and I was ashamed of it. As my feelings of shame (and anger and depression) of my actions took over, I would binge eat to try to numb those feelings.  And so the cycle would perpetuate.

The further into the cycle I got, the more depressed about it I became. And the fatter I got. In three years I went from about 150 pounds to about 210 pounds.  I hated food and wanted nothing to do with it, but I couldn’t seem to pull myself from the binges that took over my life.

From there, I started to develop all kinds of disordered eating patterns. I tried every diet in the book to try to stop the weight gain, but nothing helped. Starving myself didn’t help. (At one point I went three months without eating, for a total weight loss of about four pounds. That weight came right back on when I began eating again, of course.)  I tried to learn to puke up my binges, but I was never successful at purging, so I resorted to laxative abuse instead. As you can guess, that method didn’t help me lose weight either.

I was pretty much a poster child for binge-eating disorder.

Binge-eating disorder is actually the most common of all eating disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disorder affects 3.5% of females and 2% of males in the United States.  The exact causes of binge eating is unknown, but sources say that the causes can be biological (you’re pre-disposed to the disorder), psychological (e.g., low self-worth), or environmental (social pressure to be thin).

Most resources claim that sufferers of binge-eating should avoid dieting because it can make binge eating worse.  Cutting calories and not eating enough can cause a binge-eater to spiral out of control.  Also, binge-eaters may find it more difficult than an average person to follow diet regimens, such as Weight Watchers, because of this trigger.

So what can you do if you’re suffering from binge-eating disorder?  Most sources would claim to seek psychiatric help to try to face the issues causing you to binge. However, this can be difficult; the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIV) does not currently recognize binge-eating disorder as a formal eating disorder; therefore many insurance programs may not pay for psychiatric treatment for this.

Anti-depressants have been known to help those suffering.  Anti-depressant medication certainly helped me begin to overcome the disordered eating patterns at time.  Appetite suppressants may also help curb the desire to eat. Appetite suppressants need to be prescribed by your doctor and include Meridia and Adipex. I took Adipex for a while and found it to be helpful at first, but eventually the effects of the pill became less significant. Topamax has also been shown to help curb the desire to binge-eat. (Topamax is actually seizure drug).

I personally would argue that gastric banding surgery would greatly help binge-eaters. The band has been a highly effective way of limiting the amount of food I can consume.  On the rare occasion that I slip into binge-eating patterns, the band has completely prevented me from overeating.  Of course, the band doesn’t do anything to deal with the emotional and psychological issues underlying the condition, but the band certainly helps to control the quantity of food.

My friend, Katie, has also been trying to grapple with her binge-eating disorder. She has found that keeping track of a meal diary each day has been beneficial in tracking eating patterns and trying to identify what emotions trigger a binge episode.  Her meal diary looks like this:

Meal Diary

Hunger Level (0-5)
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Hunger Level (0-5)
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Hunger Level (0-5)
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Snack 1
Hunger Level (0-5)
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Snack 2
Hunger Level (0-5)
Food Eaten
Fullness Level (0-5)

Also, it may help to join an online forum to talk to others that have dealt with this same issue in their life. Sharing strategies for overcoming binges is a great way to learn new coping mechanisms and forge relationships with people going through the same issues as you.

Mayo Clinic

Help Guide

Something Fishy

CNN Report on Treatment Program


Dieting tips for those attending conferences

by Christine on April 26th, 2010

filed under Diet, Food, Nutrition, Exercise, General Information

This weekend I went away to a hotel for a scrapbooking weekend with some girlfriends. Today, I weighed in, and I lost 2 pounds while away! While I was away, I overheard numerous conversations about different diets the women were following, and the lamenting over all the sweets left out 24/7 for everyone’s grazing pleasure. It made me realize that there are certain strategies you can adopt to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you are away at conference-type situations.

Pre-Planning and Packing

It’s very important to plan for your time away from home. You should ask yourself the following questions: How many days will you be gone? What kind of free time will you have? What kind of organized mealtimes will you have? Do you know what the kind of food will be served at the meals?  What kinds of facilities are available to you – will you have use of a pool or fitness center?  Is there are grocery store nearby where you can pick up snack-foods if needed?

After you have considered the following questions, you should pack additional items as necessary:

  • Workout clothes (1 pair for each day that you are gone)
  • Workout apparatus, including hand weights, resistance band, jump rope, exercise mat, mp3 player and headphones, water bottle.  Bringing hand weights may be difficult to pack if you are traveling by plane but should be easy if you are traveling by car.
  • Healthy food items that pack well, such as small cans of tunafish, 100-calorie packs of almonds, dried fruit like raisins, canned fruit or fruit cups, low-fat cheese, etc.  If you are driving you may be able to pack fresh fruit such as bananas and strawberries, but this may be more difficult if you are flying. If there is a grocery store within walking distance of your hotel, you can stock up on these items while you are there.
  • Bathing suit, if there is a pool.

Exercising While There

I always have the best of intentions before leaving for a conference, but after I show up there is always a thousand reasons why I don’t want to work out: I’m too stressed out because I’m working, or I’m relaxing and don’t want to have to worry about it.

The fact is – working out while you’re away from home is hard.  It’s really important that you plan your workout time into each day. If you’re a morning workout guru, then more power to you—this is the easiest time to fit in a workout, especially since most conferences don’t get started until 9 a.m.  However, most conferences that I’ve attended usually have an afternoon lull. There’s a period of time between your last session and dinner that will provide ample opportunity to get a short workout in. Schedule “fitness” for this time.  If your dinner is going to be short, then you can work out when you get back from dinner, although in my experience I find that my evenings at conferences would run until very late, so late-night workouts weren’t really an option for me.

There are four main ways you can work out while on the road:

  1. Work out in the fitness facility
  2. Work out outside
  3. Work out in your hotel room
  4. Swim

Having four choices means that there is no excuse for slacking off on your workout!!

  1. Work out in the fitness facility

Option number one is the easiest. Almost all hotels have fitness facilities. The hotel I was at this weekend offered a treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, stationary bicycle, freeweights, and exercise mats for floorwork.  If you are exercising while with limited time, such as 30 minutes, consider doing interval training: 3 minutes heavy cardio followed by 3 minutes weight training, repeat until your time is up. The interval workout will maximize your workout in a short period of time.   While I was gone this weekend I had ample time to work out: I jogged a mile and a half, used the freeweights (heavy on the arms), then a ton of ab work (crunches and planks).

  1. Work out outside

Go outside! If you’re at a conference, then you’re most likely in a new city with new sights. Go exploring! If you’re fortunate enough to be at a conference someplace warm and delightful such as Orlando or Las Vegas, then put your jogging shoes on and go outside! You’ll get a suntan, have fun people-watching, and get to learn a little bit about a new city. If there is a beach nearby, find it and jog on the sand – it’s an extremely hard and fun workout!

If you do this – please be safe. I’ve been to numerous conferences where the hotel is located in a less-than-desirable neighborhood. Consult with the front desk workers to ask for an optimal jogging path so you don’t end up in a bad part of time. Be safe!

You can even jog outside if you’re terrible with directions. The easiest way is to just go straight on one street, then turn around at the halfway mark.  You can also do a large square: just remember to keep turning in one direction (e.g., to the right) and you’ll eventually make your way back to your starting point!

If you have access to an empty parking lot, there is a lot of things you can do. Use your jump-rope, do suicides, do walking lunges, etc.

  1. Work out in your hotel room

This is particularly useful if you have a very short period of time to work out, such as 15 minutes, or it is after-gym-hours.  Now is the time to put your fitness equipment that you brought with you to use! Some ideas include:

  • Check out this website for exercises you can use with your resistance band
  • Using your freeweights, do bicep curls, shoulder presses, overhead tricep curls, lateral side raises, etc. This website shows a lot of great freeweight exercises
  • Consider doing squats and lunges while watching tv
  • Try jumping jacks (but only at an hour that won’t disturb your neighbors)
  • Take your desk chair and do triceps dips off the edge
  • Do pushups
  • Do situps and crunches. This website shows a lot of different abdominal exercises you can try out. (You’ll have to pick through some exercises that require machines and those that you can do on your own)

Also consider using the hotel stairwell as a workout. If your hotel has four or more floors, try running up and down as many flights of stairs as you can.

Consider using any of the ideas in my previous posting entitled “Workplace Workouts” because the tips all involve working out in a small, confined space, such as a hotel room.

  1. Swim

I’m not a good swimmer, and you don’t have to be.  In a swimming pool you can just run-in place, do jumping-jacks, doggie paddle your way around, or even hang on the edge of the pool and kick furiously.  Any movement you do will suffice. Plus, it’s swimming so it’s fun!

Strategies for Eating While at a Conference

Eating while at conferences can be very tricky. You can’t be so paranoid about food that you make others around you (including any clients!) uncomfortable.  Inevitably there is always a buffett and there is always a cocktail hour that involves yummy-but-terrible-for-you appetizers. Here are some general tips:

  • Eat one of your healthy snacks in your room before having lunch or attending the cocktail hour. That way you aren’t as hungry and won’t devour everything in front of you.
  • Help yourself to one or two appetizers, but cut yourself off after two.
  • If your conference has salad fixings, fresh fruit, or shrimp cocktail, eat as much as you want. Limit your helping of cheese and crackers. Avoid any “pigs in blankets” and chicken fingers like the plague. Avoid potato chips and desserts too.
  • If there are sub sandwiches, take two of them. Throw both buns away immediately. Use the “insides” of the subs as a salad. Sit down, cut the sandwich meat up, and eat it like a salad.  Use any Italian dressing or oil/vinegar combination as your dressing, but steer clear of the mayo and heavier dressings like Ranch, Thousand Island, etc.
  • Spend more time talking to others. If you’re talking, you’re not eating.
  • Stand far away from the food, if possible. If you’re standing close to the food, you’re more apt to eat the food because of its proximity. Step away from the food!

For more strategies for eating formal meals while at the conference, please see the next section.

Tips for Scheduled Meals

Every conference usually has at least one formal sit-down dinner to attend.  This is a harder scenario because either you have no food options, or you have limited options (chicken, beef, or fish.)  Plus, you cannot ask for alternatives, such as “steamed veggies instead of sauted veggies” etc.  The kitchen is making 400 meals and isn’t spending any time making items special for you. These are some tips for eating at formal mealtimes:

  • Always order the fish if possible.
  • The vegetarian menu is not always the healthiest. I’ve seen vegetarian meals smothered in cream and cheese. You’re better off ordering the beef if that’s the case.
  • Grilled chicken is not a bad option on its own. However, avoid “chicken cordon bleu” or chicken that is fried or smothered in cheese or sauce. If you’re unsure of how the chicken is prepared, then opt for the fish.
  • Eat your salad first (you pretty much have to). When the food arrives, eat all your veggies first.
  • Prior to diving into your food, chug one big glass of water. This will fill you up faster.  While you are eating, do not drink anything at all, until 30 minutes after you are done eating.
  • Pass your rolls and bread to the person next to you. Avoid the bread entirely, and if you pass it away from you, you’ll be less tempted to dig in. (Always pass to the right.)
  • When you’re done with your meal, put your silverware on your plate in the 4:00 position. This will indicate to the wait staff to take your plate away, which is a good thing because you don’t want it staring at you.
  • Tell the wait staff that you pass on dessert, if possible. If they bring you some anyway, offer it to the rest of the table. Otherwise, push it to the center of the table, away from your eating space. (Don’t throw your napkin in your food. This is okay if you’re using paper napkins, but don’t do this with formal napkinwear.)

Other interesting dining etiquette that’s fun to know but that doesn’t have anything to do with dieting:

  • Bread is always on your left. Drink is always to your right. If you take both of your hands and put your fingers in an “okay” symbol, you’ll see that your left hand looks like a “b” and your right hand looks like a “d.” Use this as your reminder of which side each item belongs to.
  • Sitting with your back to the wall is the power seat. It’s the “head of the table” even when the table is round. This position allows you to survey not just your table, but the entire room. If you are looking for power play, take this seat first. If you are schmoozing a client, offer him or her the power seat as a courtesy.

Tips for Drinking

Many conferences offer opportunities to drink. Yes, alcoholic beverages. Many conferences offer free alcohol, as well.  There’s no faster way to rack up your calories than alcohol, so it is very important that you watch how much drinking you are doing. Plus, it is unseemly to get too drunk while surrounded by colleagues, co-workers, and clients.

If possible, drink soda or water entirely. You may treat yourself to one glass of wine or beer without fear of reprimand from me, your food nazi.  Beyond one glass of alcohol, you’re treading on dangerous waters.

However, many conferences that I attended required drinking to obliteration. I was in the saleswoman role; and my clients wanted to drink, and they wanted me to drink with them.  This was a little bit of a precarious situation, but I learned a few tricks along the way:

  • If you buy the drinks, you have control over what you order. Get a gin & tonic or vodka & sprite – minus the alcohol. Ask the bartender to pour your soda or water in a highball glass with a lime garnish so it looks authentic.
  • If you know that you’re going to struggle with people trying to get you drunk in the evening, write up a quick note to the waiter or bartender before heading to cocktail hour. I’ve actually done this. My note says, “Hi, I’m in a tricky situation. My clients want me to drink but I really don’t want to. If I order a vodka and sprite, can you please just bring me water? Make the drink look like it’s an alcoholic beverage.” Slip your waiter the note along with a $10 bill, and you’ll be free and clear for the rest of the night.
  • If you must drink, opt for “clear” beverages rather than “dark” beverages. That means vodka & gin is better than rum, brandy, or scotch.
  • Ask for lots of water. Sip a lot of water in between drinks. This will slow you down, if nothing else.
  • There is a point in time when your effectiveness as a salesperson fades away as the evening and alcohol wears on.  I often found myself sticking around because I wanted to be seen as “one of the guys.” However, this did not increase my sales at all to be hang out with a bunch of drunk idiots until the wee hours of the morning. (Oh, how many years did it take me to learn this lesson?) Have your drink or two with your clients politely, then excuse yourself from the group.

If you follow the above strategies and exercise and eat well, you’ll be sure to avoid any unnecessary increase in the scale when you get home.

More Resources

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