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

The hotel workout

Get fit when you’re staying in a hotel

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