So you’re going to a conference.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been wondering how to find the energy you need to keep up your wellness regime and stay healthy during this upcoming flurry of activity. Importantly, just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean you have to let all your good habits fall by the wayside. That said, it’s ok to scale back a little – be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to enjoy the perks that come with this professional opportunity.
So how exactly do you do that? In this Part I of this series, I address best nutrition practices.
Stay hydrated! Sometimes, when we’re thirsty, our body misreads the cue as hunger, which can make us eat more than planned. It can be challenging (and potentially expensive) to stay hydrated during business travel. Bring a BPA-free water bottle with you that can be refilled at water fountains. Many train stations and airports have high-tech, environmentally friendly water filling stations. Filling up your water bottle can also be a great reminder to get up, walk around and take breaks!
Social Networking And Food Go Together Like Peanut Butter And Jelly…
…so it’s important to put some thought into your eating approach before you arrive! A good first step is to be clear on what “healthy eating” means to you. Maybe it’s a calorie-level, or a preference for certain food groups, over others. Or maybe you ascribe to a particular diet, or dietary lifestyle, like Paleo or Veganism. Having a firm grasp on what healthy looks like for you will allow you to apply that understanding by making deliberate and determined choices while at the conference. It will also mitigate the guilt that often accompanies more impulsive decisions.
Trying to be healthy when you don’t have complete control over your environment – like when you're traveling – can create a lot of stress. I can remember being at many a conference where I would just skip a meal if I felt like there weren't healthy options. While I found the lack of healthy choices, in and of itself, stressful, skipping a meal and compromising my energy supply for the day made my stress even worse. Thankfully, hotels and conference centers now offer many healthy options, and when they don’t, I've also learned to come prepared!
That said, it’s a good idea to travel with healthy (non-perishable) snacks. My personal favorites are: raw almonds or packets of almond butter to slather on a banana; low sugar and minimally processed protein bars; organic instant oatmeal (just mix with hot water and add whatever fruits are available or bring your own raisins); and grass-fed beef jerky. Getting my greens and high-quality protein are the aspect of my nutritional routine that I get most concerned about when I travel. To avoid missing out, I pack my powders (green superfood and protein) and a smoothie cup for easy mixing. (Note: If I’m flying, I make sure to pack my powders in checked luggage so TSA doesn’t wonder why I’m traveling with a white powdery substance). If you don’t have time to get snacks together before you leave, you can often find healthy choices at popular places like the protein box at Starbucks or green juice or cage free hard boiled eggs at Pret A Manger.
The “7S” Framework
I call my approach to maintaining nutritional balance the “7 Ss.” When at a conference, or when travelling, generally, I make sure to turn up the volume on these practices.
- Check in with your STATE.
At conferences, we often eat mindlessly because we’re focused on other things, or because we’re unsure when our next chance to eat will be. So, before even selecting your food, check in with your overall state of being (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual). This will help you determine what and how much you need to eat. Ask yourself: “WTF” or what’s the feeling? In my experience, if I’m overwhelmed or feeling stressed in any way, I tend not to make the best nutritional choices. That’s why it’s important to pause and re-set your nervous system if you’re feeling out of whack. When you’re calm and more relaxed, it’s much easier to make healthy choices.
- SMART choices based on what works best for you nutritionally.
Hotels can sometimes have these options, but if they don’t, grab one of your healthy snacks, or buy one locally. Simply put: do the best you can.
- STRATEGIC throughout the day.
Set guidelines for yourself at the beginning of the day. If you indulge for breakfast, maybe play catch up by eating a healthier lunch. Remember: eating isn’t just about one meal; it’s about the “big picture” of your entire day.
- SMALL portions.
Often, conference meals can include hefty servings and/or large buffets. A best practice I try to implement is to automatically cut whatever the served portion is in half. As for buffets, instead of diving in headfirst, I try to take a little bit of all of the items that call to me instead of taking whole portions. A great guideline to follow: always make sure you can see a ring of white around your plate.
- (Eat and chew) SLOWLY.
This can be difficult if you’re running between sessions, but do your best to practice mindful eating. No gulping! The more slowly you eat, the more likely you’ll be to recognize the feeling of fullness.
- Make it SACRED.
If you’re looking for additional ways to slow yourself down, try taking a moment of gratitude prior to eating. Personally, this step reminds me that I'm fortunate to have something to eat (even if it’s not what I’d prefer to be eating) because – let’s face it –there are millions of people throughout the world who don't. If I’m eating with others (as is usually the case at conferences), I also use this step to remind myself to make every moment I share with others sacred. This helps me shift focus and remember that I’m not there for the food – I’m there for the connection.
- SAVOR it.
I talk to my daughter a lot about making "happy choices" versus "healthy choices". While we don't deny "happy choices" in our house (because we value the health benefits of happiness), we try to have "healthy choices" outnumber them. And when we do make "happy choices" (and it is important to note they are not mutually exclusive) we make sure to enjoy every bite to the fullest – that way, we are in a state of joy and appreciation rather than on of guilt, shame or self-judgment. If you make the occasional happy choice, like a decadent dessert, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Whether making a “happy” or “healthy” choice, celebrate and enjoy the moment. The key here is: everything in healthy moderation.
Let’s face it, where there are conferences, there are cocktail parties and receptions. And if you’re a consultant, there can be added “let’s catch up for a quick drink” meetings with clients and prospects. If you don’t set some guidelines to pace yourself, you can easily drink more than you planned and that can kill your energy and productivity for the next day (not to mention that can be a bit compromising to your networking efforts!). Here are some strategies that can help:
- Set an up-front limit for yourself:
Before you take that first sip, set a maximum number of drinks for that evening. Math is strict and solid: if you set a reasonable number and keep track as you move through the night, the numbers won’t lie. You can always re-negotiate with yourself if you want to go a bit past your limit. However, if you don’t set one in the first place, it’s easy to lose track.
- Use the Pellegrino strategy:
I don’t know who is credited with the water between every drink strategy but I’m grateful for them! I like to alternate with Pellegrino and have it in a wine glass with whatever fruit is on hand. This ups the fancy factor and makes me feel like I’m in festive mode.
- Buddy up:
If you’ll be on the cocktail circuit with a friend or colleague, share your up-front limit with them and ask them to help you stay on track. Offer to do the same for them. And set up some guidelines for what to do when you want to re-negotiate your up-front limit. For example, your limit only ever goes up by one drink. Or if you’re adding an extra drink (or two) you double up on the water in between.
- Implement the 7 Ss above:
The strategic approach of the 7 S’s above can be equally helpful in a drinking context.
In Part II of this series, I’ll share tips on keeping up with good sleep, exercise and other stress management practices that will help make your conference as productive and enjoyable as possible!