content note: exercise / healthy food choices
also: request for advice / suggestions
So, I’m planning on traveling a lot in 2020, with constructing the book tour for Feast, along with SF convention work for the SLF. Prioritizing health is surprisingly difficult to manage with this much travel. It’s become clear that at 48, my body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. I get sick much more easily, I gain weight more quickly — just maintaining my base health levels become challenging when I add travel.
That said, I also both need to travel for work, and I love traveling. Seeing new places, visiting far-flung friends and making new ones, eating local food — those are great joys in my life.
I’d honestly love to travel more; if I can figure out a way to become more of a travel & food writer, combining that with everything else I do, I’ll be thrilled. I’m also often startlingly productive with my writing while traveling — I’m writing this on the plane right now, and my agent told me that Diana Gabaldon famously writes constantly in taxis while traveling. I *think* this can all go together, and as the kids get older, I’m hoping I can start taking them along on occasion, and Kevin and Jed too.
So I NEED to find a way to travel in a healthy manner. I submit to you a photo of the available options when I arrived at baggage claim. I was feeling snack-ish, and would have been delighted to eat some of the gorgeous persimmon salad pictured on the cover of the Eating Well magazine I was reading at the time, but none of that on offer for me — chips, chips, and more chips. Chips are tasty, of course, but I can’t argue that they’re healthy options.
Once in a while, I’ll see a Farmer’s Fresh in an airport, but their business model depends on high enough traffic that the salad greens and such can turnover quickly; we looked into getting one for our library, but we don’t have enough volume for them. If I want healthy food in transit, I basically have to plan ahead and bring it with me.
Not easy with fresh greens, but not impossible, with a little strategizing. I’m going to be trying to think a lot about this. I can’t remember who it was told me about an author they knew on book tour who would pack and bring coolers of poached chicken breast with her. I’m not quite that committed, I think, but something to think about.
Some of this is money, of course. If I’m willing and able to spend a little more, I can usually find healthier food choices. Sometimes that means going to a sit-down restaurant instead of grabbing snacks from a vending machine. I’m going to try to prioritize budgeting for that whenever possible, because if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. My dad the doctor used to say that to me, and more and more, it’s clear that’s more true than I’d like it to be.
I had a lot of conversations at this conventions with other writers about health. Cancer really did give me a kick in the pants, you know. That was when I told Kevin that we needed to prioritize budgeting for health going forward. Physical health, mental health.
I can’t remember exactly when it was that Kev and I had our summer of weight lifting (I think before cancer, actually), where we both somehow ended up committing to it fairly seriously, and would go and workout pretty much every day, passing each other on the way to the basement to trade off time on the weights.
A friend complimented my arm muscles earlier today (thanks, Sugi! ), and another told me that I was looking great. I told both of them that it’s all pretty much due to that one summer; it had lasting effects on my body. I didn’t lose pounds, but my body reshaped itself. I dropped two dress sizes, and have basically stayed at that size since, despite not really dieting or exercising steadily.
This is, of course, what all the weight-lifting books and advocates and fitness trainers will tell you — muscle burns more calories, so if you build more muscle, then you can eat more without gaining weight. And once you build it, it tends to stick around, in my experience, unless something like a serious illness lays you out.
I must have done the weight lifting before cancer, maybe the year before? Because I remember, during chemo and its attendant exhaustion, the months laying on the couch, being so frustrated, fretting that all my muscles, all that hard work, would wither away. Thankfully, they didn’t go that fast. And my doctors told me that part of why I handled chemo and surgery and radiation so well was that I was in decent physical shape to begin with.
I’m trying to get back to exercising daily. As I realized recently, I basically stopped exercising last August, when the semester started and I got intensely busy with that and Kickstarter fulfillment. I also, not coincidentally, got sick a lot more last fall than I have in a while — I kept catching colds, one after another, which slowed me down.
It’s hard to make the time to exercise, but if I don’t, I lose at least that much time to sickness, which is even less fun than lifting weights. I actually kind of like lifting weights — it’s just getting myself started again that’s hard. (It’s key that I originally started with a class, and working with a trainer; that gave me the confidence to be able to walk into a weight room and use it without feeling self-conscious, and without worrying that I’d hurt myself. Highly recommended if you’re thinking about starting lifting.)
I have a few sessions left with a personal trainer from last summer; I’m going to schedule them again now, to help myself get started again. If I had the budget, I’d meet with her three times a week; instead, I’m going to rely on tracking again, maybe a workout group or girlfriends or making a deal with Kevin — something to help keep me accountable.
I have a FB group for fitness, actually, Olympians, but it’s been a little quiet lately. Maybe time to start it up again more actively, for myself at least. Make a plan for the semester, a pledge.
Weights at least twice / week, tracking and progressing (I love watching the little numbers climb. “Today I can do 10 deadlifts of 45 pounds. Next week, it’ll be 12. The week after, I’ll bump it to 50 pounds, and drop down to 8 deadlifts, or even 6. And slowly, but steadily, progress.”
Daily cardio of some kind, too, if at all possible. I’m not sure I’m going to manage the cardio today, given travel complexities, but I did go to the hotel gym every day I was here, even when I was feeling tired and a little sick, and I walked around town whenever possible, so I did pretty well overall. And I ALWAYS felt better after exercising. I have to try to remember that.
Maybe I can go to the pool and do some laps tonight, after I get home and see the kids and eat dinner with them. I think the lap lanes are open 9-10 or so. I should check. Hmm… Learning how to swim properly has been a huge boon and a great investment in my long-term health. It took me until age 45 or so, and I still am not quite as confident as I’d like to be, but I’m so much better than I was a few years ago, and swimming is both great exercise and something I can do for the rest of my life.
And then there’s food. A salad daily, if at all possible. Salads rarely excite me as a concept, especially when I’m feeling cold, but I actually usually like them when I’m eating them; I have to try to remember that. I had Asian gingered ground chicken in lettuce wraps at the airport restaurant today, and it was a great choice, tasty and filling, giving me a good boost of energy to carry me through working on the plane back to Chicago (though twice the price of the fried egg roll option, of course).
Beyond that, I’m going to have to just try to be more conscious, and to strategize while traveling. If there’s nothing appealing in the hotel restaurant (and the prices are usually exorbitant anyway), how about walking a few blocks away to get something healthier? What delivery options are there?
That’ll often be less convenient, and if I’m really tightly scheduled with back-to-back panels, it may not be possible, so I need to plan for that too. Kind bars and granola and bison bars? Apples and clementines. Sometimes I’m craving salt — I should have a ‘go bag’ for travel already packed with salted pistachios.
I need to sit down and make a travel packing list anyway, so I don’t forget the swimsuit and sneakers and sports bra and the little cards with the body weight exercises if the hotel doesn’t have a decent gym. And yes, take all of that, even if I’m not sure I’m going to use them, even though they take up room in the suitcase and it means I have to check a bag. It’s worth it. Prioritize the hotel with a pool, even if it’s $10 / night more expensive.
My trainer suggested protein shakes that just need water added. Is there a similar thing with chicken broth? Instant oatmeal and dried fruit and nuts, since the hotel rooms usually have a way of making boiling water? What do athletes do for food on the road? I need to be much more intentional about all of this in advance, because I get anxious if I don’t have sufficient food near me me, and sometimes that leads me to making poor choices.
And of course, as a food writer and a general lover of food, I do eat out a lot, and sometimes that means I’m ordering the fries. Exercising regularly (not excessively) means I can do that on occasion with fewer qualms.
I was troubled by how often when this came up in conversation at the convention this week, people said they didn’t exercise while traveling. Maybe it’s not a big deal — maybe their health is generally good enough that their constitutions can take a few days of sedentary convention sitting at tables without much impact? But my body clearly can’t handle that these days; I start feeling terrible very quickly.
So here’s the thread where I encourage you to take care of yourselves on the road, whatever that looks like for you and your one singular beautiful body.
It’s also the thread where I invite you to give me your exercise / healthy eating while traveling / avoiding getting sick on the road suggestions.
What do you do to take care of yourselves on planes, trains, and automobiles? I’d love to make myself a list!