How to stay healthy in the business setting?

Business setting - At a restaurantA friend of mine sent me the following question and he agreed that I could answer it in this post here.

Hi Peter…I’ve been enjoying your posts for a while now, and finally checked out your website this morning. Congratulations on the change and the move to a healthier lifestyle. You speak words that resonate. In December I finally went on cholesterol meds, and was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic. The biggest challenge I face every day is travel, bad food associated with travel, lots of professional activities that always involve bad food and alcohol, etc.. I would love to hear more about how you deal with these types of pressures. I’m sure in your role at your company you must deal with lots of pressure to socialize, drink lots of wine, and no doubt travel a lot. How do you condition yourself to say no in a business that requires this? That requires client interaction and participations?

Travel, work pressure, and the need to interact in industry settings is the single biggest challenge I face (I think).

This is a great question and one that I have struggled with immensely and am still struggling with. It’s true that my job calls me to travel a lot and be in lots of situations where the food choices available are not that great. It’s such a good question because it’s made me stop and think about it for a couple of days. I know that I’ve made some very significant improvements in this area, but it’s hard for me to define exactly how I’ve done that. I’ve done some deep personal thinking and asked myself some tough questions.

But, just before we go on, I’d like to say that┬ábeing pre-diabetic is not a life sentence. It can be controlled and/or reversed simply by diet and lifestyle. There’s plenty of proof and the Simply Raw movie is a good case in point. Watch this movie for some facts and inspiration. A couple of years ago I was on cholesterol meds, but I’ve been off them for 18 months and my cholesterol is normal.

Now, let’s get back to the problem with the business setting.

Business setting - buffet foodHow does the business setting apply pressure?

It’s easy to blame all the usual things like flights where good food options often aren’t available and often there’s too much food and alcohol available combined with no exercise. Also, company and client dinners where we’re expected to socialize, eat rich food and drink alcohol. However, after really asking myself some tough questions, I find that I was using these events as an excuse to eat a lot and drink a lot. They became times where I didn’t have to watch what I ate because “I’m on business, what can I do? I have to socialize!”. It ends up that’s not true.

What happened when I started eating better and drinking less in the business setting?

Once, when I was really worried about my health, I decided to not drink alcohol at all on one 2-week business trip. This was the first time I could remember not having any alcohol at all on a business trip. I was in the U.S. and whenever alcohol was offered, I asked for Iced Tea of sparkling water. To my surprise, nobody made any comments. A couple of times people were surprised that I wasn’t drinking wine, but nothing was said after that. No problems at all. These days, depending on the situation, I’ll either have Iced Tea/Sparkling Water or I’ll have a glass of wine but drink it very slowly. Nobody notices that the wine is disappearing slowly. I find it very easy to have little or no alcohol in the business setting.

Eating better can be harder. Often there’s just no really good healthy choice, and it’s all most likely non-organic. Anyway, I always try to pick the best option available and try and leave most of the worst portions of that. I order salads whenever possible and ensure that the dressing is on the side. My tastes have evolved and I really prefer salads without dressing these days. The dressings taste bad to me now. Also, I try and avoid bread and other carbohydrates completely and don’t normally eat dessert, unless I can get some fresh fruits.

Business setting - Fresh vegetable saladIs it possible to take some personal control of food quality?

Depending on where I’m traveling, I’ve realized that I can take some of my own food with me or find an organic supermarket in the location to which I’m going. The sorts of things I take or buy and leave in the hotel room include;

  • goji berries
  • dates
  • nuts of various kinds
  • dried figs
  • dark chocolate
  • cacao beans

among other things. I keep these in my hotel room in case there was a meal where I really couldn’t eat very much. Also, if there was a big lunch that day, I can substitute some of these for a light meal in the evening.

In hotels, if I’m eating in, I’ll enquire about the menu. At one hotel I found out that they did have a greek salad that wasn’t listed on the menu. That was perfect for me. Also, all of their desserts were very sugary so I asked if they could do some fresh fruit, and the answer was yes! Perfect. Now I find that most restaurants will do some sort of fresh fruit or berries, even if they are not on the menu.

On an airplane it’s easy not to have any alcohol. Nobody cares. Sparkling water and tea. Easy. Again, food is harder and I’m just starting to try pre-ordering meals and going for more vegetarian or vegan options. Some airlines are starting to offer vegetarian raw meals. We’ll see how that goes.

Business setting - fresh fruits salad in bowl  and berriesHow do people react to my attempts to be healthy in the business setting?

It was a great surprise that when people really did start noticing that I was trying to eat and drink in a more healthy way, that the majority of them were interested and actually wanted to join in. Many would say things like “I’ve been wanting to do that too”. It seems that most people are concerned about their health and are all caught on the same merry-go-round of feeling like they have to eat and drink a lot to be sociable.

Of course, some people do just want to have what they think is a good time and over eat and over drink. That’s their choice and that’s fine with me, but I’ll try and stay away from groups like that because it just makes it harder for me.

It’s still a struggle

Even though I’ve made a lot of progress and found that it was infinitely easier than I’d thought, I’m still fighting an inner urge to over eat and over drink whenever I’m out of the routine I’m used to at home. I have business settings pretty well under control now, but have much more trouble when on holidays (like on a skiing trip) where I’m supposed to be unwinding and relaxing. I’m not fretting too much over these holiday periods as they are only occasional and I really enjoy them, but I’m also sure that I’d enjoy them just as much with a bit less food and alcohol.

Take your first step

So, to a pre-diabetic, I wish you all the best of luck. Just take your first step towards eating better and drinking less. Even if it doesn’t work, you can always take another step. That’s the great thing. As somebody once said “Even if you stumble, you’re still moving forward”.

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3 Responses to “How to stay healthy in the business setting?”

  1. Sue

    Great suggestions Peter. I experienced the same and as I transition to a new company, I worry about coming under this pressure again. However, people are used to my pickiness so I usually play that card!! My solution to airplane food is to get a salad (no dressing) somewhere in the airport before I board. And a large bottle of water (except in South America where they won’t key you board with it?) … I always carry snacks in my baggage too (nuts, etc).

    • Pete

      Hi Sue,

      One problem I have is that if I eat before I board, I’m still tempted to eat again when I’m on the plane and then I’m eating double. There’s always that little voice saying things like “c’mon, you’re on a long flight and this is tough, you deserve to eat that food that looks nice”. To eat well on the plane, or not eat at all, my conscious mind has to keep an eye out for those little voices and keep them in check.


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