Staying healthy at a conference: How to load your brain and not your waist (Part 1)

This past week I had the privilege of attending the Canadian Obesity Summit 2017 hosted by the Canadian Obesity Network. It was a highly anticipated event that had me traveling to Banff, Alberta for a a week of meetings, teachings on the latest and greatest, and networking with some of the leading figures in obesity medicine in North America. It was a blast.

Highlights included receiving the Canadian Obesity Network Health Care Practitioner Travel Award from Canada’s leading obesity specialist, Dr. Arya Sharma.

I decided to write a post about staying healthy during conference travel as I recall anticipating that it was going to be an “off-track” week for me. You can almost guarantee that at any conference there will be a lot of big meals on offer, snacks and treats, cocktails, all in the setting of sedentariness – roughly 8+ hours of sitting and listening! It can be a struggle to achieve optimal learning if you’re feeling low in energy and suffering from post-meal lethargy all day, everyday. Here are the strategies I employed during the week to ensure that I loaded my brain and not my waist!

Airport friendly salad.

1. En route, always prepare food for the airport. Many don’t realize that you are able to bring meals from outside through security. I always make sure that I have a salad I’ve made or purchased in advance because I don’t want to be a victim to awful airport food and prices. This is actually a salad I picked up on the way to the airport – Wendy’s Power Mediterranean Salad. I don’t normally opt for fast food, but Wendy’s has a refreshingly decent salad selection to choose from. Remember to always evaluate nutrition info and to go lighter on the dressing if it’s already doused with sauces from the marinades and such.

2. Stand when you can. Although studies suggest it doesn’t actually help you lose weight (sitting burns between .99 and 1.46 kcal/min while standing burns between 1.29 and 1.36 kcal/min as stated in this article from the International Journal of Obesity), there may be some evidence for it to lower blood sugar. I find it most helpful for concentration and from dozing off after a big lunch! I also find that sitting leads to fatigue and subsequently  more sitting, so standing helps break that cycle.

3. Find fitness centre within the hotel and use it. Sedentariness drives more sedentariness so break out of it with some activity. Even if it’s to squeeze in a 30 minute session on a stationary bike, it’s always beneficial to get your muscles into motion. Although you can’t necessarily do enough physical training to negate the caloric intake, exercise is a great modality for weight maintenance. I made a point to hit the gym at least every other day of the conference, and I always felt great when I did.

My buffet lunch method. Half veg, quarter protein, teensy bit of carbs.

4. If it’s a buffet lunch, remember my basic plating rules. Fill half the plate with raw veg (I usually do raw greens), add 1 serving spoonful of other cooked veggies, 1-2 spoonfuls of protein of choice. If you want carbs, do half a spoonful of such (with that much variety you won’t even miss it).

5. Always have fruits like bananas, and prepackaged nut butters on hand when you’re in a bind for breakfast and/or snacks. Prep will help you avoid the hotel breakfast items and snacks that are usually calorically dense and expensive. I tend not to go heavy on breakfast especially if I’m going to be sitting all day since our body isn’t doing much to require that fuel.

This is Part 1 of a 2 part series. Given that our attention span (mine included) is limited to a few minutes of reading I’ll spare you the rest of the article for later this week!