By Michael Krueger
I just returned from a wonderful week-long vacation in Montreal. My wife and I had been thinking about doing it for a long time, and so it finally happened. It was everything we had hoped it would be, and we had an absolutely great time.
The food and drinks were fabulous. The pastries, breads, and bagels were amazingly rich and sweet. Wait…I mentioned a lot of carbs there, didn’t I? I also ate butter, sugar, and fat, too. I drank beer, whiskey, and wine! Those are all evil things, aren’t they? However, not only did I eat and drink them, I enjoyed every bite and every sip! Not only that, but I didn’t work out at all; I didn’t even think about it!
Now, THAT’S a vacation!
My New World Order
Back when I was a 60-miles-per-week runner, I always ran on vacation. I automatically packed my shoes, shorts, shirt, and watch; it was just the way it was. I found it was a great way to explore a strange city and find interesting things to do later in the day. Running was just something I did and enjoyed. Now that I don’t run anymore, I slept late instead. Then, I sat in a cafe and sipped coffee, deciding what to do. On this trip, I ate a buttery croissant…or two.
I missed a week’s worth of training, but it was not a big deal. I worked out this morning and pushed really hard. It was exhausting, and I expected that. When you’ve been training for as long as I have, a week away from training has few negative physical repercussions. The only negative tends to be in my head, and that goes away after the first five minutes or so of the workout.
After the workout, I weighed myself and found I had lost a 1½ pounds since last week. Food consumption notwithstanding, this was because we walked everywhere. In fact, it was often in excess of 10 miles per day. So, although I wasn’t training, I was certainly staying active. I slept well, and there was little if any stress. It was a good week.
Overly strict training; obsessing about diet; and counting every calorie and gram of fat, carbs, and protein is a horrible way to live. Prospective clients have frequently told me of their failures over the years. They talked of the fad diets they’ve been on and crazy early morning bootcamps in the park for six or eight weeks, only to quit completely because they were so awful. I felt very bad for them… I would’ve quit, too.
I’m not suggesting that ignoring your diet or not exercising is a good way to live, but I am saying that if you are obsessive and punishing, that is no way to live either. While on vacation, I ate salads and fruit, too. I drank a lot of water. I would stretch whenever we stopped someplace while walking around the city. I stood more than I sat. Even in the airports, I wandered around for something to do and avoided boredom by eating those bagged salty processed carbs that somehow pass for snacks.
Most of the time I eat well. I prefer to cook a good meal rather than go through a drive-thru. I’ll eat a baked potato over french fries. I like chocolate and don’t deny myself, but I don’t eat a giant piece of chocolate cake, either. I like beer, wine, and good liquor, but I don’t go crazy. I think before I eat. I’ll ask “Am I hungry, or just bored?” “Is this food a good choice or is it just convenient?” I don’t eat unconsciously, and neither should you.
I’ve been doing this type of eating long enough that I don’t normally have to think too hard about it. I instinctively know when I need something fresh and green. I can tell when I’ve been a little heavy on carbs and I’ll opt for more protein. I know very quickly when I’ve eaten too much fat; my digestive system is very sensitive to it. So, although I advocate for enjoying your food and eating well, I don’t advocate for eating a lot of garbage. If I’m taking in calories, I want them to be tasty, fresh, and diverse.
I don’t like hotel gyms and I don’t like to go to a little nearby fitness place, either. I like to train in my home gym (really, it’s just my basement between the old darkroom and the woodworking tools); that’s where I’m most comfortable. I can scream and sweat and listen to my music without any regard for anyone else.
I’ve never seen a gym ion which I would want to work out when I’m traveling. If my job required everyday travel, I would have to completely change my way training, but since it doesn’t, I don’t have to. Even if I found myself in a hotel with a well-appointed in-house gym (as I did last week), I still wouldn’t work out. My personality is a bit on the obsessive side, but I can be obsessive about not doing something, too.
With constant exercise, joints, ligaments, and tendons can become inflamed and rupture. Your muscles need stress to get stronger, but they need rest to repair. Exercise burnout is a real thing. Your quest for fitness shouldn’t be the only thing in your life. I enjoy being fit—it’s important to me. Physically, I can do most anything I want and feel good doing it, and that has made my life better in so many ways.
I know a few people who work out many times per week and for a lot of hours. When they go on vacation, they keep up the same pace. A good portion of their time is spent doing exactly what they would be doing at home. I believe that a “getaway” should be exactly that. These people say they couldn’t possibly NOT do their daily workout. They wouldn’t know what to do without it. I think that that’s a problem they might want to look into. Fitness should enhance your life, not dominate it.
Anytime I catch myself looking in the mirror and thinking, “Maybe I should lose a few pounds” or looking up a strength or endurance norm to see if I’m still “good enough,” I take a step back and ask “Why, am I doing this?” Sometimes, it’s benign, while other times it’s the start of something dark. It’s good for me to ask this question to keep my head on the path of health, fitness, and life balance. I’ve lived in the world of fitness obsession and comparison with others, and it’s not a fun or healthy place to be.
So, if you are invited out for dinner by good friends, go and enjoy yourself. You can make good choices and still have a drink and share a dessert if you are so inclined. It’s a cliché, but it’s true that life is short, but I would add to that…
…it’s also meant to be lived.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.