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Conference Food Part 2

May 29, 2011

My company hosts a conference called the Summit every 12-18 months. This past week we were in Miami for the second year in a row, in what was my eleventh such event. As I went through the week, I found myself thinking about how much my eating habits at these conferences has changed.

I wrote about my struggles at the first one in 1999:
The food, of course, was [difficult because we had] defined meal times and a set menu that didn’t necessarily correspond to the times or foods with which I was accustomed. Breakfast was the biggest problem. It wasn’t served until 8 or 8:30, far too late for me. Lunch was then at 12 or 12:30, with an afternoon snack at 2:30 or 3, and dinner usually at 7 or 7:30. I felt like I needed to eat as much as I could when the opportunity presented itself, since I didn’t decide when I was eating again. Plus, it was free! All-you-can-eat buffets, three meals a day, are not particularly helpful to the weight-challenged.

It also didn’t help that, since I had only been with [my company] for three months, I didn’t know anyone very well, either co-workers or clients, [and the art of small talk]… was bewildering and intimidating to me. It wasn’t something I felt a strong desire to learn, either; …I wasn’t interested in drawing attention to myself. Eating at least gave me something to do, and I clung to the walls, plate held defensively in front of me like a shield. I also sometimes had the problem of not eating enough at one meal, trying to retain at least a scrap of self-control, only to find myself starving by the next meal and falling on the food with a rapacity that disturbed even me.


Given that, and the amount and type of food provided (refer to last year’s entry), the first five or six Summits I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was going to gain about five pounds during the week. Then I realized that I was sabotaging myself by going in with that mindset. After all, we often live up to our expectations, and by thinking that it was inevitable for me to gain weight, I essentially gave myself permission to eat more than I needed.

So a few years ago, I decided not to do that anymore. Now that I have more experience, I have too much to do at the conferences to feel sluggish or sick from overeating, or from eating foods that don’t agree with me. As a result, this year, as in the past few years, I’ve returned home the same weight as when I left.

How do I do it, you may ask? Partly it’s about being prepared, so it was appropriate that my “Am I Hungry?” class last week was all about helping to decide what to eat when you are hungry, based on what you want, need, and have. The trick, therefore, is to make sure that I have foods that I want to eat on-hand, ready for when I’m hungry, instead of relying on only when and what conference foods were available. This meant bringing my own breakfast (Luna bars, dried salami, and apples), as well as plenty of snacks (trail mix, peanuts, dried fruit, carrots, snap peas, and dark chocolate).

I also let myself be a food snob. While the buffet table may be laden with options, I examine and sample it all with a choosy eye. I don’t feel compelled to try everything, instead focusing on just the dishes that seem particularly outstanding, or isn’t something I often get at home. For instance, I chose lamb one day, lime-marinated shrimp another, and blackened Mahi-Mahi a third, instead of chicken.

Finally, I reminded myself that my goal was to feel good after eating. This let me take small servings, see how I felt afterward, and go back for a little more if I chose.

The end result was that I got through the conference not just without weight gain, but with consistent energy, able to focus on the questions and demands at hand, and feeling pretty good. (Apart from the general and pervasive tiredness that comes from being “on” so much.) I judged my snacks perfectly, finishing the last of them on the flight home, and all told I feel that I successfully determined when, what and how much to eat. Even after all this time, that feels like a great accomplishment.

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