Keep up a healthy diet at a conference

by Ali on March 27, 2008

Many of us manage a healthy diet while in the office, only to see this fall apart completely when out for the day at a conference. I’ve written before about how to cope with buffet lunches, but there are other challenges to be negotiated… Long hours of travelling, free food and sitting in stuffy meeting rooms can add up to a disastrous day for your healthy living efforts.

So what can you do to minimise the damage?

Eat a good breakfast

Unless the conference is very nearby, it’s likely that you’ll be setting off from home earlier than you’d usually go to work. If you struggle to find time for breakfast normally, it’s tempting to stumble out of the door in a sleepy daze and grab a doughnut or other sugar-fix en route.

If you really can’t face having something to eat before setting out, take a couple of pieces of fruit, along with a cereal bar, some mixed fruit and nuts or a few rice cakes. (Or try some of these suggestions for breakfast on the run.) Starting the day as you mean to go on will put you in a good frame of mind for the conference itself.

Get your five-a-day

Fruit and vegetables are not plentiful at conferences. Mid-morning snacks tend to be biscuits rather than apples, and most buffet lunches revolve around sandwiches and fat-laden finger food, rather than salads. I suggested having fruit for breakfast (above) to help towards the five-a-day target. At lunch, try to fill half your plate with fruit or veggies – you’ll often find pieces of tomato, lettuce, carrot sticks or cucumber slices adorning the sandwich trays, which other delegates tend to ignore.

Drink plenty of water

Do you come out of conferences with a headache? If you normally have six-eight glasses of water a day, you’ll probably be dehydrated. Venues are good at supplying tea and coffee, but it can be an effort to get plain water. If there is a water jug or machine, fill up a glass and keep it in front of you to sip during conference sessions. Drink another glass at each break – have tea or coffee as well, if you want it, but drink the water first.

Most events will be perfectly happy for you to bring a bottle of water with you; keep it easily to hand in a bag or on the table in front of you. Don’t forget the journey home, either – refill your bottle or buy a new one.

Plan a healthy dinner

There’s nothing worse than flopping in through the front door at nine pm, tired, grumpy and starving hungry. If you’ve not got anything easy and quick for dinner, you’ll end up grabbing something high on the comfort factor and high in refined carbs – chips, cookies, white bread, or similar.
This is where some preparation pays off. Make sure you have something in the fridge which you can just heat up – a portion of left-over pasta from the previous day, or even a supermarket ready meal. If you’re going to be really late back, buy something on the way home. A salad is a good option, or – if you’re not sick of them after the buffet lunch – almost every shop does a low-fat range of sandwiches.

If you’re peckish when you get in but can’t face a full meal, have something filling, low-fat and high in fibre and wholegrain carbs: porridge or cereal are good options, or brown toast with baked beans.

The key, then, to surviving frequent meetings and conferences with your waistline intact is to plan ahead: have a healthy breakfast and dinner sorted out beforehand, and make sure you get as much fruit, veg and water as possible during the day.

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