Friday, December 10, 2010

The Salad Girls

Business travel took me to Arizona for 3 days this week. With many trips, maintaining some control over how much food I eat can be a challenge. When traveling for work, you typically work a little later than you normally would, you skip the post-workday workout and you gather some other traveling colleagues and go out for a great meal. None of which are that beneficial for your health.

Before this week’s trip, I had decided I would use these three days as a little experiment to learn more about the challenges of eating while traveling for work. I wanted to avoid as much processed food as possible. Breakfast was easy as the buffet included fresh fruit and whole-grain bread. I skipped the coffee (feeling parched from airplane travel) and opted for hot tea. Lunch both days was a salad, with grilled chicken, no dressing, no bread. Not bad. Dinner on night two was sushi also a pretty healthful choice though I did indulge in a few rolls with yummy sauces spread over the top. Not to mention some wine.

Dinner on night one, however, was most interesting. I went to a lovely little family owned Italian restaurant with two close colleagues and two people I had only met a few hours before. As we were waiting for our table the aroma was heavenly. The menu? Very traditional family Italian, very rich and not very healthy. I had a small mental battle, really wanting to try “Mama’s” ravioli (Mama was there, of course, watching over her brood and you knew, just by looking at her, that this woman could really, really cook). The group opted to order one of their famous pizzas to share as a starter and I was voted to choose so we had a prosciutto, Parmesan and arugula pizza. As we order our mains, one of the women I had just met ordered a salad.  Pasta for the other three and when it came to me I decided on a spinach salad. My body was tired from a long flight, my body was confused by eating so late, I didn’t want to feel weighed down by a heavy meal and I was hoping for a good night’s sleep.

The two colleagues I’ve worked with for years, immediately made a comment about my dinner choice. Perhaps you’ve gotten one of those comments before, or perhaps you’ve even made them. Something to the effect of, “Oh, of course you’re getting a salad. You always have to be the healthy one.” I’ve learned over the years to simply nod and smile and let the conversation move on to other things. To be honest, my salad wasn’t that great (the slice of pizza I had, however, was terrific) and I skipped the bread (which Mama also made). We left, I felt sated and not stuffed and managed a good night of sleep.

The following day, I was chatting with my salad co-conspirator who expressed how much she appreciated me also ordering a salad so she wasn’t the only one eating leaves in the face of cheesy, creamy pasta dishes.  She too had been on the receiving end of “those comments” about making the healthy choice. We commiserated for a few moments as if whispering about a secret and went on to our meeting.

As I travel home, I’m left with a wondering. What makes people comment on the food choices we make? Is it envy? Support? Judgment? Justification? Random, meaningless dinner conversation? Is there a “good” way to make a comment? Should we simply say nothing at all?

I certainly don’t feel better when someone remarks that I’m being healthy when out at a restaurant. What I really want to say is “Yes, I am being healthy because I care about my body and my life and my health and my family and I seriously doubt the pasta you just ate is actually worth feeling icky for the next few hours.” I don't, of course. I nod and smile and eat my leaves and I know taking care of me is my first priority… Mama, pasta and comments be damned.

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