March 26, 2008

Eating healthy is a CLM

I just committed a huge CLM. Translation for those of you not in consulting: Career Limiting Move. Usually this applies to things like screwing up a detail on something we send to the client, checking a bag at the airport, or forgetting a jacket when you’re supposed to wear business formal. Tonight I learned of another CLM: trying to be healthy.

Today our workload was manageable, and I didn’t have any team dinners or events planned for the evening. I planned to get some kind of healthy food, relax in my room while eating, and then watch Biggest Loser and work out. I was totally psyched.

Then around 5 PM, my manager suggests going out to dinner. I cautiously agreed, because I’m the lowly analyst, and what they say goes. I figured my night would be a little off my original plan, but it wouldn’t be a huge deal, and after all, being flexible is what consulting is all about. I’ve gotten pretty adept at finding the healthy foods wherever we go, and I could always work out late tonight. I’d miss Biggest Loser, but that’s okay, I could catch up on it another night.

My manager says “let’s do Chinatown.” I was really not in the mood for Chinese food – if I was going to splurge, it was going to be on a big juicy steak. I just had Chinese food on Friday night, and I went completely overboard and got some greasy, calorie-laden, fattening fried noodles. (Just thinking back makes me a little queasy, though I loved them at the time). My manager names the restaurant, and I immediately head over to Yelp to check out the reviews and see the menu. Manager proudly pointed out that it had gotten 4.5 stars from most of the reviews, but as I browsed them, I found that many reviews gave 4 or 5 stars but said some things that I didn’t really like:

“Went here for the “legendary” peking duck and was not wowed. They show you the whole duck (and trust me, I LOVE duck!) and then the first course was all skin. Kinda not my thing… I love skin, but I like to mix it with meat.”
“Here’s the low down on the food. Expect it to be greasy. Anytime you get a noodle dish, you’ll see a slick of oil on the plate after you’re done. If you’re not used to eating such greasy foods, it may not sit well.”
“Scallion pancakes. Usually pretty crispy and yummy with soy sauce and hot sauce. From the Rice Cake part of the menu, get it fried with beef. Again, greasy but very good.”
“anyway we both got the ‘peking raviolis’ (potstickers in non-white people terms). he got the chicken and i got the pork. both were drenched in oil, but very delicious. i got a small hot and sour soup – big portions. we also got the scallion pancake – unlike my mom who bakes hers, these were fried.”
“While the food is a bit greasy, and some of the meat I’ve had has been mediocre, you can’t go wrong with their extremely quick delivery and great service.”
“the best greasy chinese food, and I love it!”
“This small, dive-y restaurant is perfect if you love cheap, greasy Chinese food! Under $20 for two. I ordered the peking raviolis, (known as potstickers out west), which are fried and pork filled. Very meaty. Very greasy. Very good. The last item ordered, was the large wonton soup. To cut the grease.”
“Where else would you find the best greasy Shanghai noodles and scallion pancake in town?”

Notice a common theme here? I pointed the reviews out to my manager (who has only been here a few weeks, but usually has excellent taste – I was surprised he picked this place). The rest of the team was like “ohhhhh Laura doesn’t eat greasy food.” I replied that it’s not that I don’t ever eat greasy food, but that I’m really trying to be a bit healthier, and this place didn’t sound like I could really do that. My manager was then like, “so what kind of food do you eat?” Implying that I’m a picky eater. Again, I tried to correct him, saying that I eat just about everything in moderation, but that I had just had greasy Chinese food on Friday night… no luck. I decided I had made my feelings clear, and that later I’d casually say that I wasn’t going to come.

7:30 hits, and my manager announces that we need to pack and go in order to make his 8 PM reservation. I keep working, and say I’m going to skip dinner… and then the problems start. I give half a dozen reasons why I’m not going (I’m tired, I have work to do, I want to get home, I’m not in the mood for Chinese, I want to work out, I’m trying to eat healthy, we’re going out for dinner tomorrow, etc). Still, the manager and senior consultant keep trying to convince me. They finally give up and leave, and so I ask the other consultant (who was heading back to NYC tonight) whether it’s a big deal that I didn’t go. His response? “If you want my honest opinion instead of me being nice, then yes, it is a big deal.” I tried to explain my rationale, and especially that it wasn’t an official team dinner – just a spontaneous function that was supposed to be “fun” rather than for a business person. Still, he pointed out that I can’t put personal things ahead of business, and that I should have sucked it up and gone.

I am so angry right now. I am trying so hard to lose weight, and I’ve been so good the last few days. Yesterday, when the team ordered pizza and frozen yogurt for lunch, I declined and picked up a healthy (a little salty, but at least low-cal/low-fat) frozen dinner at the grocery. That afternoon, when offered Girl Scout cookies, I pulled out a plum that I had brought. This morning, instead of stopping to pick up an Au Bon Pain pastry like most of the team, I got Kellogg’s All-Bran Extra Fiber cereal (50 cals/cup) and some light vanilla soy milk. Instead of burritos for lunch, I got another frozen meal. And instead of having chips as an afternoon snack, I had some celery and red peppers that I cut yesterday and brought with me. In short, I am rocking my diet. I don’t need some crappy greasy Chinese food to screw that up. But I also don’t need my attempts to lose weight to also make me lose my job.

So to recap, my options were as follows:
-Go to the restaurant, eat crap, and ruin my diet
-Go to the restaurant, try to eat healthy, but get stuck with oil-drenched food that’s just as unhealthy as if I ordered fried noodles
-Go to the restaurant, refuse all food, and commit just as much of a CLM (if not more of one) as I did by not going
-Or, try to politely turn down the invitation and not go at all
It seems like I’m in a lose-lose situation.

I need to get over this and move on. Since I stayed home, I need to make my mistake count for something. Extra hard workout tonight to work off my frustration.


10 thoughts on “Eating healthy is a CLM”

  1. You know your diet is a success when a coworker 4,000 miles away claims they watched you survive off of tofu and asparagus for 6 months.

    Some dinner tricks… which probably sound quite cliche but I’ve actually pulled this off a couple of times…

    1.) Don’t order a meal, order appetizers. Dry, small chunks work the easiest.
    2.) Graciously force all others to sample your meal selections. No takers — dump into napkin on lap, discreetly pour into big purse under table.
    3.) Meticulously cut the same chunk of food for as long as possible. I once made it through an entire meal cutting the same wonton to shreds and was still eating the same 2″ in diameter morsel when dinner completed.
    4.) Come prepared. A woman armed with an apple and one of those odwalla smoothies and at least an hour of conversation material is hard to divert from a diet. Subscribe to interesting news or common interest blogs on Google reader, study up before hand.
    5.) Always drive/enable yourself to travel separately. If it were me trying to dodge china town, I would have set an alarm on my celly that would go off in the same tone as my ringtone (God bless the Blackberry). Set alarm to be just as you’re arriving/being seated. Ring, excuse self, come back relatively frazzled, offer no specifics about need to immediately depart, throw a “hey – let’s attack that Smith incident in the morning, I think I have a lead on an easier approach,” smile confidently, gracefully exit.

  2. Sorry to hear about your CLM, Laura. I’m not much of a dieter myself, but I’ve used #5 above as stated by chia on many occasions to get out of a sticky situation. I’d probably go to dinner, look over the menu, and if I really didn’t see anything appetizing (or in my case sometimes, hated the company) I’d excuse myself as if i’m hitting the restroom, and then come back and say i have some family/friend emergency that required my immediate assistance, and then leave gracefully. It’s worked for me in the past. Just my two cents.

    Hope you got your workout in and feel better today.

  3. I don’t work in a corporate setting really, so I can’t say for sure. But when you declined, the polite thing for them to do was to let it go. If it wasn’t required and it wasn’t a business meeting, then what is the big deal?

    P.S. I love the Daily Plate! I had gotten suggestions for a couple other sites, but this one I liked the best! : )

  4. man that really stinks. I think people get jealous when you try to be healthy. I sent an e mail to friends and family to share my accomplishment of running a half marathon.In the e-mail I encouraged them all to do something they live..and live their dreams. Life is too short…and accomplishing a dream changes your life. I have not heard from my sister since. Unfortunately..theres not a whole lot you can do except maybe explain you already have plans with a friend. Maybe even say you have an appointment to work out with someone. Just a suggestion

  5. Wow, I really like Chia’s suggestions. All very good.

    I don’t see the big deal, honestly. I too would understand if it was an official meeting, but you’re trying to better yourself by eating healthfully, which in turn would make you a better person all around, even in the office. I’m sorry, but my job does not come before myself, or my family. Never will. I work in the corporate environment, but it is not that way at all here. I know you’re in consulting and that’s way different than what I do, but people need to respect one another’s decisions. It would definately been hard for me to eat as healthy as you are doing. You are doing wonderfully and I don’t think you should get chastised for it. I know it’s easier for me to say this, as I’m not in your shoes. I hope you can stick with your goals and still be a part of the team.

  6. Blech. I can’t deal with all that “bonding/we’re all a big family” garbage. That’s why I freelance.

    I think you need to always have health food on you and/or in your room. That way you can “have your coworker dinner” and eat it (your food) too.

    And, yes, I’ve found people can go either way: they support you (and, in many cases, are inspired enough to start making better choices for themselves) or they trash you for trying if they’re threatened. Thankfully, most people are either the former or neutral.

  7. I’m with Julie — I HATED that crap when I was in the corporate world, so that’s why I’m now self-employed. I don’t have any great advice, but I think chia came up with a lot of great options.

  8. Good for you for sticking to your guns. Yea, it may have hurt a little from a professional standpoint, but if your boss has any common sense, he/she’ll forget all about it when you do something stellar on a project, like getting mentioned in the NYT. That’s what should matter, the quality of your work. You might be sticking out in your group b/c of your health priorities, but you can also stick out b/c of the work results you bring to the table (board room table, not the loaded with greasy chinese food table).

  9. I agree that Chia’s options are good ones. Here’s the sad truth of consulting in a big firm–this is really how you make relationships. Having conversations with your boss over dinner are a way to gain his trust and unfortunately eating bad food is a way to make that happen.

    When this has happened to me, I’ve tried to keep it in perspective that’s it’s just one meal and you can do an extra long run or eat extra healthy for a couple of days to make it up.

    Remember, diets aren’t about being perfect all the time. If anything, they’re about being able to make these boss/dinner decisions every once in a while and not have to worry. It’s too bad that you have to make your splurge night one that wasn’t your choice, but unfortunately that’s sometimes part of corporate america.

  10. Thanks, everyone… I was just so frustrated and I’m trying SO hard to lose weight, but it just seems impossible on the road.

    Chia, I like your sneaky tricks. I may try some of them them, but at the same time, I want to be able to eat something – not eating can be just as bad for my metabolism as overeating.

    Lam and Christine, bailing is pretty much what I did. So unfortunately I don’t think that option will work.

    Julie, I am ALL over the grocery store every Monday when I get in to Boston! For breakfast, I pick up bran cereal and a box of soy milk (doesn’t go bad like regular milk), and grab fruits for snacks. I also pack oatmeal packets in my suitcase, which work as a quick snack if there is a microwave around.

    Road Warrior, that is definitely how I look at things too: one meal is not going to kill me. And I’m so glad you understand the networking that goes on at dinners! I usually suck it up and go, but when we have dinners every night – something has got to give (I’ve learned from the last few months that simply eating all the stuff during the week and being healthy on the weekends = massive weight gain). I’m splurging every other night this week, so I wanted at least one night to be good.

    Topher, today I did some work that my managers were really happy with, so hopefully I’ve redeemed myself!

    Thanks again for the support everyone 🙂

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