Low-Car Diet

Eyes on the road.

I am experiencing stabbing hunger for things I know are terrible for me. So, in addition to the time management skills this month-long challenge requires, it also demands a serious restructuring of what I eat.
And at least for the first part of this week, it is a Herculean task to consume healthier things. (Produce, whole grains, fiber-rich food — what's that, right?) I'm traveling for business, and anyone who has done it knows how tough it is to stay nutritious on the road. Especially when the friend who lives in the town you're visiting knows all the best restaurants. And wants to do drinks. And volunteers to chauffeur you around town. And highly recommends the "Cajun popcorn" at the nearby supper club. By the way, that's deep-fried crawfish tails, served with a spicy remoulade. (Yeah.)
But it's all workable. Instead of renting a car at the airport to get me around, I booked a room as close to downtown as possible and am walking everywhere I need to go. And there are always healthier options at restaurants: Last night, at said supper club, I had a glass of sparkling wine instead of a sugar-heavy cocktail, Cajun grilled trout with steamed broccoli instead of fried chicken (sigh) and split dessert with my friend. (What? He insisted.) No Equinox in Ithaca, N.Y., but the hotel has a gym with a treadmill. And plenty of hills to walk — and I might never have noticed the bus system in this city before I gained this hyperconsciousness about transit and getting around.
Adjusting to a new lifestyle, I'm finding, is a lot tougher than saying, "I'm going to make this change and stick to it." Because life always get in the way. But I'm also finding this is just as much about being aware of what I'm eating and the level of activity I'm maintaining as it is actually DOING it.
Instead of accepting that it's difficult to be good to myself while traveling and tossing back that burger without thinking, I'm really scouring the menus to find healthier options and, if I do succumb to the burger, eating less and substituting the fries for mixed greens or the house vegetable. Taking the easy way out is not it anymore.
Looking forward to getting back to Chicago, back to my fledgling routine and into the gym for my second week on the Low-Car Diet.

Routine?

Here's the thing: I started this blog thinking it would encourage and shelter my higher literary pursuits.
A place where I could write occasionally when I was stricken with an acute bout of brilliance. It was not intended to be a daily "blah, blah, blah." But good writing takes practice, even if it isn't poetry.
The night I met my boyfriend (le sigh), he told our guitar class — I'm paraphrasing — that the way to start learning and get better was to hold the guitar every day. Just leave it out, right by the couch, and pick it up.
So? The guitar is there. In plain view. And mostly it just sits there, because I'm afraid of it. (That's more writing for another day.) I rush past it when I'm doing the six million things in my life that aren't playing guitar. But it's there, I guess, ready when I am.
And it feels some days like I do the same with this blog, tweeting and Facebooking and doing all the other things that tell people I'm alive but take almost no effort.
But unlike the guitar, I'm not afraid of writing; I just don't make the time. But now I have to, and I'm going to like it, dammit.
So what better time to make this affair a bit more…quotidian? I'm going to cross-post the entries I write for the official Low-Car Diet blog on here, in part because I like to have a personal record. And in part because unless they're planning a major redesign in the next couple of days, the site is claustrophobic and cumbersome, and I worry about my posts not going through. (And because I'm a control freak.)
So?
Enough: Here's Day 2.

The biggest struggle for me in all this won't be the strenuous exercise or adding in the foods Dave recommends; it's going to be making room in my schedule.
My dance card was full before I embarked on the Low-Car Diet — an hour and a half commute followed by dinners, Yelp events, catch-up drinks with friends, a relationship in there somewhere. All that added up to a lot of late nights that didn't leave much room for the healthy stuff. (Healthy? What?)
Well, it's adjustment time. And it will take some serious finagling (and learning how to say "no"), because while I like being busy…this is CRAZY. Yesterday evening was a mad dash through downtown Chicago: Pick up my Berry Chill Culture Club card from State Street, hit a prearranged appointment, coordinate my membership at Equinox on Michigan Avenue, grab some produce from Potash Bros. Market in the Gold Coast to curb my mac and cheese craving. (GOD, there's a Feast downtown. I had no idea!) I didn't get home until after 10… Hope my boyfriend likes dark circles.
The good news: It's incredibly easy to get around; the rush hour buses were frequent and fast yesterday, getting me everywhere I needed to go. (The 125 Water Tower Express ROCKETED me to Grand and State from Ogilvie!) For once, the CTA served me well on a day I really needed its help.
Today, though? I'm a zombie, halfway dreading my first workout of the month at Equinox. But it's Friday — I have time to rest up, nosh on some Berry Chill and enjoy a class this weekend before next week starts. I'll be traveling for business through Tuesday and am looking forward to exploring Ithaca, N.Y., on foot and by bike and bus during my free time. No Berry Chill in the Finger Lakes, but I'll manage!
Going forward? It's time to grab the BlackBerry and spend a little quality time making my schedule work with this commitment. And after this month is over, I think the routine will feel so good I won't want to stop.

Thirty days.

The life of a writer — this writer, anyway — can be a sedentary one.
While I get to flex those creative muscles on the regular, the journalist gig means a lot of sitting on my butt. In a cushy, springy chair. In front of my laptop. Looking at pictures of flowers instead of being among them, my soul slowly shriveling into nothingness as the fluorescent lights beat down on my sun-starved skin. And it will continue to be that way until I…get famous.

However. I lived in New York just two years ago — same basic job, darker office. Yet I was in the best shape of my life just from traipsing around Manhattan. It's impossible to get fat there, unless you work in construction, I guess. Even when I gorged myself on a Shake Shack double cheeseburger and black-and-white shake (ohdeargod) for lunch, the line snaked so far around Madison Square Park that I'd easily earned at least the bun by the time I hit the registers. My favorite panini place — roast turkey and brie with sprouts and mango chutney, thankyouverymuch — was an eight-block walk from the office, and two of my favorite stores were within a few blocks of that. Victoria's Secret at 19th and Fifth? Anthropologie at 16th? Hello, retail meal replacement! Window shopping and that lusty, I-need-that-skirt power walk through the Flatiron District were nearly all the cardio I needed. Plus, I had all those greasy Greek men to look forward to at my gym back in Queens…

And…then there's Chicago. Home of the Fat Kid.
I fully understand as I say this that I could look a lot worse, but I'm not where I used to be, and I'm not where I want to be. Fat and happy is a pretty good way to describe me anymore…minus the happy, sometimes.
My office is deep in the suburbs, and my commute's exhausting — even (especially?) on the days when I borrow the boyfriend's car and pay that 80 cents to fly down the Kennedy — so I get lazy before and after work. I'm already up and in the shower by 6 a.m., and I don't get home until 6 p.m. Why work out when I have a laptop (hi.) and the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from Netflix? And why cook a sensible meal? Because Villa May Pizza is so good. So is Bell's Oberon. And the Reese's brownie sundae from Rockwell's. And mac and cheese from the blue box.
I do walk a lot, especially compared to some people who live here, and when I'm really feeling ambitious, I'll shop for groceries with a little wire basket and carry it home on my bicycle. But it's not enough. Especially since this winter, I have been sedentary and sluggish. (Depression doesn't help either.)

Just as despondency began to set in – after nearly dying from a 5K because I did it cold turkey without running for weeks — the lovely Colleen of Chicago Yelp fame told me about something that could turn that all around: Zipcar's Low-Car Diet, sponsored by Berry Chill.
(Hi, marketing. No, they did not ask me to write this.)
The general idea: Give up your personal car for a month; try out "the Zipcar lifestyle" for a month; transform your life; save the Earth. Dig.
Of course, is that I don't actually own a car, but the Yelp seal of approval seemed to be enough to get me in. And I am committed to this. This afternoon's kickoff party, on a sunny, breezy rooftop in Wrigleyville, was a fond (possibly temporary) farewell to the Blue Box Blues and a bear hug of a hello to health and wellness. There was granola in our gift bags.
And tomorrow marks the first day of what promises to be an incredibly difficult month: Three workouts at Equinox a week, regular follow-up chats with nutritionist and dietitian David Grotto, five (5) Berry Chills a week — I don't even know how that will be POSSIBLE — and frequent blogs about the whole experience. Apparently I'm supposed to save a little room for breathing in there, too, but at this point it's just penciled in.
Finally, a personal challenge: No Starbucks for 30 days. If I don't die walking down a flight of stairs staring at my BlackBerry — there have been a few near misses — this just may kill me.

But I'm hoping it's all worth it.
I want, at the very least, to get back to the energy level and high activity I enjoyed when I was in New York: more walking, more working out, a better diet. This is just the kick in the ass I need, and it builds in a [corporate] support system and a very public way of keeping me honest.
And seriously. All the Berry Chill I can eat? A swanky place to sweat for a month? A car, gratis, at my disposal — for free — if I need one? An opportunity to document, in thrilling hyperdetail, my struggles in this blog?
On top of all that: The idea of a few more people knowing me within the swirling circles of Chicago's social media. Maybe even being recognized on the street. The slow, seductive creep toward fame, however small the steps.
How could I say no?