I have been a road comic for ten years. I know which chains serve breakfast after 11, where to find half-priced happy hours, and even how to eat soup while driving. But one thing I never knew how to do until recently was eat healthy.
I remember my first college show in Kansas. The student activities board brought me to a restaurant where every single thing on the menu was fried. I loved it – I was 23 and thought I was indestructible. But now that I am a bit older than a bit older, I understand that what I ate was destroying me.
I started making changes years ago. I gave up soda, and started ordering wheat bread instead of white. But more recently, I made the change that has led me to the best shape of my life – and I don’t work out. I may be healthy, but I’m lazy.
I gave up processed sugar, gluten, and dairy. Which, in most places in America, is like telling someone you gave up food, water, and food again.
The first day I was truly eating healthy, I went to a grocery store in Delhi, NY. I checked out with a bag of grapes and a package of almonds, and the clerked looked at me as if I had just plunked down a six-pack of beer and a pregnancy test. So I asked if it was odd to see someone eating healthy.
“No, I eat healthy all the time,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll skip lunch and have a slim fast and a diet coke.”
And that’s when it hit me – our society’s view of healthy is not healthy – it is skinny.
There are always skinny options, but rarely farm-to-table non-processed alternatives that are actually GOOD for you. Lo-Cal is easy – local is hard.
While I had to re-educate myself on what I could and couldn’t eat on the road, I now live by a few simple rules, and it’s managed to keep me as close to my healthy lifestyle as possible.
GROCERY STORES ARE YOUR BEST OPTION
You can always get fresh fruit at a grocery store, and you can often get readymade salads. If you happen to be staying in a place with a kitchen, you can cook – which is always healthier and cheaper than restaurant meals. The problem with grocery stores are the hours – there are many places where a 24-hour grocery store is a ridiculous impossibility.
TRY ASIAN FOOD
My go-to “fast food” cuisine on the road is Thai, with a close second and third being Vietnamese and Japanese. Each of those countries has approximately 1/10th the obesity rate of the US – partly due to economic circumstances, but mainly because their average cuisine is much healthier. And if healthy is what you want, steer clear of most strip mall Chinese food. While authentic Chinese is usually quite good for you, the Americanized version of it bathes almost everything in vegetable oil and sugar.
THERE IS ALWAYS A HEALTHIER CHOICE
The first week of my new diet found me in Forest City, Iowa, where limited food options would be an upgrade. We went to a sports bar, and on the corner of the menu, I found a chicken salad. I asked for grilled chicken instead of deep-fried, and if they had any lighter dressings, like olive oil and vinegar.
The server may as well have heard me ask where I can try on my new prom dress; it was not a question she was expecting. She said they could grill the chicken, and offered to get me light ranch. Rather than explain that saying “light ranch” is like saying “half-pregnant,” I asked for no dressing. And while the salad was blander than I’d have liked, I enjoyed it a lot more than the feeling I get after fried grease.
While most of the menu consisted of heart disease with a side of bypass, I found some sustenance. There are always options.
If you’re really struggling for ideas, make something un-healthy into something healthy. Get a grilled chicken sandwich and skip the bun. Get some eggs without the toast or bacon. Almost any Mexican restaurant can make you a burrito bowl with brown rice. And while it’s more convenient to find a wonderful farm to table restaurant that tells you its ingredients, you can make that happen for yourself one meal at a time.
Lateness is the natural enemy of health. It causes us to do horrible things, like go into a joint KFC/Taco Bell and get something from each menu. The more time you have, the more likely you can find that amazing, out of the way bistro that specializes in whatever the heck you like best.
I am lucky that student activities boards have been indulging my requests to find healthy spots – and have often been introducing me to some great ones I never would have found on my own.
With all the flying, sleeping in hotel beds, and driving for what seems like days, it is wonderful to arrive at a show refreshed from a good meal. I can still eat soup while driving, and I still know where to get breakfast at 2PM and how to find cheap eats. But I am finally considering the long term effect that unhealthy food has on my body – and the short term effect it had on my show.