The Weight is Over – Part 13: Just Say ‘No’ to Diet Derailment

I adore train travel, and dream of the day when the United States has European-style high-speed rail. In fact, I’ve often said I’d vote for nearly anyone except Trump who could guarantee state-to-state, coast-to-coast high-speed rail. In my lifetime.

No wonder I jumped at the chance to join friends Jim and Darcie Gore for a train trip from Sacramento to Reno aboard Amtrak’s California Zephyr. 

doni darce and jim on amtrak to reno

Jim and Darcie Gore, Doni’s dear friends — as well as A News supporters and tech troubleshooters since Day 1 — were Doni’s travel buddies aboard Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

This was my first official little vacation away from my home/food/fitness/routine since I started my health-and-fitness program two months ago with Matthew Lister at Align Private Training. I’m proud to say I’ve lost 15 pounds and 15 inches. I plan to lose more, and worried about undoing my progress. It takes so long to lose weight, but no time at all to gain it back.

Last week Matthew offerered help via his Lister’s List of tips to help me stay on track and not derail my success.

I followed his instructions, which included a couple of deliberate splurges, such as a glass of nice red wine with one dinner, and two tasting glasses of beer another evening. The whole time I was away from home I stuck to Matthew’s protein/veggie/salad suggestions, even while ordering from Zephyr’s dining car menu. I ignored the bread and dessert options. The pain of deprivation passed fairly quickly.

I brought along an insulated bag with snacks for the train trip. In retrospect, I realize I brought way too much food: string cheese, protein drinks, jerky, peanut butter, celery and nuts.

Subconsciously, I may have packed that bag with thoughts of the California Zephyr’s crossing of Donner Pass. Luckily, in the shape I’m in now, if the train were to have become stuck in the snow on that stretch, I’m confident I’d be among the survivors. Sometimes, such as in a Donner-Pass-emergency, having a little extra weight can work in our favor.

But that’s about the only time.

The Zephyr’s nickname is “the snow train” because it includes travel through the snow-packed Sierras. Although on the way to Reno, the snow was skimpy, it was still beautiful.

amtrak light snow

Coming and going, the views were magnificent from the Zephyr’s observation car, which is my favorite part of the train. The dining car is my next favorite part of the train, with its cozy tables that are often shared by interesting strangers, like a delightful older woman named Betty, who rides the train all the time, now that her driving days are over.

The train ride from Sacramento to Reno takes about five hours each way, but it’s a pleasant five hours. It offers lots of time for passengers to read, relax, eat, talk, play cards, or just enjoy the scenery. Generally speaking, I think train-travelers are more friendly and happy than plane passengers, probably because air travel can be so miserable and stressful.

Case in point was a friendly, well-dressed guy we met when we boarded in Sacramento who reminded me of Dustin Hoffman. He said he’s a pilot, and when he does fly as a passenger it’s always first-class. Even so, he prefers train travel, and he regularly takes the California Zephyr to and from Chicago, and books a sleeping berth (which is expensive, btw). He said he works on his phone and laptop, and bills that travel time as his office hours. That totally appeals to me.

Our Reno hotel was within a short, easy walk of the train station on a perfect day in the high 60’s. The view from our window boasted wispy clouds over blue skies.

view from reno hotel

Before the trip, I was most concerned about the diet part of this vacation. I feared I’d give into temptation and make bad food choices.

As it turned out, sticking to my food plan wasn’t difficult. The biggest challenge was maintaining a semblance of Matthew’s fitness program away from Align. It didn’t help that the train trip meant a total of 10 hours of sitting.

However, in Reno I took advantage of the hotel’s gym that opened at 6 a.m. each day.  I fought the urge to leave when I felt out of place in a gym with just guys doing serious workouts on weighty machinery. I actually checked for a sign to see if I’d somehow wandered into a men’s room by mistake. When I was sure I was in the right place, I claimed a recumbent bike against a wall, forgot that I was the only woman in the room and worked the bike for 20 minutes on Level 8. That’s a decent workout, if I do say so myself. I channeled Matthew’s high-five and encouragement: You’re doing it, girl!

One night I followed Lister’s List of exercises to do in the hotel room, but it felt weird to work out on a bath towel on a hotel carpet wedged between the closet and bathroom. Don’t think about the carpet, just do the damn crunches … 48, 49, 50!

While in Reno, we walked a lot, and routinely hovered at the 10,000 mark on Darcie’s step-counter. She and I visited a mall one day, and we easily shunned the See’s store, despite the fact that butterscotch squares and butterscotch suckers whispered my name as we passed. And we walked without hesitation past the Cinnabon shop, where its intoxicating cinnamony scents wafted around us.

For the record, I’ve never eaten a Cinnabon roll, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to, or that it doesn’t still sound delicious.

As an aside, I looked up the “nutrition” values of a Cinnabon roll and learned it’s just under 900 calories, and has something like 127 grams of carbohydrate. What?!! On my current food plan I’m allowed less than 100 grams of carbohydrate in one day!

Yes, I’ve turned into one of those people who now pays attention to food numbers. And let’s not even get started on such extravagances as the Bloomin’ Onion, which must contain something like a weekend’s worth of calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrate.

I eventually let go of obsessing about staying on program, and just enjoyed myself.

The trip home was the most memorable, because the morning of our departure the view from our hotel window was white with snow.

reno in snow

Outside, the snow was dry and dusty enough that even the walk to the station was fun and magical.

doni in reno snow

As the mighty California Zephyr barreled into Reno in the snowfall, it felt like a scene from The Polar Express. amtrack train arriving in the snow

We boarded the warm train, then headed for the observation car as soon as our tickets were scanned. The trip to Sacramento aboard the “snow train” was better than ever. It even included a bit of adventure when the train stopped in the snow so men could remove a rock that had fallen onto the tracks.

amtrak alongside freeway

Then we were back on track, and away we went, passing towns like Truckee, covered in snow.

amtrak snowy truckee

I’m back home again. Back to my refrigerator amply stocked with celery, lettuce, bell peppers, turkey, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and apples. Back to my workouts with Matthew.

Overall, I’m pleased with how I did on my trip. Did I gain, lose or stay the same? I don’t know. The proof will be in the numbers.We’ll see when Matthew weighs and measures me next week.

And next Thursday I’ll also share Brad Garrison’s second set of photos that are chronicling this weight-loss journey. As much as I love train travel, this new healthy food and fitness program is my most important journey yet.

I’m happy to say that so far, I’m still firmly on track, with no end in sight.

How about you? amtrak tracks in the snow behind the train

Click here to see all of Doni’s columns, The Weight is Over.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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28 Responses

  1. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    Well done, you!  I’m not sure I could stick to a meal plan on a trip, so your fortitude impresses me!

    I’ve done that same trip from Sacramento to Reno on the train but we got stuck in the snow just outside Donner Pass and sat there for three hours with snow literally above the windows.  It snowed that entire weekend and the train taking us back to Sacramento was many hours late arriving to pick us up, due to all that accumulation.  All told, it took about 12 hours each way.  It makes for a cool story now but at the time I thought I would lose my mind, especially sharing a car with little kids who had been on that train since Chicago without baths.

    I’d still go again in a heartbeat.

  2. Ah – what a lovely trip.  So glad it all went well for you. The last time I took a train trip, I was traveling with a seven-year-old, a five-year-old and an infant. I remember it being very long. 🙂 We spent a lot of time and money in the dinging car.

    I’ve been doing well sticking to eating right and running – I’m halfway to my weight loss goal and finding lots of old clothes that suddenly, miraculously fit again. Oh, joy. 99% of my wardrobe comes from secondhand stores, so I keep taking bags to donate to the ladies in the back, then I head into the store to see what might be fun to wear. I almost always find some excellent bargains.

    Keep up the good work – be proud of all you’ve done so far!


    • Erin, my mother took a similar trip via train from Canada to Redding with four kids under 5. And I can see why that was your last train trip. I’ll bet you and your sweetie would have a blast taking the train somewhere fun.

      Good for you on your weight loss! (Though you know I think you looked fantastic the way you were.) I like thrift store shopping too, so that’s perfect for getting “new” clothes during this transition, for very little cost.

      I AM proud of my accomplishments so far. It’s nice to have some company like you for the journey. Thank you!



  3. Avatar Deannie Meyer says:

    Nice job, Doni – U look beautiful!

  4. Avatar david kerr says:

    Are your muscles sore?  I climb hills on my mountain bike for 25 minutes every day.   My muscles have been slightly sore, occasionally moderately for over six months.

    Hill repeats are a form of interval training.  At the top of the hill, I am completely out of breath, my heart is racing and muscles burning.  The muscles are anaerobic, a very inefficient form of metabolism which sends a signal to capillaries to form and muscle fibers to enlarge.  I have rock hard quads and calf muscles, like I did back when I used to do century rides (100 miles on a road bike).  To me, half an hour of hill repeats on a mountain bike is like two hours of rolling hills on a road bike.  Climbing hills on a mountain bike is a motivator, because if you get to slow, you fall.   Six months ago, I couldn’t make it to the top of one tough hill.  Now I do it three times in the middle front chain ring.    My dog runs with me and has learned not to cut in front of me.  The hills I climb have no traffic and no dogs to chase me.  There are even some steers who sometimes run part way with me on their side of the fence.

    • Are my muscles sore? Hell yes! But it’s usually different muscles sore on different days, depending upon what that day’s workout focus. The last few days it’s been my stomach muscles, after a day with 200 crunches. TWO HUNDRED!!! You just have no idea what muscles do what until you’ve taxed them, and they talk to you later. I’m amazed, for example, how much laughing requires stomach muscles. Ouch.

      Your hill repeats sound grueling! But I’m impressed. And I have a hunch your dog learned the hard way to get out of your way.

  5. Avatar david kerr says:

    Variety is the best way to keep exercise fun and motivating.  The large muscle groups and core are the best way to lay down muscle and reduce insulin resistance.   After a certain age, most people have significant degenerative joint disease in the knee which makes running a bad idea.  Three hour hikes, especially if there is some climbing, are a great choice in Shasta County with our wonderful trail systems, even if you get ticks and poison oak.

    Cycling is good to prevent back pain if you lower the handlebars and bend the elbows so it works the core.   Mountain bikers usually have to ride upright to avoid running into things like low manzanita branches.

    • You’re correct about variety in exercise. It’s funny, I don’t mind eating the same thing every day, but I don’t want to do exactly the same workouts.

      You made me laugh about the 3-hour hikes and ticks and poison oak. True enough.

      Thanks for all the great tips. 🙂

  6. Randall Smith Randall Smith says:

    Loss is half yours, but progress is fairly steady.  Tomorrow is more effort against Spanish broom aside the North Sacramento River Trail.  This work won’t finish the entire removal, but those who travel the trail after tomorrow will never know the former appearance if they did not visit previously.  It all helps build a better tomorrow.

  7. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    What a trip, Doin’ Doni!  Thanks for sharing.  Where (on your body) are your measurements taken?  I assume bust, waist, hips, thighs, and biceps.

  8. Avatar Kirsten says:

    Doni- is this trip only from SAC? Does it not go through Redding? Sounds like a hoot….

    • A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

      Kirsten, Yes you can take the train out of here and make the change to the California Zephyr i Sacramento; however, the hours aren’t that great. You would have to leave here around 3:00 a.m, and have several hours layover in Sacramento. You could check with First Class Shuttle and see if they have a trip scheduled around the correct time, and also find out if they would make the additional trip into the Amtrak station (5th at H Street). There is relatively inexpensive parking available at the train station.

    • I’m glad A.J. answered. She’s the train-travel expert. And it IS fun! I don’t think it’s a big deal to drive to Sac to catch the train, especially since the train leaves a little after 11 a.m. It beats leaving Redding at 3:30 a.m.

  9. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Doni, You look beautiful and radiant. All this taking care of your whole self agrees with you. Well, face it: I think each of our whole selves crave being care for  . . by US! You dun guuuud, girl!

  10. Avatar Eve Berg-Pugh says:

    Hi Donnie….Last month I started Weight Watchers to readjust my cooking habits! I’m finding that the butter level in my refrigerator is staying much higher!!!  Hadn’t realized just how much I was using…love it, though! It is a slow process to lose, but feeling really good.  I used to take the train from Oroville to Salt Lake City as a child to visit my grandparents.  It was magical!

    • A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

      And Eve, you got to make that trip through Feather River Canyon!! I hope you know how special that was since that route has been discontinued for passenger service now. But every once in a while some railroad club will take an excursion train up through the canyon and back.  It’s a spectacular trip if you can ever connect with one of those.

    • Doni Chamberlain Doni Chamberlain says:

      Yes, I hear you about the butter in the fridge staying put. Technically, I suppose I could have butter on this program, but what’s the point if I can’t have bread or potatoes to put it on?

      Good for you for starting W.W. It’s a very practical, well-respected program with lots of endorsements. Feel free to check in every so often and report your progress.

      Your train trip to visit your grandparents in Salt Lake City does sound magical.

      Thanks for weighing in, Eve. It’s nice to have you here.



  11. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Had a tho’t when I re-read the part about keeping the fitness part of your program going while on this trip. If you had made a couple of trips walking up and down the full length of the train, you could count that as exercising your core just from trying to keep your balance while moving forward. LOL!!

  12. Avatar Ginny says:

    Love all the photos, especially your  happy face with the Gore’s.  I have every confidence you will have made your trip and come back as the new you!

    Wonderful pictures of the scenery.  Snow is pretty when one doesn’t have to live with it 24/7 as we did in WA for a number of year.  Ugh…good to be home in CA, with only one bad snow storm in the nearly 17 plus years being here.

    God bless you on your new “life exercise” as you are special.

  13. Avatar Susan Tangeman says:

    Sounds like you had fun.  I took the train from Reno to Denver a year ago.  I had a roomette which was very small but so fun and relaxing to sit quietly in my own space and watch the world go by.  Trip was 26 hours and the Union Station recently redone in Denver was stellar.  Since it had just opened there were deals on the hotel in the station.  It is an amazing place.  The Colorado mountains were beautiful and “moon” river section of the Colorado was always entertaining.