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 Cafe.com 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 A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's 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's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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