Adopting a healthier lifestyle: An overdue halftime report

So, I have written before about my participation in the pilot project for NAL Insurance’s Healthy Trucker program. I realize I’m overdue for a report on my progress. The title of this blog is misleading, since there really is no halftime. This is a lifelong journey, not one that ends at the conclusion of the 13-week program NAL has assembled. And besides that, I’m actually about 10 weeks into the program, so it’s more like a home stretch report, though I was a little slow getting started.


To recap, NAL’s Healthy Trucker program works something like this: You sign up. You set goals. You are referred to a registered dietitian who advises you on how to accomplish those goals. You do your best to follow their advice. A fitness coach offers some exercise suggestions. You try to follow that advice, too. All this is done with the understanding that a professional driver’s (or writer’s) life is unpredictable, complicated and involves long periods of inactivity. The program is developed with those inescapable realities in mind.


The RD

My interactions with Elaine, the registered dietitian assigned to me, have been an excellent source of information. There is so much incorrect and contradictory information about nutrition out there, especially online. It’s helpful to have a true professional to call upon for advice. I’ve learned a great deal from her.


She encouraged me to log my food intake using the Web site (or app, for those of you who own real smartphones, and didn’t buy the new Blackberry in a doomed attempt to save the Canadian company). Logging your food intake is an eye-opening experience. A word of caution: Take the nutritional information on this site with a grain of salt (but watch the sodium); it’s often uploaded by users who can be lazy at times, and input incorrect data. Or, they might be inputting portion sizes that wouldn’t satisfy a mole. Still, it’s a great way to understand what you’re consuming and identify where you can cut back. I used to regularly stop at the gas station on my way home from work for a bag of chips. At 400 calories, it takes an hour on the treadmill to work that off. I have eliminated chips and unhealthy snacks altogether, and bring along an apple for the drive home. It does the trick and ties me over till dinner.


I appreciated that Elaine didn’t try to force foods upon me that I didn’t like, or had never heard of. She offered practical ways to improve what I’m eating that I could live with. In fact, the changes I’ve made haven’t left me craving anything. Mostly, it involved eating chicken and salmon instead of burger and steaks, more salads and fruit and fewer unhealthy snacks. I eat more veggies than I ever have in my adult life, but I stick to the few that I enjoy and don’t find myself choking down asparagus because Elaine told me to.


I’ve made other subtle changes, like swapping the double-double at Timmies, for a large coffee with two milks and one sugar. I’d like to consume even less sugar in my coffee, but that’s a work in progress. Elaine noticed I was starting my day with a bagel and butter or cream cheese. She suggested a breakfast sandwich with egg white and cheese on an English muffin; more protein, making it more satisfying with a fraction of the fat and carbs. Who knew? Again, she gave me an alternative that was easy to incorporate into my life, she didn’t tell me to eat a grapefruit, which just isn’t happening at 5 a.m. when I’m rushing to get out the door ahead of all the other traffic.


What I’ve achieved

I have made dramatic improvements to my diet – at least, while I’m at home. My frequent travel remains a challenge and always will. Still, I’m at home roughly 80% of the time, so if I can eat healthy when at home, it’s a big improvement. I have almost completely eliminated fried food and unhealthy snacking. I’ve substituted many unhealthy choices, for healthier choices that are equally satisfying. All these changes are sustainable long-term, because the foods I’ve introduced to my diet are enjoyable and fulfilling.


I have incorporated at least an hour of exercise into my daily routine, when at home. It’s funny, I blamed having a young child for part of my weight gain in the first place. How do you exercise when you have a small child to look after? Well, my daughter is now at the age where she’s a little more independent. I set up a play area for her in the basement where my treadmill resides. She is perfectly content playing there while I exercise. In fact, she now looks forward to that time spent together. If I lack energy and feel like skipping a workout, she says, “Dad, when are we going to the basement to exercise?” On more than one occasion, she has motivated me to exercise when I otherwise wouldn’t have.


As a result of the exercise, I do have more energy and stamina. The first few times I hit the treadmill, I was ready to tap out after 20 minutes. Now, I do an hour at 3.5 mph, which is a brisk pace, and could keep going. That’s about 7,000 steps on the treadmill at a good pace. I’m about to add more exercises to my routine, including some jogging.


Here’s an important note for drivers: I’ve found all these changes were easier to implement when I had a routine. That is, when I work (especially when I work from home, with access to my own fridge) fairly predictable hours. I know most professional drivers don’t have the luxury of working predictable hours, but there is some routine involved in being on the road. I often think that as a professional driver, it’d be easier to stick to a plan while on the road than at home (‘Welcome home, honey, let’s go out for dinner’).


What I haven’t achieved

I was expecting rapid weight loss, which just hasn’t materialized. I blame this in part on my travel schedule, which provided frequent interruptions to my best intentions and also to the fact I’ve gotten older. Yep, it’s true. Getting older sucks. The last time I was in good shape was in 2007, when I boxed as Mack Truck Menzies (0-1). I’ve lost about 8 lbs since I started the program, and that has come over the last few weeks. Elaine tells me I should be pleased with those results. She said when you lose 5% of your body weight, you begin to see changes such as lower blood pressure, etc. I went into this thinking I’d be down 20 lbs or more by now. I think my expectations were unrealistic. I’m not discouraged. I remind myself it took years of neglect to get into my current sad state; it’ll take months – maybe even the better part of a year – to get back to what I’m aiming for. Either way, I know I’m on the right track, and seeing some progress on the scale is a good motivator to keep at it.


So there you have it. Probably much, much more than you ever wanted to know about my personal quest to adopt a healthier lifestyle. I’m optimistic the changes I’ve implemented are sustainable long-term. Better yet, I know I still have much room for improvement. I’m finally beginning to see some weight loss, and I feel better and have more energy as a result of the changes I’ve made. I’m no poster child for healthy living, and probably never will be. Still, I’m satisfied with what I’ve achieved so far under the program, and especially with what I’ve learned. Working with my RD has been like getting an education in nutrition, and has enabled me to implement positive changes without feeling like I’m being subjected to some form of inhumanity.


To learn more about the Healthy Trucker program, visit


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Keep a case of water in your trunk or rig. At $2 a case, it’s a cheap investment in the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. Molson makes a beer with only 67 calories if water doesn’t cut it at the end of the day. This program came through our company and the information about the satisfaction of protein to get you to the next meal was invaluable. Quality of food is not a problem anymore but still working on the quantities.
    You wont have a problem getting within 5 lbs of fighting weight.