The Good Fat

By Jason Rhyno

Staying in shape is a bit more of an uphill jog for truckers than most people. The thing is, it’s not about new diet fads or tofu — it’s simply about eating better. And you’ve already got the discipline and patience.

Back in November, I went for a ride with Erb Transport driver Alfy Meyer, hauling a load of chicken tortellini from Kitchener, ON to Morris, IL.

We had to wait at meat inspection in Detroit, so we decided to hit one of the restaurants in Detroit’s famed East Market, where I had one of the best cheeseburgers in recent memory:

  1. salami (freshest I’ve ever had) piled on a…

  2. beef patty that was smothered in…

  3. old cheddar. And the bun?

  4. The bun was a pretzel. Salty, greasy and utterly fantastic.

That evening, we wound up at a truck stop where I lazily had two over-the-counter slices of pizza (2 for five bucks!) that tasted as if someone soaked the crust in water, then put a brick of cheese on top. Down the hatch they went, quickly, and before I knew it, I was asleep in the bunk, dreaming about Detroit cheeseburgers.

The next morning we had breakfast at the truck stop restaurant. (And say what you will about the Great Canadian Beer Gut, one look at all those American truckers made me realize we have nothing on them; those are some big, big boys.) I ordered the “Louisiana Skillet” with rye bread. The skillet had:

  1. a base of white potatoes;

  2. a shifty looking spicy cream sauce;

  3. chopped chorizo sausage;

  4. diced ham;

  5. a quarter inch of cheese;

  6. some specks of vegetables thrown in for good measure;

  7. topped with two eggs, over-easy.

Tasted like the pizza I had the night before. Should’ve had the biscuits and gravy.

As I was re-living my favorite episodes of “Man Vs. Food”, Alfy was dining on home-cooked meals he had prepared and brought with him — fish, leftover meat pie, fruits and nuts, and various other goodies.

He joined me for breakfast but took a lot of time ordering off the menu, making sure that what he ordered wasn’t overly jacked with sugars and nasty fats. When it came time to eat on the road, this man showed true discipline. Alfy wasn’t trying to lose weight or adhering to any specific diet — he was just eating healthy.

For long-haul drivers, staying healthy is a bit more of an uphill jog than it is for most people, and the recipe for diet-failure is good one:

Pile on:

  1. the long hours;

  2. the stress of the job;

  3. irregular sleep patterns;

  4. with the meals of deep fried everything;

  5. and an absence of healthy food choices at restaurants…

it’s not surprising that the life expectancy for truckers is legitmately depressing.

According to one study, life expectancy for a U.S. unionized trucker is 63 years while owner-operators come in at a depressing 55.7 years. The general U.S. male population gets to live to the ripe old age of 75.

But you’ve heard enough studies and have been pitched enough “new diets” and exercise advice.

Live Healthy

John Siemeda, personal fitness trainer with Brampton-based APPS Transport, is suspicious of the diet and exercise industry. “It’s a big money making thing,” he says. “My focus is not on weight loss, its on living healthy.”

For $5 a week, APPS employees get two one-on-one sessions with Siemeda, plus a daily lunch, made by Siemeda himself.

“I’m into good fats,” he says about the meals he makes for drivers. Think chicken and rice with vegetables — home-cooked food minus any sugars or bread that’s been whitened and bleached, or anything overly processed.

“Keep eating all you want,” he says, “just make sure it’s all good food.”

Easier said than done, however. As a red-meat-eating, cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking Canadian, I’ve developed some habits that are hard to break.

“You have to start eliminating things,” Siemeda says. Don’t think about changing your whole diet, just get rid of one bad thing to start.

He points to the concierge in the building where he lives. The concierge had lost 70 pounds by simply cutting out any visits to McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Seventy pounds gone, simply by breaking one habit.

It’s about changing your language, Siemeda explains. “Say ‘I don’t eat this anymore.’” Then give it a few days until your body stops craving those fat-filled donuts.

It’s okay to fall off the wagon, too, Siemeda says. “Commitment doesn’t mean you never fall, it means you get back up again.”

So what about exercise? After my Illinois breakfast with Alfy, we had about 45 minutes to kill while we waited to unload. Alfy carries some light gym equipment with him, so we worked out in the parking lot for 15 minutes — just enough time for me to work out some of that Louisiana Skillet monstrosity.

And that’s all it takes — avoid the bad stuff, get some moderate exercise and start from there.

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