The Drevitches, Week 32: On the Road, Can a Diet Survive?

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

Our school's chess players reveled in their victories -- and hamburgers. Photo by Mark Gurevich

Travel is a challenge to any diet. But some trips are more dangerous than others.

I recently flew to Dallas with my 10-year-old son, Benjamin, for the U.S. Chess Federation's National Elementary Championships. The chess team at our school, P.S. 166 of Manhattan, is one of the strongest in the country, and sent 32 players to the event, including my fellow, who competed this year against the nation's best elementary-school players.

The nationals -- this was Benjamin's fourth -- is an exciting time, but nerve-wracking for parents and players alike. The demands of the four-day tournament give families scant opportunity to leave the convention-center hotel and explore the host cities. Parents typically roam the hotel lobby, waiting for our kids to return from matches that can run as long as four hours. We tend to discuss one thing above all -- where to find decent, reasonably priced food.

As we took off from New York, I was concerned that event pressure, not to mention the airport and hotel time, would torpedo my weight-loss progress. I'd plateaued at 47 pounds below my Healthy Families Challenge starting weight, and that was fine, but I didn't want to regress.

Benjamin? He was just hoping to find a lot of Texas-sized hamburgers.


maple motor burgers and beer texas picture

Despite eating at places like this, it was a healthy weekend in Dallas. Credit: Gary Drevitch

Here's how it went:

Thursday. We left home early for our flight. I had a bagel ready to toast for Benjamin, but he vetoed it, preferring airport snacks. As we waited for our delayed flight, we found a breakfast bar where he ordered waffles and eggs. He ate just the waffles. This will become a trend.

I'd packed snacks for the trip, including an oversized bag of raisins, which I munched on in the air, along with miniscule packs of airline peanuts. Those raisins would last me most of the long weekend. At our connecting airport, Benjamin got a hamburger, but I passed, seeing nothing I'd feel good about eating. That night, after the national blitz (speed chess) championship -- Benjamin's team finished second -- we joined friends for dinner in the hotel's upscale restaurant. Benjamin had another hamburger. I went for salmon and green beans.

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Friday. Once upon a time, hotel breakfast buffets were among my favorite things. All you can eat for a flat fee? How could you beat that? Now it struck me as expensive for my current, downsized portion of eggs and fruit. Benjamin grabbed, yes, a few waffles. For the price, that was definitely not good value. Benjamin's lunch -- a snack-bar hot dog -- was of equally poor nutritional value. The team ordered in pizza for the kids that night, but I was fortunate enough to grab a delicious plate of kosher chicken ordered in by another New York City team using the conference room next to ours.

Saturday. The tournament gets tougher on Day Two, and the kids get more particular about food. Benjamin's breakfast? Hotel buffet waffles. I passed -- hello, raisins -- but when Benjamin emerged from a three-hour-forty-five-minute game at midday, a crushing loss as it turned out, friends from Dallas were waiting to whisk us away to Maple and Motor, an authentic biker-burger joint. Benjamin recharged with a giant hamburger. Feeling good about my choices to that point -- including a workout in the hotel gym on Friday -- I devoured a delicious fishburger with remoulade called a Salmwich. That night, the team ordered Chick-Fil-A, which -- sorry, Southerners -- did nothing for either Benjamin or myself. He instead scarfed down a half-dozen chocolate-chip granola bars. For me: raisins, cashews and a beer. (Someone had made a run.)

Sunday. After going 0-for-Saturday to leave himself with a 2-3 record, I didn't have the heart to discourage Benjamin from another buffet-waffle breakfast, or his lunch demand -- another burger from the hotel restaurant. (I should note that Benjamin and friends spent every moment not committed to chess or meals swimming in the pool, or playing football or Frisbee. When the kids emerge from that library-quiet tournament room, we all support them running off their pent-up energy.)

After the final game -- happily, a win for Benjamin, as his team clinched seventh-place -- we hailed a cab for another Dallas institution -- Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse, where Benjamin had yet another hamburger (to avoid any suspense right now, he had two more the next day, as we traveled back to New York). I ate a brisket sandwich, turning it open-faced and ditching the buttery bun.

Was it a healthy weekend? Not for Benjamin, though it could have been worse, as his constant requests for candy were (mostly) refused. For me, though, it was. After taking advantage of limited free time to work out twice, and successfully avoiding airport and hotel food while indulging in the best local fare I could find, I actually lost a pound-and-a-half. New total: 48.

But what I'll remember most from the weekend is playing Frisbee with my son on the hotel lawn as night fell, wrestling with him in our hotel room and seeing him burst onto the stage with his friends at the trophy ceremony, exulting in the culmination of five-plus years committed to a championship team.

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