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How to Diet in Las Vegas

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It’s hard to eat healthy at the airport and work out on the road, but sticking to a diet in Las Vegas might just be the ultimate challenge. Correspondent Lily J. Kosner comes up with five rules for keeping your health on track in Las Vegas.

Like many people, I made it my New Year’s resolution to get healthy. At home, I’ve got it down to science of daily workouts and proper diet. I’ve learned that every meal doesn’t need to be a celebration. But my new rule was tested when I headed to Las Vegas, the city of endless celebrations.

The challenge was to stick to my routine while walking the floor at a trade show where the lobby had warm chocolate cookies available from 9 am to 6 pm, each booth offered a sugary or alcoholic treat, and evenings ended with cocktail parties and celebratory restaurant dinners. (Tough job, I know.)

Las Vegas is a town based on numbers and this time the odds were against me. Consider this:

  • A traditional steak dinner with all the fixings tops out at over a day’s calories (and often more than twice the daily of allotment fat)
  • The average Las Vegas casino has thousands of slot machines, but often less than 10 treadmills at the gym.
  • A souvenir to-go drink can clock in at more than 3,000 calories

The good news is that I made it home in my skinny jeans and even picked up a few new healthy living tips. Here are my five secrets to dieting in Las Vegas.

1. Come Prepared

Before leaving the house, I set up a plan to keep my current habits in place as much as possible. Traveling with just a carry-on bag meant I couldn’t bring liquids, but I prepared for the week by bringing oatmeal packets, homemade muffins, protein bars, and trail mix. Breakfast and snacks were covered and I could even improvise a lunch in a pinch.

I also downloaded a few helpful apps: LoseIt to track my daily calories and Nike for a pedometer.

I came ready to hit the gym. In addition to sneakers and workout clothes, I brought along fitness DVDs and workouts from SELF. What wouldn’t fit in my bag were weights, a yoga mat and fitness bands,  but I assumed there would be options at my hotel’s gymremember the old line about assumptions? I ended up improvising by using a towel instead of a mat, trading weights for a band and opting for 5 pounds instead of the 3 pounds for some moves.

Overall, the casino gym was surprisingly crowded, even at 8 am on a Saturday morning. I had to stake out equipment, be territorial over my space ,and even wait five minutes to use a treadmill. That said one of highlights for the trip came when a stranger complimented my running form. Who knew?

2. Set Your Rules ahead of Time

The good thing about dieting in Las Vegas as that it’s well-traveled ground with tons of options. In fact, Las Vegas has more than 2,000 restaurants and another 600+ fast food spots. My goal wasn’t to be perfect, since that would make the experience unbearable. Instead, I wanted to target my calorie allowance toward a few well-calculated splurges.

Being a New York native, I decided to check out one of my favorites PJ ClarkesWould the Las Vegas Cadillac be the same? I also booked a reservation at Otto, where I knew I would be able to find salads and vegetables. For all the restaurants I chose, I looked online for calorie options. Most of the higher-end options didn’t include the information, but My Fitness Pal or Livestrong often had approximate information.

With breakfast covered and dinner scheduled, lunch was the only meal I had to eat on the fly. And it was my most uninspiring meal. I opted for salads with dressing on the side at chain restaurants and one day I settled for a Starbucks breakfast sandwich. I was hoping for the spinach feta wrap or the egg whites and turkey bacon, but it turns out not all Starbucks carry the full menu and I had to settle for ham and cheese (still a reasonable 350 calories).

3. Be a Waiter’s Worst Nightmare (Then Tip Really Well)

I have to confess that I was a waiter’s worst nightmare. I asked for nutrition information (all too often it wasn’t available), I wasn’t ordering appetizers or full entrees and I didn’t pad the bill with drinks and desserts.

Instead, I took the menu as the opening for a negotiation: Can the side of spinach replace the home fries? And can you steam it or sauté it with light oil? Can I get a half order of the salad, with dressing on the side? And can you top it with chicken/shrimp/turkey?

Often times, there would be some back and forth with the kitchen, but I wound up with meals that I felt comfortable eating. I also made a point to be extra polite and tip over 20 percent.

4. Stay on Your Feet

It’s rumored that the average Las Vegas traveler walks over six miles a day and I’d believe it. From the entrance of the Mandalay Bay to the convention floor took almost 10 minutes and seemed like it was over a quarter of a mile. The walking turned into an added blessing. I knew my daily calorie intake would be higher so I used the extra miles to make up for the splurges. A walk home from dinner earned a stop at Pinkberry, where you’ll find mini options under 100 calories. I celebrated a 2-mile walk to a different casino with a vodka soda at the slots.

In addition to the extra walking, I tried to keep standing. I took meetings at the show on foot. I even opted for table games where I could stand.

5. Don’t Be a Cheap Date

When it came to dinners out, I soon discovered that the options with the highest amount of protein also came with the highest price tags. Yes, a buffet is easy on the wallet, but you have to wait for hours as your appetite builds and resolve weakens. I tried to do my best to put on blinders to ignore the high-calorie splurges I couldn’t have and focus on the delicious things I was allowing myself—oysters, crab, sashimi.

At the end of the day, I splurged most on quality protein and it kept my calorie budget in check. My final night, I celebrated with an amazing meal at Joe’s Stone Crabs, where the king crab was cracked table side. I even dipped it in butter!

For more healthy travel behaviors, check out:

By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com

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