Jane Says: If a Truck Driver Can Lose Weight, So Can You

It's true—even those with sedentary lifestyles can shed pounds.

red semi truck
Sure, they spend more time behind the wheel than most of us, but Jane's weight-loss advice works for couch potatoes, too. (Photo: Driendl Group/Getty Images)
Jane Lear is a regular contributor to TakePart. She was on staff at 'Gourmet' for almost 20 years.

“I need advice for a truck driver diet to lose weight AND cut down on cholesterol intake...mine was a tad high at 322.” —Derek Sharp

Constantly being on the move and a healthy lifestyle don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, getting or staying in shape while on the road has become a hot topic in the transportation industry, spawning blogs, books, wellness programs, and even a company’s expansion of its chain of 24-hour gyms into Pilot Flying J travel centers, which are geared toward professional drivers.

Lots of good stuff, in other words, and it’s about time, too. The multiple, serious health issues truck drivers face include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea. According to a 2007 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 86 percent of drivers are overweight or obese. A report that same year by the Transportation Research Board found that one in four drivers have sleep apnea and half of them smoke. Looking at the larger picture, this means worrisome on-the-job safety issues as well as rapidly escalating insurance rates and medical costs.

Truckers, it is time to get a grip.

I know, I know. It will not be easy. Eating something, anything, is a way to stay alert while you’re on the road, and mealtime choices at truck stops or fast-food restaurants are generally dismal and loaded with fat and carbs. I’m not specifically going to address cholesterol here because I’m not a doctor—and you should see one if cholesterol is an issue. But there are a few things you can do right away to start changing your health for the better.

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Make yourself at least one or two meals a day. You need to be in control, and if you’re prepared, it won’t take very much time. In fact, if you eat at a picnic table at a rest stop, you’ll also have a chance to recharge and maybe take a brisk walk, or—now here’s a thought—unfold your shiny new collapsible bike to get in some cardio—and a little fun. You can fit all this in while your colleagues are still bellying up to a truck stop buffet table.

Homemade meals on the road are the key to kicking the processed-food habit, which is what puts the pounds on. So that you’ll never be at a loss, stock your cab with healthy nonperishables. One of the cheapest, most widely available sources of protein is canned fish. Take a break from tuna and a whole new world opens up. Instead, reach for canned pink salmon or, my favorite, sardines, which are especially high in heart-healthy omega-3s and minerals. I don’t care what any well-meaning diet book tells you, any canned fish packed in water tastes vile. Vile!

So choose a brand packed in olive oil (a healthy fat) like King Oscar; the lightly smoked sardines are well balanced in flavor and not too salty. Enjoy them in a sandwich, on crackers for a satisfying snack, or broken into pieces and shoveled over a salad mix with a little oil from the can to act as dressing. Shop for whole-grain crackers such as Ry-Crisp or Wasa and unsweetened cereals like plain instant oatmeal to provide the most nutritional bang for the buck. For a sweet fix, forget the king-size KitKat. Seriously, put it back. Opt instead for Fig Newtons, hard ginger snaps, or graham crackers. Or, if your downfall is salty, crunchy snacks, choose pretzels over chips.

Make your own trail mix—that way, you guarantee freshness (no rancid nuts) and you can customize it just the way you like it. Since researchers have just found that almonds have 20 percent fewer calories than they previously thought (whoo hoo!), celebrate by using them as the base. Mix in a (small) handful of dried cranberries or cherries, raisins, or chopped dried apricots, and walnuts (the nut highest in antioxidants). Spice up the mixture with some of those Japanese-style wasabi peas, which contain protein and fiber. To avoid scarfing up the entire batch of trail mix at once during a long haul, portion it out in cup-size amounts and seal them in small zip-top plastic bags. Nosh on one of them about 30 minutes before lunch or supper; making smarter choices at a restaurant is easier when you aren’t crazed with hunger.

Buy a small refrigerator or an ice chest for the cab of your truck. This expands your options tremendously, and will save money to boot. Before you leave home, fill it with crisp, flavorful apples from the farmers market, fresh blueberries for whole-grain cereal, single servings of rich Greek-style yogurt (they have great deals at Costco), oranges for vitamin C, and lemons to squeeze over a salad or that tin of sardines.

If you stick to water, lots of the processed foods that you would normally enjoy with a soda tend to lose their appeal. Lots of truckers say that they need the caffeine in soda to stay focused and awake, but if your diet is full of real food that provides real nutrition and thus real energy, you can break that cycle. And soda isn’t thirst-quenching, which is why you always want more.

A few online sources of information that may prove interesting, inspirational, and helpful include WebMD, Rolling Strong (the website of Bob Perry, the Trucker Trainer, Life As a Trucker, Truckers Report, The Healthy Trucker Lifestyle, and RoadKing magazine. And remember, just because you drive a truck doesn’t mean you have to look like one.

Have you lost weight in a healthy way? Share your tips in the comments!

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