Getting Healthy As A Gigging Professional

By Nicholas Kaminski


Getting healthy when you live a life going from gig to gig can be extraordinarily difficult. Mobile DJs, freelance musicians, and even home technicians like electricians and plumbers frequently find themselves on the road with limited time to eat and virtually no time to prepare food. The obvious solution is fast food.  

I have been in that situation before. I wrote more about my personal journey to better health here, but in short, I am a freelance musician, actor, and mobile DJ. During my first experience on tour, my weight spiraled out of control and I decided to do something about it.

In the past 7 months, I have lost over 50 pounds and counting. I lost this weight while living in a hotel room, while driving from gig to gig, while working on a rigorous summer stock schedule, and while going through hardship in my personal life. While I strongly recommend reading my more in-depth article about making positive change in your life, here are a few simple tips for living healthy on the job.

  1. Avoid Diets

You or someone you know has at one time (or multiple times) gone on some new fad diet that promises quick and easy weight loss. Atkins was huge a decade ago, and now the keto diet has taken center stage. These two diet plans are similar in that they completely eliminate carbs. With carbs gone, the body is forced to break down fat as its main energy source.

That sounds great in practice, but how long exactly can you spend avoiding carbs completely? Maybe you can replace your spaghetti with zoodles and nix the sandwiches for lettuce wraps, but the list of foods keto eliminates makes long-term success unlikely. Wheat, rice, rye, oats, corn, quinoa, cereal, bread, pasta, rice, corn, oatmeal, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, lentils are all carbs. Keto goes a step further and also eliminates starches and sugars, so say goodbye to apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, watermelon, peaches, melon, pineapple, sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots… you get the idea.

Sure, maybe you’ll lose 30 pounds before giving up and eating an apple (god forbid!) but what will you have learned about your body and its metabolic processes? There is no hack to healthiness. Long-term success is about learning how your body works, learning to manage cravings, and holding yourself accountable when you stumble.

  1. Make Healthy Meals In Advance

If you make a living working gigs, chances are most of your time spent working is in the evening, with little or no time to cook dinner. So, it’s tempting to grab a tv dinner or pizza rolls from the freezer and tossing them in the microwave or just grabbing a drive-thru cheeseburger on the way. The best way to break this cycle is to make several servings of a meal at once when you do have the time to cook and leave it in some good tupperware in the fridge to heat up in the microwave when you need a quick meal.

While “extreme” meal-prepping is trendy, cooking for the week doesn’t need to be complicated. Some great healthy single-pot meals that keep well for up to two weeks in the fridge are chilis, curries, stir-fries, and burrito bowls. If you do not consider yourself a cook, remember that there was a time where you couldn’t play that instrument or mix a dance set or rewire a prewar residence. We learn, we adapt.

  1. Getting The Most Of Your Money

I have heard a lot of complaints that healthy food costs more than unhealthy food. This is absolutely false. While I was on tour, I was forced to eat out for every meal. With a limited per diem, I used cheap fast food to stretch my budget as far as it would go. But let’s do the math on that: I was spending $1200 a month just on food. That’s what I spend on my mortgage. All of that “cheap” food adds up to a hefty price tag, both on your wallet and your waistline.

Eating healthy means a focus on cooking as many meals as possible at home, and cooking healthy meals at home means you’re going to need to shop smart at the grocery store. As I said before, a common misconception is that healthy food costs more than unhealthy food, but you don’t need to shop at Whole Foods to eat healthy; you don’t even need to buy organic products.

I shop at Aldi for almost all of my groceries. Many folks scoff at the bargain grocery store because they have “private label” products that are unfamiliar to most consumers. But, a little known fact about Aldi is that it is owned by the same company as Trader Joe’s and many of private label products that Aldi sells are just otherwise identical rebranding of products from Trader Joe’s.

I live alone and spend $100 a month on groceries at Aldi, a far cry from the $1200 I was spending on “cheap” food. A pot of chili (which will feed me for 10 or 12 meals) costs around $10 total, takes less than an hour to prepare and tastes fantastic.

  1. Control Your Portion Sizes

What you eat is as important as how much of it you eat. Sure, salad can be healthy, but a giant bowl of caesar salad as an appetizer to an additional main course is not. Portion control is important skill to learn. If you are a habitually unhealthy eater (and most Americans are), you probably are taking portions that are much too large, even if the meal you are eating is otherwise healthy.

While not generally successful long-term, counting calories with an app like MyFitnessPal can help you visualize what a serving should actually look like. It’s tedious to measure out every bit of food that you eat, but you will eventually be able to eyeball a proper healthy meal size. Eating less also stretches how many portions you get out of your dishes, which further saves you money.

  1. When Eating Out, Make Smarter Choices

When I decided to make the change to be healthier, I was still on tour and still eating out for every meal of the day. Since I had to eat out, I made the decision to completely stop eating bread, pasta, and dairy to at least cut down on the carbs and fat I was ingesting. As I said before, cutting out carbs (and fat) completely is not a good idea, but neither is eating carb- and fat-focused meals.

Where I would have gotten a cheeseburger, I’d get chicken nuggets instead. Maybe I’d order a grilled chicken sandwich and have them hold the bun. These changes were baby steps that, with commitment, led to broader changes. I’ve since stopped eating fried chicken and french fries, too.

I generally avoid fast food altogether now, but if I have no other choice (and I try hard to avoid being put in a situation where fast food is my only option), I know where to go and what to get so I can eat reasonably healthy. Wendy’s has great salads (ask for no cheese). If I’m at Taco Bell, I’ll replace the meat with chicken and get no cheese or sour cream. At Chipotle or Qdoba, I’ll get a burrito bowl with chicken, no cheese or sour cream.

  1. Don’t Overindulge On Free Food

Mobile DJs play a lot of weddings with tempting cocktail hour spreads. Musicians and actors find themselves at opening night receptions with open bar and cheese plates galore. These events are not uncommon and if we treat each one like its our last supper, we’re going to derail any health improvement journey we’ve embarked on.

Banquet hall food is cheap and mass-produced. Like fast food, many caterers will make cheap food palatable by adding in salt and fat rather than quality ingredients. It’s also easy to go over reasonable portion sizes, especially while browsing the cocktail hour buffet. If you know the caterer is providing you with a dinner plate, just avoid cocktail hour completely. Leave the hors d’oeuvres to the guests.

  1. Balance Food And Activity

It’s easy to tell yourself that since you had a 4-hour set where you were standing most of the time sandwiched between loading in and out, you have “earned” a large meal. But if you treat a 4-hour set as some kind of workout, you’re going to be short-changing yourself, especially if you spent the entire rest of the day mostly sedentary. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to be in long term calorie deficit. If you don’t have very much activity outside of your gigs, you aren’t burning very many calories. If you aren’t burning very many calories, you need to eat less.

There are days where I never leave the house, stuck working on an orchestration, writing project, web design, or even just relaxing on the couch. On these days, I eat considerably less than days when I’m out and active. Keeping in mind calories in versus calories burned helps keep me on track even when I’m not active. I don’t count calories any more per se, but I have gotten pretty good at keeping track of what I eat in more general ways.

  1. Don’t Derail Yourself

You are going to have a bad day. You are going to be in a situation where you have to eat unhealthy foods. These days do not erase the progress you’ve made unless you let them. You can let that guilt spiral into giving up completely or you can acknowledge that you are only human and keep moving forward.

There have been so many times in the past where I tried to go on a diet and gave up at the first extradietal cheeseburger, feeling like I’ve ruined everything. That guilt was not productive and I let the single bad days turn into bad months, years, and decades. If you slip up, get right back on that horse and keep moving. Did you not make mistakes when you learned to play piano? Did you not completely botch a transition when learning to mix? You didn’t give up then. Don’t give up now.

This advice comes with the biggest caveat I have: not having guilt about bad days doesn’t mean you can be in denial about how many bad days you’re having. Commitment to your eating plan starts with complete honesty about our own habits. The easiest person to lie to is yourself.  

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