In the timeless battle of man versus waistline, Marines on recruiting duty find fast food, stress, and long workdays fighting against them as they strive to fit into their pre-recruiting trousers. But Marines never surrender. According to fitness and nutrition experts, staying in shape while on recruiting duty is not mission impossible and small changes can make big differences.
Lt. Cmdr. Paul Allen, a registered dietitian assigned to the Nutrition Clinic at Naval Station Great Lakes Naval Hospital, said in six months he sees approximately a dozen military recruiters. Some come becausecommand or primary care physician referred them to the nutrition clinic. Others come on their own. Regardless of who sends them to his office, the reason is the same – these are members of the military dealing with weight control issues.
“I actually see military recruiters pretty often,” said Allen. “And by the time they get to me they are already out of (weight) standards.”
For the civilian workforce, “out of standards,” has limited practical application beyond having to buy new pants. For servicemembers, “out of standards” can mean out of work. With that in mind, Allen begins his counseling with a discussion of ‘big rocks.’
“Weight loss isn’t all about food, it’s about lifestyle choices and exercise choices, and food choices,” he said. “I tell them ‘you have to decide what’s important to you and take care of the important things in your life. Educate yourself and apply the knowledge.”
Examples Allen gives of ‘big rocks’ include taking care of one's family, finding applicants for the military, personal health and career advancement. In the end, he speaks to the recruiter’s wallet – gaining pounds means losing money.
Allen hears these common excuses from recruiters explaining why they have moved up a waist size or down a PFT class.
1. “I have no time to eat healthy,” or, “My boss doesn’t give me time to eat healthy.”
2. I don’t know what to eat,” or, “I have bad eating habits.”
In the end, like other aspects of recruiting duty, it comes down to time management, according to Allen. And unless recruiters aren’t eating anything, ‘no time’ isn’t a reasonable justification for eating poorly.
When it comes to food choices “the (initial) challenge is to change the line of thinking,” said Allen. “You can still make healthy food choices at McDonalds, but you have to engage your brain. The biggest problem I see (among military recruiters) is unconscious eating.”
Unconscious eating occurs when recruiters don’t stop and “engage brain” before making food choices, according to Allen. When presented with a McDonalds, a grocery store and a 7-Eleven, recruiters most often pick the McDonald’s because of the drive-thru. Allen suggests going into the grocery store and grabbing something fresh from the produce aisle or even hitting up the 7-Eleven for one of their healthier sandwiches.
Other simple changes that Allen said could make a big difference in fighting off excess weight include cutting out caffeine (“Increases sense of stress, you’re gut doesn’t need it, and you’re gut doesn’t want it.”), drink no calorie soda or cut soda out completely, reduce sauces, always eat breakfast, and engage brain before eating.
As a personal trainer at Pavilion Fitness in Elk Grove, Ill., Aileen Tischauser is often the antidote to “I have no time” simply because she expects her clients to show up to their scheduled sessions. As extra motivation, gym members and trainers’ clients would pay for nothing if they didn’t go to their workouts.
“It’s about making time,” said Tischauser. “And understanding that doing a little bit of something is better than doing a whole lot of nothing. It doesn’t take that much time to exercise enough to stay healthy. “It doesn’t have to be bootcamp. You just have to do something every day.”
Tischauser, Allen, and Sgt. Major Michael Dechy, sergeant major, RS Chicago, are on the same page with that line of thinking.
Dechy often recommends his recruiters work two max sets of crunches and two max sets of pull-ups into their daily routine. He also reminds them that they must “look the part. You are what you recruit and you are the image of the Marine Corps out here where you may be the only Marine people ever see. You will have more energy if you PT. You will feel better. You will see better results from your recruiting efforts.”
The sergeant major’s wisdom gained from more than 21 years in the Corps matches up neatly with the expertise of the certified dietitian and the certified personal trainer. But for Marines already working from a deficit of gained weight and slipping run times, grabbing the time and taking the stairs instead of the elevator won’t be enough. Allen recommends 40-minute workouts five times a week for his patients who are out of standards. Workouts must include a combination of weight training and cardiovascular exercise, according to Tischauser. And the only way to run faster is to run more.