Of all the skills I've learned over the years, small talk has taken the most practice.
In my twenties, forcing me to make conversation among strangers was akin to sliding down razor blades into a bed of salt.
Over time though, I learned to ask questions to initiate the conversation: "Where are you from? What do you do? Do you like football? What do you mean you're a Ravens' fan? I'm sorry, we can't be friends."
I no longer ask people what they do for work though. I learned my lesson years ago when I was at the wedding of a friend in Washington, D.C. and began a conversation with the woman next to me.
"And what do you do for work?"
"I'm the second chair clarinet in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra," she replied. "What do you do?"
I'd recently dropped out of an MFA program at the University of New Mexico and was working for minimum wage at a camera shop.
Later when I recounted the story to a friend of mine, I learned that you shouldn't ask people what they do for work until the fourth or fifth time you meet them. I don't know if it's true, but I've held to that practice, as our jobs rarely define us.
I am still often asked what I do for work and given the nature of my current job as a coach, my answer frequently results in a barrage of questions about health and fitness.
I love what I do and welcome the questions. Below is a list of what I frequently find myself talking about in these types of conversations, so I thought I'd share with you.
1. Are you getting moderate or vigorous exercise?
I see sedentary clients who know they need to get some exercise, but I see others who are doing some form of exercise on a regular basis, and still not seeing any results (at least as it pertains to fat loss).
According to www.choosemyplate.gov, the minimum requirement for adults (ages 18-64) is at least two hours of aerobic physical activity at a moderate level OR 75 minutes per week of aerobic physical activity at a vigorous level.
How do you measure a moderate level versus a vigorous level? Try using the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE) - which is how hard you feel like your body is working. From the CDC the RPE is “based on the physical sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue.”
If walking your dog at night is your only exercise, what is your RPE while walking? I have a basset hound who likes to stop and smell the roses every. five. steps. While walking Rooney is good meditation for me, we don’t often get up to a pace that increases my heart rate or has me breathing harder.
2. Don’t overhaul your entire diet on day one.
Should I go paleo? Are carbs bad? What about a juice cleanse? (That’s another question for another day). Should I try intermittent fasting? Before completely overhauling your diet, it’s good to have a clear understanding of where you are with your nutrition. Are you getting enough water? Are you getting enough vegetables? It’s so easy to focus on what not to eat that we can sometimes forget what to eat. Are you getting enough protein? Are you getting enough vitamins and minerals? Healthy fats? Water?
It’s hard to know the answer to this right now, as you’re probably sitting there thinking about what you had for breakfast (maybe you don't remember what you had for breakfast. That's ok.) So the easier place to start is by tracking your food for three days, which leads nicely into point number three.
3. Track your food
Use MyFitnessPal if you like gadgets - use a pen and paper if you don’t - but for three days, one weekend day and two weekdays, track your food intake. Don’t judge it. Track it. How often are you eating? Six meals a day? Three meals a day?
4. Look for the low hanging fruit
Once you've tracked your food for three days, take a look at the bigger picture. Do you drink a Mountain Dew every day? Twice a day? Do you order a mocha latte from Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts every morning? Are you eating two servings of Girl Scout cookies twice a day? Do you snack each morning at 10:00?
The empty calories in beverages are a good place to start. Even drinks that we might think of as healthy - vitamin waters and other sports drinks - are loaded with sugars and empty calories. Do you use cream in your coffee? If you have three cups of coffee per day (I'm not judging) and use cream every time, you might be adding as much as 200 calories into your diet.
5. Choose one new habit and focus on that for the week.
Once you've tracked your food for a few days, you might see that you're not getting enough vegetables (again, reference www.choosemyplate.gov to know serving amounts). Perhaps you know you need to drink more water (I know I do) - choose one habit to focus on for the week. Once you've gotten comfortable with that new habit, then choose another one.
Those are just a few thoughts for those of you out there wondering where to get started. And FYI, if we do meet at a party, ask me all of the questions you want to about health and fitness.
Or you could ask me about that time I almost became a nun. It's up to you.