I received an email message from a reader a while ago.  It started, “I’ve been out of the academy for a few months, and my eating habits are in the tank.”

Due to my experience as a competitive bodybuilder, the writer hoped I could share a few tips or maybe write an article on the topic to help him get back in shape.   Here goes.



The guys on the shift are going out for drinks on a regular basis.  You don’t want to miss out.  You want to be part of the crew – especially if you’re a rook.  Your gut tells you that it’s happening a bit too much, and you don’t know how to bow-out without taking a raft of s***.

You are working a shift (usually nights) that you are frequently running call – to – call with little or no time for a meal break.   You regularly find yourself so hungry that you’ll eat whatever you can find – and all too often, it’s a nutritional disaster.

Your partner (or worse your FTO) has terrible eating habits.   He thinks that the best meals are the ones which are free.   His waistline may not show it, but yours does.


In recent foot pursuits, the subject seems to be running faster than in the past.

Your thoughts of going to the gym are met with unending excuses.  You are always planning to go to the gym and resume your workouts, “tomorrow.”  You find yourself avoiding scales and cameras.

If you are beyond the rookie stage in your career, you might even be getting to work early so that no one will see what you go through to put on your duty belt.



You have gotten the dreaded ‘beer belly.’    Maybe better termed, ‘the cop belly.’

You have the car seat back as far as it will go to accommodate your gut.

It’s an effort to see whether your boots are shined and to make sure that the magazines on your belt are still there.

Leather doesn’t shrink.

You’re not a “growing boy” anymore.

The subject of one of my past articles was how the law enforcement fitness model is broken.  In a lot fewer words: recruits are forced to endure all kinds of physical fitness tests and demands during the selection and training process.

Those physical demands are far worse, in fact, than the job demands.

Once on the job, too many coppers turn into lumps of lard for the duration.  What’s up with that?

The writer of the earlier-referenced email lamented as he told me his situation:  “I’m on a very tight budget right now, and off duty jobs aren’t an option until my department allows it.

With an ever-changing schedule, no time for meals because there are calls to answer, a Taco-Bell is always open lifestyle, good nutrition seems impossible.  Lord knows this is the one area my FTO did not lead by example.”

Wake up.

This could make the difference between life and death for a cop.   You already know why.  You’ve heard it a hundred times before.



 There is a basic truth about humans (ALL of them):  People do what they WANT to do.  No matter what the situation or circumstance, people will always do what they want to do.

Now, it’s correct that having a gun to your temple will drastically affect what you want at any given moment.  But, once the gun is removed, you will revert to doing what you really like and want.

Many years ago, I was a motivational speaker for Weight Watchers.   I would see people (most frequently females) who joined because of their dire need to lose weight in preparation for: a wedding, a class reunion, or the event-of-the-day.

They could lose 50 pounds or more as they fanatically deprived themselves of nourishment.   If saw those same folks six months following said event, all of the weight was back – and more.

At the age of 40 I was obese – seriously overweight to the point where it threatened my health.


Then, I lost nearly 100 pounds.   It’s been gone ever since.  I learned early that long term behavior modification would occur only when I was getting something that I wanted.  It had to be something I wanted more than food.

I didn’t want to diet.  I’ve never met anyone who did.   People may feel forced into it, but no one truly wants to deprive themselves of food that they enjoy.  I found a way to deal with it.

I decided that I didn’t want to lose weight.  What I really wanted was to be lean.  (Not skinny, but muscular and lean)  And, I could continue to want to be lean no matter what my weight, nor how many years passed.  I still want that today.



I learned there are FOUR BASIC RULES to shedding unwanted fat:

  • Eat when you’re hungry.
  • Don’t eat when you’re not hungry
  • Never eat from a bag or a box because you don’t know how much you’ve eaten. Put your food on a plate, a napkin or in a bowl.
  • When you eat, ONLY eat; NOTHING else, e.g. No TV, no phone, no newspaper or other distractions. Savor every bite.

That’s it. Can you do it? I suspect that you can.

Tactic #1 – Decide what you really, truly want regarding fitness.   It’s not a choice for anyone else, just you.   You needn’t tell anyone else.  It’s a private matter just for you.  Telling others may cause you to make a choice based on what you “should” want rather than what would really please you.

MY WANT: Looking good for the ladies

I remember deciding early on in my weight loss program that I wanted to go on vacation the next summer and be able to draw an admiring glance from women at the pool when I took off my shirt.   Needless to say, I didn’t share that desire with my wife.  But, it kept me going for many months of tough dieting and workouts in the gym.

Tactic #2 – Think ahead.  At the beginning of most weeks and certainly at the beginning of each day, I try to identify anything that is going to alter my normal eating plan.  It could be Thanksgiving Dinner, a wedding, a beer brawl, going to Police Week in D.C. – whatever.   Consider how you will adjust and compensate for the event.

Changes shouldn’t be severe or radical.  Small course adjustments will work wonders.  Example:  one donut eaten (or skipped) daily will account for 52 pounds of body fat gained (or lost) at the end of a year?   Just one donut.


Tactic #3 – Never be caught without food close at hand.   When I’m working in patrol, I make sure that I have a couple of energy bars in my duty bag.  If I’m preparing for a bodybuilding contest, I have a cooler in the trunk with a range of food choices and drinks.  I won’t allow myself to be caught at a scene without food.

Eat frequently. The reality is that you are likely to do the most damage to your eating plan when you allow yourself to become too hungry.  Try to eat something every couple of hours – even if it’s just a piece of fruit or small package of peanuts.


Tactic #4 – Be a bastard about getting your food.   When it’s time to eat, it’s time to eat.  Make it clear to those in your life that there are some things which do not allow compromise.  For you, food is one of them.  Be as serious as a heart attack about it.

I had a partner once who chided my demands for food.   “Can’t you skip lunch, just this once?” he asked.  I responded in a very direct manner:  “The next time you need to use the bathroom, just plan on waiting six or eight hours. How about we do that?”  Point made.

Tactic #5 – Make sure you choose food; don’t let food choose you.   Have you ever been to a wedding where long after the meal, you were given a piece of wedding cake?  You probably ate it.  Why?  Most wedding cake is terrible.

There is nothing worse than gaining weight from food that you didn’t want, didn’t like, or can’t remember.

When you go to the movie theatre right after dinner, you find yourself at the concession stand buying popcorn.  You’re not hungry.  You don’t really want it.  But, you must have it.   That’s called situational eating.   Avoid it like the plague.



Here are some ideas which will help you strip blubber:

  • Don’t eat anything that is round.
  • Don’t eat anything from a paper bag.
  • Don’t eat anything that is handed to you through a car window.

These are words to live by, indeed.

Tactic #6 – Don’t be bullied into being fat.  I recall working with a senior officer on a midnight shift while I was in the final stages of preparation for a bodybuilding contest.

We went to a restaurant where I ordered grilled chicken breasts, a salad with just vinegar as the dressing, and I provided a container of rice for them to warm and serve as the carbohydrate with the meal.

My partner thought I’d gone NUTS for carrying in my own rice.

This officer was far from lean.  He had no room to criticize me.

A short while later, he was leading a meeting which I attended.   He made a point of recounting the story of our meal and my rice.  The entire group laughed.  That is until I announced that I was wearing a pair of pants with a 29” waist. I asked what size his were.




Don’t let them push you around.

Be cool.

When you go to the bar, remember that regular beer has 160 calories; light beer has only 100 (or less).  You get 3 for the price of 2.  Drink slowly.   Alternate alcoholic drinks with a Diet Coke or water.  Booze is generally very high in calories, e.g. vodka has 180 calories per ounce.

Don’t make yourself nuts over this.  But have a general knowledge of the kinds of foods you want to eat a lot of and those that you should shy away from.

Think of it this way: it’s the simple carbs that spell trouble. You don’t need a book to identify them. I use this rule-of-thumb:  A food that is SWEET or SOFT is probably a simple carb. Examples: pasta, most desserts, bread, etc.

Enjoy the foods you want IN MODERATION.   If you want potato chips, pour some into a bowl.  When the bowl is empty, you’re done.   Never, never, never eat chips from a bag.  How would you ever stay aware of how much you’ve eaten if you did?

Pizza – Yum!

Until you get a handle on it, don’t eat in front of the TV.  Pay attention to what you’re eating when you’re eating.  Eat slowly and continue only until the hunger subsides.  Don’t eat until you’re full, just to the point where you’re not hungry anymore.  There’s a huge difference.

Is chocolate your thing?  Six Hershey Kisses are an ounce – 160 calories.   Put six into small baggies and throw them into the freezer.  When you’re really needing something sweet take out ONE bag and eat it.

Satisfying your mouth doesn’t require a dump-truck full of food.  Let that sink in.

If you have any specific questions that I can answer, send me an email me at the address below.

  • Remember give thought to what you really want.
  • Write it down in PENCIL (because it will change over time).
  • Put it where you – and only you – will see it

Then, act on it.

If you find that you really want pizza, have some.  But NOT the whole pizza all.  Moderation is the key.

Staying in shape is an important part of keeping you safe.

At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.



Email your questions to me here:  DONAHUE


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