Clambakes, Polish festivals, local fairs, cocktail parties, alcohol, fatty foods, and travel are staples of political campaigns. But they’re not great for a politician’s waistline.
Eating is part of being a political candidate, but it comes with a heavy price.
No one knows this better than House Speaker Chris Donovan, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District.
Donovan, who tried the South Beach diet about five years ago, was inspired to start shedding the pounds in April when he saw how much the Associated Press’s Susan Haigh had lost on Weight Watchers.
“On South Beach you’ll sit down with a bag of cookies, you’ll eat one, and all of a sudden the bag is gone,” Donovan said.
He said he tried that diet and lost 10 pounds, but he put them back on almost immediately because the it was “too limited.”
Weight Watchers is more of a lifestyle change and its paid off for Donovan, who has lost 21 pounds since April. The program is based on a system where protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates are used to calculate the value of a point.
“I love the fruit and vegetable part,” Donovan said, referring to the fact that most fruits and vegetables are zero points and don’t count toward your daily point value. Donovan gets 31 daily points and he counts them on his iPhone app or his computer.
As a Weight Watchers member, he also receives access to electronic tools which help him track his weight loss progress and offers recipe suggestions. Unlike other diets, Weight Watchers does not tell you what you can or can’t eat. Instead it provides members with tools to make their own decisions.
Half-hour weekly motivational meetings are also part of the package, but Donovan doesn’t attend those. Gabe Rosenberg, Donovan’s campaign spokesman, said sternly that Donovan doesn’t have time to attend any more meetings with a hectic campaign schedule.
Donovan, who is doing the diet with his wife, said he’s figured out a couple of breakfast combinations that are filling and which work for him, such as a Greek yogurt or oatmeal loaded with fruit.
“The crazy part about it is it works,” Donovan said at a clambake sponsored by the Bethel Democrats on Sunday.
Donovan, who arrived after Sunday’s pie eating contest and main course, said he recently attended a Polish festival and was able to eat enough without going overboard. He had a potato pancake, one cheese pierogi (“which are the best kind”), a small piece of kielbasa, and a few swigs of beer.
He said it added up to about 8 to 10 points, but what he was given was three potato pancakes, eight pierogies, and an “arm of kielbasa.”
If he had eaten the whole thing he could have consumed a whole days worth of points.“I had the whole experience. It was delicious, but I limited what I ate,” Donovan said.
One of his Democratic opponents, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, arrived at the clambake Sunday prior to Donovan and was able to snag the last hot dog.
She said she was coming from a more than two-hour church service and was famished by the time she arrived. Her staffer was able to snag the last hamburger, but only got half a bun.
Esty said she doesn’t eat at all the events she attends unless it’s a time in the day when she would normally be eating, like it was Sunday afternoon.
Esty, who said she keeps a healthy diet, has recently had to shift to a morning exercise routine. She said she’s even gotten her daughter and two teenage sons to get up with her and head to the gym in the morning.
“We’re making it a family affair,” Esty said. “I don’t get to see enough of them so it’s actually a chance for us to spend some time together.”
She said that since she returned to a regular exercise routine she’s lost a few pounds, “but it is a constant challenge to keep your energy up and be eating healthy food.”
The heat also has been helpful in getting her campaign staff to start drinking more water.
Donovan, who opted for water instead of beer Sunday, said most weight loss was from just eating less and campaigning non-stop.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who failed in his first bid for governor and succeeded in his second, is no stranger to campaign weight loss.
“Both times I ran for governor it gets to the point where you’re running on adrenaline and caffeine,” Malloy said last week in a phone interview.
As a candidate, Malloy said you eat a little bit everywhere you go, but you only have a bite. He said there’s no expectation as a candidate that “you’re going to sit down and eat a pound of spaghetti.”
That, however, changes once you get elected, he said.
He said he has more time to spend in the places he visits and sometimes those visits are accompanied by food. However, he’s also had an opportunity to get back to a regular exercise routine, which includes running.
During his first year in office, the running routine was hampered by the two large storms that tore through the state. But since April he has been pretty consistent.
But trying to keep up a healthy lifestyle knows no party lines.
Kate Duffy, a spokeswoman for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon, said the candidate rarely eats at campaign events.
She said she packs healthy food like grilled chicken, vegetables, and nuts for the car ride between campaign stops. And when her campaign schedule allows, McMahon does take time to work out.
Sen. Andrew Roraback, a Republican from Goshen vying for the 5th Congressional District, said he doesn’t have to fret about his weight.
“Weight loss is the least of my worries,” Roraback said.
He described his metabolism as a “cold stove.”
“There’s little time to slow down so whatever gets eaten gets burned off quickly,” Roraback said Monday.