Travis Sanders, a familiar face behind the bar at the Hotel Monteleone (and soon to be at the Ace Hotel, too), has a new look and a renewed energy. Despite working for 16 years in a profession that can make it tough to stay healthy, he is healthier than ever: over the years, he’s lost 112 pounds, gone from 4X shirt size to L/XL and has lost 14 inches around his waist. Bartending can make it easy to slip into bad habits like grabbing food on the go or sticking around the bar a little too long after clocking out, but for Sanders, bartending allowed him to reach fitness goals that once seemed unattainable.
So, how does he do it?
Sanders says it all started out very slowly.
In 2000, Sanders got a job at the Riverwalk’s Paradise Island Bar. “In retrospect, it was a tiki bar,” Sanders says. Part of New Orleans Original Daiquiris, Paradise Island Bar specialized in unfrozen daiquiris. He spent his days mixing and garnishing colorful, fruity concoctions.
At night, Sanders would head back to his newly rented apartment, the first time out on his own. He loved the independence, but there was one issue with his new place.
“I was terrified of my old stove,” Sanders says. “I was afraid if I fried anything I’d burn the house down.” So instead of eating fried foods, Sanders learned to bake.
“Shake and Bake became my best friend,” says Sanders. “I’d pull stuff from the freezer, like french fries, and put them in my toaster oven.”
All these little changes started to add up. His family started noticing differences and encouraging more modifications.
“My mom suggested I buy whole wheat pasta instead of the regular stuff,” Sanders says. “And get sweet potatoes instead of the normal ones.” Over the next eight years Sanders kept up these small changes, and met and fell in love with his future wife, LaShandra Sanders, who kept encouraging these healthy habits.
The real change came two years ago.
“In 2014, my brothers threw down this challenge,” Sanders says. “All three of us vowed to lose 30 pounds in five months.”
So on January 1, 2014, Sanders mapped out how to lose six pounds a month. He had until Memorial Day and figured he would cut out soda, say goodbye to sweet tea and see what other healthy foods he could substitute out for the unhealthy stuff.
Around the end of January, Netflix suggested that he watch the movie “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” One day when his wife was running some errands he pushed play on the movie and followed Joe Cross’ journey.
His wife walked in for the second half of the film in which Joe meets and helps out truck driver Phil, who loses over 200 pounds by juicing, dieting and exercising.
“At the end of the movie my wife turned to me and says, ‘You could totally do that juice fast,'” says Sanders. At first he was skeptical, but with a boost of confidence from his mate, he grabbed a 20% off coupon from Bed Bath and Beyond and invested in a JE90XL Breville Juicer. His next stop was Walmart to stock up on produce.
“Kale was brand new to me,” Sanders says. “I had no idea what it was. Ditto for quinoa.”
Sanders, summoning his tiki memories, realized he’s more of a fruit guy. Sure: apples, oranges, pears — we all know those. But what about jack-fruit, persimmons and rhubarbs?
“I downloaded an app called 101 Juices,” says Sanders. “It even tells you what jicama is and what it tastes good with.”
His mixology skills kicked into high gear as Sanders started getting creative with new flavors, putting these juices into special glasses — like Hurricane glasses — and adding fancy garnishes.
“I thought of it as healthy bartending versus healthy eating,” Sanders says.
The three-day cleanse expanded into four days.
“People think cleanses are really hard, but the movie really helped with tips,” says Sanders. “For example, I knew to chew while I was drinking the juice so my mouth would release saliva, and sure enough, I didn’t have stomach pains.
Looking back on it, Sanders says he would have one just one thing differently. “I wish I would have added in raw food and expanded my cleanse,” he says. “I didn’t eat at all in those first four days and maybe it was a little too cold turkey.”
In four days Sanders lost six pounds doing the juice cleanse. Even though he knew it was mostly water weight, it was the jump-start he needed. He joined a gym immediately.
“Just like I didn’t know which fruits and vegetables to buy, I didn’t know my way around the gym either,” Sanders confessed. “I went for the treadmill because it’s what I knew how to do.”
Sanders says the first 13 seconds of running were glorious. And then he thought he was going to die.
“My heart was pounding, my lungs could not keep up,” says Sanders. “But all I could think of was this treadmill is just a machine, and I will NOT let a machine get the best of me.”
He downloaded the Couch to 5k app. He repeated week one more than a few times.
“By the time I would work my way up to week five, I’d get nervous and just hop back to week one’s exercise again,” Sanders says. “Now I realize what I was really doing was high intensity interval training.”
The weight kept slipping off. Six pounds turned into eight pounds, then 12, then 20 pounds.
He started tracking his steps with a pedometer. He downloaded more apps to track his calorie intake. But more importantly, he thought of the gym as a shift of work.
“Just like when I show up to bartend, I clock in, work my heart out, clock out and head home,” Sanders says. “I don’t mess around and stay afterwards. Same thing at the gym, I don’t waste any time. I’m there for my hour. I clock in at the gym, lock down and do my thing and get out. No messing around.”
He kept chipping away, and his timed mile went from 20 minutes to 11.
Sanders isn’t all business, though. He still enjoys food and cocktails he loves, just in moderation. (Although, he is abstaining from drinking until he runs the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans on March 26.)
His favorite food of all times is hot dogs. “I could go to Dat Dog every day,” Sanders smiles. But instead of having five hot dogs in a sitting, Sanders has two. Instead of a whole pizza, it’s a slice or two. Instead of three burgers, he’ll have one and really enjoy it.
“Portion control is a huge thing, especially when you start counting calories,” says Sanders. “You realize maybe you don’t really need that ice cream after dinner, or only have a little cup.”
If Sanders could give anyone one bit of advice on starting a healthier lifestyle, it’s simple, but stern: “Don’t start tomorrow. Start now.”
“People always say, ‘I’ll start Monday,’ but just think of every day as Monday. Don’t wait. Just do it.”
Travis ran his first 5k on Feb. 20, 2016, with a time of 38 minutes and 46 seconds.