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Waist reduction

Deal-makers trade high-calorie meals for low-cost lunches as economic downturn trims business expense accounts, midriffs

By Sarah Schweitzer
Globe Staff / March 29, 2009
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As a banker who puts together complex loan packages for developers and other high-fliers, Adam Liptak has felt the recession's pain in the now all-too-familiar ways. But in the months since the credit markets went into piston-lock, he has noticed an unexpected and beneficial side effect: He has dropped 35 pounds.

He's says he's been exercising more, but he's also had another radical lifestyle change. All those dinners with clients at The Capital Grille, get-to-know-yous over beef carpaccio, 20-ounce porterhouse steaks, and creamed spinach, all those bottles of Cabernet and Bordeaux - they are now "practically nonexistent," Liptak said. "There is no wining and dining anymore."

In the stratospheric world of deal-making where just six months ago high-power, high-calorie business lunches and dinners were considered essential parts of the job, many of its players now are opting for comparatively austere meetings over coffee or solo lunches of tuna-on-rye at their desks. And they are losing weight.

The pounds have been shed as corporate spigots have tightened, making the sumptuous meals a newly frowned-upon excess. The doldrums of the economy, too, have lessened impulses to socialize. And for some, there is a sense that eating large at a time when others are hurting may no longer be appropriate.

"Every company has laid off somebody. How would you feel if you got laid off and you saw executives hopping out of cars and into a restaurant?" Liptak said. "There's sensitivity to that."

The thinning ranks of the region's executives and financiers has spurred business for tailors in Wellesley and Harvard Square on Newbury Street in Boston, who report a steady stream of clients dropping off cashmere top coats, Brooks Brothers suit skirts, and Brioni trousers in need of resizing for trimmer physiques.

"People are bringing in clothes from their closets because they don't want to spend money on new clothes," said Jordan Tsavalakoglou, a tailor who has been working on Newbury Street for nearly three decades. "But they need the clothes taken in in order to fit them."

Some clothiers, like Giblees in Danvers, have noticed their larger suits and trousers sitting on racks unpurchased. In recent months, the store has changed its inventory, scaling back its sizes. Today the store's largest-size suit is a 52, the largest trouser a 46, down from 54 and 48, respectively.

"My clients are working more, getting out less," said Alan Gibeley, the store's co-owner. "It's become a more regimented cycle for them."

To be sure, the more widespread phenomenon of the moment is weight gain. Doctors report a surge in unhealthful eating among patients who have turned to inexpensive high-fat foods to save money. Others have sought comfort in food - among them, corporate executives and bankers.

Yet, take Ted Charles. When the recession first hit, the 66-year-old chairman of Investors Capital Holdings, an 850-broker financial services firm based in Lynnfield, began eating more to calm his nerves. But when the food took a toll on his body, he ramped up his gym workouts. Meanwhile, his meals with clients at places like Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse dramatically dwindled - from two to three times a week, to twice a month.

"I'm no liberal. If I wanted to go out and eat red meat and wine, I would."

But he said the mood of the business world has shifted, making for a period of inwardness and diminished sociability.

"There is a sense of malaise. People don't feel like going out. They are very unhappy about the way things are going. They are sad. They are not going out and celebrating. There is not much to celebrate."

Today, his weight is down, from 214 six months ago to 206 a month ago to 198, he said as he prepared to tuck into a lunchtime do-it-yourself Caprese salad he had purchased at a corner market.

For many expense account types, there was no having soup and salad at client meals.

"When I would go out to eat with these guys, every one of them wanted to eat a steak with a few bottles of wine at a sitting," said Christopher Smith of Stow, a 38-year-old vice president of sales for a software company. "The problem is, you didn't want it, but you had to eat it because the whole thing was to make them have a good experience."

A hunk of cheesecake invariably rounded out the evening, and come morning, Smith would eat a big breakfast to "set off" the big dinner and skip the gym.

"It was all a downward spiral," he said.

Now the meals are gone from Smith's evenings, and he spends the time at the gym, often with his trainer, pumping away the stresses of a deteriorating economy. He's lost six pounds.

Smith recently made a bet with 13 men on his sales team. Whoever loses the most weight at the next sales meeting in two months wins "bragging rights" and "something you don't want to put in the paper." The loser must doff his shirt at the meeting.

The phenomenon is not limited to men. Tailors report that a good number of clients bringing in clothes for resizing are women. Liptak's wife, Heather, has lost weight, too. She credits some of her loss to working out with their Wii, which they purchased when it became clear that her growing workload as a national accounts manager would leave less time for going to spin class at the gym.

"Being a man, of course, he lost twice as much weight as me," she said.

For some, weight loss in the midst of the recession has been a rare bright spot.

"When you're in shape, you feel better about yourself; it gives you a more positive outlook," Charles said.

He's feeling so buoyant, in fact, he said he might revisit the Armani stores where he has had trouble fitting into their sizes in the past. (A man who answered the phone at Armani Exchange said sizes there have not changed in recent months. "The majority of our clients are small to begin with.")

"Maybe I could shop there now," Charles said.

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