Nothing wages war on healthy habits faster or with more fury than an erratic travel schedule. Just ask my waistline: six months after I started my job, it was noticeably… snugglier. Now, 18 months later and 25 pounds lighter, I have collected a few die hard lessons and habits that keep me focused, healthful, and happy on the road.
EMBRACE REALITY OVER VACATION MENTALITY
First things first, let’s start with mindset. We rarely effect long term change in our lives without first being mindful of unhelpful thought patterns. If you travel for work, or travel often, what you do on a trip is no longer an exception to your normal life – it IS your normal life, and every habit (good or bad) matters to your health (and your pants size). Even for the occasional vacationer, it is important to keep extravagant eating in check. Sure, we all need and deserve a little indulgence from time to time, but here’s the thing: your body never takes a vacation from needing proper nutrition. The best way to fully enjoy any trip is to properly take care of you. After all, isn’t that what vacation is all about?
DRINK LIKE IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD
Sorry, but I don’t mean alcohol. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but water is your best friend on the road. Staying hydrated not only helps prevent you from getting sick and feeling sluggish, but it also helps maintain healthy weight.Popular opinion has held that this is because drinking water helps you feel full, which may be partly true, but a more fundamental reason is that your body simply cannot burn fat when it is dehydrated. Dehydration increases fat deposits by storing toxins in fat cells, and by causing fat cells to expand, thus allowing them to store even more. Hydrated cells are happy cells, and happy cells are fat-burning cells!
My Hacks: I commit to drinking 12 ounces of water for every hour I’m on a flight. I also pack a reusable water bottle that I can use to infuse if I start to get bored with water. Simply stuff the bottle with your accoutrements of choice before you leave the house (watermelon, pineapple, cucumber, lemon, orange, apple, lime, fresh rosemary, basil, mint), then top it off with sparkling water once you get through security. This will keep things fresh and flavorful, and it’s a method you can continue to use throughout your trip.
GET USED TO PACKING FOR SNACKING
If you don’t plan ahead, you will at some point find yourself feeling peckish, or worse, famished, without any guarantee that the options available to you will be options that are wholesome and healthy. Why do you think fast food restaurants position themselves off of highway exits? Try to never put yourself in a position where you are at the mercy of whatever’s available, instead of having the power to really choose what to put in your body (incidentally, that’s good advice for dating too!).
My Hacks: In my carry-on/work bag (they’re one in the same), I ALWAYS have 100-calorie packs of Emerald’s Raw Almonds and Walnuts. They’re easy to pack, curb cravings, are high in magnesium and protein for energy, and rich in Vitamin E for antioxidant protection. Having a healthy option in tow makes it easy to pass on plane peanuts and pretzels, which are higher in saturated fat and sodium. Throw in an apple or pear, and you’re good to go! In my suitcase, I pack a small insulated lunch box with an ice pack, so that I can take enough breakfast and snack foods to get me through the week at the hotel. Runny hotel eggs and Belgian waffles do not a champion make! I usually fill it with Chobani-100 Greek Yogurts, KIND granola bars, fruit, and power balls (I’ll have to pass on my recipe another day). This leads me to my next tip…
HONE YOUR HOTEL SELECTION PROCESS
Never book a hotel without a fridge. Never EVER. It makes the previous tip utterly useless. Also, do your research to get the deets on nearby eats. The more convenient you make healthy eating for yourself, the more likely you are to stick with it on the road. Narrow down hotels based on nearby juice bars, healthy restaurants, and grocers.
My Hacks: I love stocking the hotel fridge with local cold-pressed juices squeezed from organic fruits and veggies. Raw juice and coffee are my life blood on the road! If I have a particularly long flight or know I’m going to be hungry when I land, I will place a take out order at a health food restaurant situated in between the airport and the hotel. This keeps me from pulling over for Chick-Fil-A (my weakness!) or ordering spaghetti from room service.
MASTER THE MENU
Nothing dampens the spirits of even the most vigilant health nut like yet another wilted chicken salad. There are few things less satisfying to me than shoveling gobs of boring lettuce down my gullet just to avoid that wily cheeseburger making googly eyes at me from the next table. Most people’s first instinct is to peruse the salad section of a menu for healthy eating choices, but rest assured, there are other options, even if you don’t see them on the menu. If you’re not in a health-centric restaurant, and you don’t see something you’ll like without regret, switch to reading the ingredients instead of the entrees. Having been in the service industry myself, I’m not advising that you go overboard high-maintenance, but there a few simple ways to hold your line without infuriating the kitchen.
My Hacks: Caprese salad on the menu? Score! I like to add grilled shrimp and raw asparagus. My favorite move? The lettuce-less salad. What’s on the menu? Avocado? Zucchini? Tomatoes? Corn? Artichokes? Green Beans? Peaches? Blueberries? Broccoli? Cucumber? Oranges? Garbanzo Beans? Black beans? Think of the combos! Pick 3-4, have them chopped up raw, tossed in a bowl, and served with oil, vinegar, and lemon. Still at a loss? Every restaurant in the world can do grilled chicken or shrimp with veggies.
CHOOSE YOUR CHEAT
Of COURSE you get a cheat! Eating is one of the great pleasures of life, and traveling to different places is a great opportunity to experience new flavors and cuisines you may not get to try elsewhere. Allowing one or two special indulgences will add to your travel enjoyment AND keep you from giving into temptation and eating like a maniac throughout your entire trip. It’s a lot easier to eat chicken and veggies for lunch when you are doing it for the beef tartare at dinner! Choose your cheats, relish every bite, and move on!
My Hacks: I pick my number of treats based on the length of my trip (typically one
for every two days). I like to ask locals what food they’re famous for, who makes it best, what I simply can’t leave the city without trying. My cheat in Atlanta? A coursed meal at the Optimist. My cheat in Chicago? Deep dish pizza, obviously, and POPs for Champagne‘s beef tartare with deep fried pistachio ice cream. My cheat in Ft. Lauderdale? A huge plate of crab legs with lots of butter (I get withdrawals living in a land-locked state). My cheat in Sedona? The beef tartare at Enchantment Resort, while watching the sunset over Boynton Canyon. Notice a trend? Beef tartare is my go-to cheat in almost any city. I love it. If I don’t have a food in mind, I know I’m going to ask around for the best in the city. In fact, I have a constant revolving list of my favorites all across the country… but I’ll save that list for another day.
KEEP IT TIGHT WITH 8 HOURS PER NIGHT
I’ve covered the topic of staying well rested on the road in a previous article, but if you need another reason not to let your zzzz’s slip away from you, try this on for size: there is a causal correlation between sleep deprivation and overeating. I am a frightfully light sleeper, which is why I travel with a sleep arsenal to battle sleeplessness in hotels. On the occasional occurrence it still doesn’t help, I notice a significantly stronger urge to inhale calories. Makes sense right? Your body needs fuel, and it when it’s running empty on sleep, it tries to compensate during your waking hours with caloric energy.
Research shows that people tend to consume 22% more calories after getting less than four hours of sleep, resulting in an average of 550 extra calories in a day. That’s an extra 52 pounds per year. Hello, fat pants! The biology behind it has to do with two hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Inadequate sleep causes the suppression of leptin, a hormone that tells your brain when you’re full, and the increase of ghrelin, a hormone secreted by your stomach that signals when it’s time to eat. Many other hormones and functions are affected by sleeplessness, further supporting the evidence that our health is wholly interactive, interconnected, and interdependent. Prioritize sleep in your overall nutrition plan, so that all of your hard work and planning doesn’t go to waste. Sleep in and stay thin!
THE SPINACH STORY
Having a job where you travel can be exciting and tiring. Most of the time, my job takes me to fun cities I really enjoy visiting, like Chicago, Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, and Denver… But sometimes… It doesn’t. Like, central Illinois. Enter, the spinach story.
I was staying in a hotel near the airport and was due to fly out the next morning. There’s not much going on in rural Illinois, and not much of a food scene (my apologies to the Rib Shack and their bone buckets), so I was resigned to ordering delivery to the hotel and catching up on emails and my Hulu queue. With a stack of delivery menus, I picked a pizza place with a salad section and figured that, with a little finagling, I could make do.
I ordered a salad with chicken, and said “I see that you have spinach listed as a pizza topping, so can you make me a salad with spinach instead of iceberg lettuce, and just charge me extra?” There was a very long pause. “Hello?” I checked, making sure the girl was still there. “Um… can you hold on for a minute, please?” After enough time had passed that I had put the phone on speaker and un-paused Modern Family, the girl returned to the line.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I had to talk to the manager. There’s not really any way for me to tell you this without just saying it, but we can’t make your salad with spinach. I don’t think you’d want us to.”
“Why?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer.
“Our spinach comes out of a can.”
Here’s the deal: MOST nutrition pitfalls can be avoided on the road with the right amount of forethought and preparation. In most places, you can find a healthy option if you look in the right place. But every now and then, you’re just going to have to accept that your evening will consist of shoveling a bowl of processed taco toppings down your throat to avoid going hungry, and decide never to go back to Central Illinois without a second suitcase full of food.
Happy eating, all!