The Mile High Club
Is it possible to eat healthy while traveling?
Let me first say that I love traveling. I love seeing new places, meeting new people, and having new experiences – whether that’s eating at a new restaurant, experiencing a different culture or catching up with family and friends. But traveling, especially when it’s for work purposes, isn’t conducive to sticking to any diet, nutritional belief or workout routine. As a working professional who is inevitably on a business trip at least every other week, the cold hard truth is that without proper planning and willpower, traveling is highly likely to ruin any nutritional, fitness or dietary goal.
It’s inevitable. As soon as you get on a great streak of daily workouts, cooking nutritious food at home and feeling the wonderful results of your efforts, you’re sent out on the road for several days, or worse, several weeks in a row. Your routine is thrown off, you know you’ll be faced with huge temptations, and you’re like a spinning top that’s suddenly completely off balance.
So how do you avoid this? Is it even possible? The answer is yes and here are a few tips for doing so.
It’s All About Planning Ahead
Although food choices in airports have certainly improved in recent years, it’s still mostly fast food. And don’t even get me started on the “snacks” provided while in-flight. You can’t let yourself get caught empty-handed in transit. Otherwise, you’ll have no choice but to eat that greasy burger or bag of potato chips.
With all the TSA regulations we’re limited on what we can pack, but there are things you can do. Find nutritious snacks that don’t need to be chilled or heated and don’t take up a lot of carry-on luggage space. Unsalted nuts or energy bites are always a safe choice. Anything that will at least get you through or “tide you over” until you can get to a source with healthier options.
I find lunch to be the most difficult as you’re typically in meetings and have the least control and/or time for what you’ll eat. To combat that issue, on my most recent trip I took pre-packaged, pre-cooked meals in my carry-on and TSA didn’t even blink an eye. It was wonderful to have these meals once I arrived at my location, where I knew there’d be a microwave. I think the key here is that they’re solid foods (so no soup). However, I hear that security isn’t as forgiving or understanding when traveling internationally.
I’ve even gone so far as to order snack items or protein shake powder and have it shipped to my hotel so that I have nutritious, “just in case” items while at my destination without having to take up space in my luggage. Amazon.com can be your best friend.
Catered business meetings are another painful situation for those of us who lean toward a vegetarian, vegan or paleo lifestyle. Sandwiches that are 80% bread, 20% processed meat are the mainstay along with the obligatory potato chips and cookies as side items. By the time I peel off the bread and decline the sides, there’s not much left for me to eat. I end up starving, grouchy and fuzzy headed…none of which helps me put my best foot forward for my meeting. So again, planning ahead is a must. If I have the opportunity to weigh in on the caterer or food options in advance, I absolutely do, without feeling shy. After all, I know that what I eat impacts the way I look, feel and perform.
Stick to Your Schedule (or Not?)
Between changes in time zones, meetings that run two hours over, and after-hours socializing with colleagues, traveling has the tendency to throw your schedule and routine completely off. You end up eating at odd times, operating off of very little sleep or perhaps skipping meals entirely. If a schedule is important to you, then stick to it as best you can. Otherwise, the temptations become too much. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re so ravenous that you’ll eat just about anything to satisfy the hunger. Again, it’s all about planning ahead.
If sticking to a schedule is next to impossible for you, why not embrace a totally different approach? Intermittent fasting seems to be all the rage now. If you’re interested in trying it out, traveling is a good opportunity to do so. You can make sure you’re done eating dinner by 8pm and then skip breakfast the next day, having your lunch no sooner than noon. After all, are you really going to miss those powdered eggs? You’re so busy you’ll hardly realize you skipped a meal anyway. To learn more about the health benefits of intermittent fasting and to see if it might be a good fit for you, read this article from Chris Kresser.
Accept and Move On.
It’s rare that when a trip is over I can come home and honestly say that I ate as well as I intended or exercised as much as I wanted to. Let’s be honest, something’s usually got to give. I’ve learned over the years to accept this as part of doing my job or going on vacation. I’m always going to have skipped a workout or indulged in one too many glasses of wine. In the end, only you can decide if it’s worth it or not. If it’s important enough to you, you’ll plan ahead. Either way, you’ll do your best and that’s all that matters.