11 Tips For Staying Fit While Traveling
Are you a frequent traveler? If so, this may sound familiar. We all know that staying on track with your diet is hard. It is even harder if your job or lifestyle requires regular trips. Every trip is an opportunity to go off your diet. Perhaps you've even dieted specifically for a vacation, believing that once your fitness goal is achieved, you can finally “enjoy yourself” when you are away.
However, each trip presents itself with limitless options when it comes to breaking your diet. People drop out of diets for a variety of family, social, and personal reasons, including expensiveness of diet foods, and lack of food availability (1). Many of these things that can derail you are available in abundance when you are traveling.
However, what many see as unlimited opportunities to fail, I see as unlimited opportunities to improve. That is, to improve your relationship with food, to become stronger and more empowered in your nutritional confidence, and to live a happier and healthier life, free of restriction.
I've seen other “healthy” travel articles suggest options such as only booking hotels that offer full kitchens so you can prepare all of your own food, avoiding all local cuisine, doing full on meal prep while on vacation, or even following the same binge and cheat cycle that makes many diets fail. No one wants to do that while on vacation or trying to get some enjoyment out of a business trip. Many of these tips and similar that I found in other articles closely resemble disordered eating. The effects of disordered eating can be huge, and we know that these effects can start at an early age and carry on into adulthood (3).
I want to give you realistic tips for actually empowering and enjoying yourself while on vacation. I DO NOT want to give you tips in needlessly restricting yourself and further reinforcing disordered eating patterns.
How do you do this? How can you continue to make or maintain weight-loss progress, while improving your confidence and relationship with food at the same time? I'm here to offer you 11 tips that I've learned from myself and my clients throughout my 31 years of existence, 21 years of working out, and 6 years as a full-time professional personal trainer.
1.) Please Don't Restrict Yourself. This might sound counterintuitive in an article that is primarily targeted at people who want to lose weight. But one of the things you have to realize is that if you really are to take control of your life and your eating habits, ultimately, you are in the driver's seat. Setting arbitrary rules and restrictions that prevent you from enjoying yourself, experiencing life, and engaging in social situations, are no bueno if you want to lose weight, keep it off, change your life, and have a healthy relationship with food.
Keep in mind that all of the other tips on this list are optional. They are designed to help you improve your confidence in your dietary choices. Think of these as tools on a tool belt, not as a list of rigid rules that you are required to follow. You can use any tool from the belt when it is helpful, or you can put it away and decide to not use it if the situation does not call for it. User discretion is advised.
2.) One Big Meal. I see a lot of people taking the bingeing approach when it comes to vacation. You restrict, you get to that time when you can finally let loose, and then you eat whatever you want, in unlimited excess.
I'm not saying that you can't or shouldn't enjoy yourself on vacation. Quite the opposite, actually. Absolutely, positively enjoy yourself. I know that I do every single time I take a trip, and I plan on traveling a lot more in the near future.
The one big meal approach looks like this. Instead of yo-yo-ing between unrealistic restriction and unlimited excess, it looks more like moderation followed by giving yourself permission to enjoy yourself a little more. Stick to mainly lean proteins, whole grains, nutrient dense (4), but low calorie foods, simple fruits and vegetables during the day.
For example, I may have a breakfast of 2 hard boiled eggs, a glass of skim milk and some fruit. My lunch might be a protein shake and an apple. Then for dinner, I allow myself one large meal. I can drink whatever I want, and I can eat whatever I want, within reason.
If you like, you can select a calorie goal and try to roughly stick with it for this meal. Or you could just let it slide and not worry about it too much. The point is, practice some moderation during the day and then eat more of whatever the f*ck you want in the evening, mainly focusing on being mindful of portion sizes. Give yourself permission, and trust yourself to build confidence in your dietary autotomy.
3.) Fruit & Protein Snacks. One of my best strategies for eating when I'm on a trip is to buy a bag of my favourite fruit (usually apples) and either a tub of protein powder and / or a box of protein bars. These make for great snacks to fill in spaces in your daily nutrition. Starving before dinner? Eat a protein bar. It'll probably make you less hungry, and you end up eating less at dinner. Need a midday snack? Protein bar. Need a light breakfast? Apple and protein shake.
Using these little things to fill in gaps in your nutrition can save you on snacks that could cost you a ton of calories. These are satiating and nutrient dense foods with a fairly low calorie footprint.
It is a boss card to have in your back pocket when you are too busy to eat a full meal as well. Most gas stations and convenience stores have protein bars and / or fruit, and getting these instead of a fast food meal can save you hundreds of calories.
4.) Ditch The Calorie Tracking. If you are not extremely confident in your ability to count and track calories, ditch calorie tracking. I personally count and track my calories all the time, but I understand not everyone can do this and still maintain a healthy relationship with food. I've been doing it for over 8 years. I am very confident in my ability to count and track calories fairly accurately, even when on vacation. But still, sometimes I ditch the calorie tracking because I just don’t want to worry about it when I am trying to have fun.
Unless you are extremely confident in your ability to accurately count and track without giving yourself too much hassle, I wouldn't even bother trying to do so when you're traveling, especially when on vacation. Most people have a fairly inaccurate estimation of their calorie intake in general, and when you are eating new food, in new places, in a different time zone possibly, with a different climate, and all sorts of other new variables in play, this is not the time to start a new stringent calorie tracking habit.
Instead, focus more on things that are easier, and that you are more confident in. Use tools such as portion sizing to estimate calories. Stop eating before you feel full, not when you are already stuffed. And even if you are not going to count every calorie, it still makes sense to read food labels, just so you have an idea of the calories and nutrients you are consuming.
5.) Visualizing Portion Sizes. There's various different portion guides that you can look up online, but most of them boil down to about 4 key points that are fairly important:
1.) A thumb-sized portion of oils, fats, sauces, or dressings is about one serving.
2.) A palm size portion of protein is about 4 ounces, or one serving.
3.) A fist size portion of most carbohydrates is about one serving.
4.) You can eat as many fruits and vegetables as you like, assuming they are not cooked very stupidly, (i.e. deep fried, lots of added oils, etc).
Use these tricks to eyeball what you are eating, and you can have a decent idea of the quantities of foods that you are consuming.
6.) Eat What You Need, Then What You Want. What does your body need to survive? Well it needs a certain amount of calories, we know that. But what are the healthy staples of your diet that are truly necessary? That would be lean protein and vegetables.
Generally, these types of foods are more satiating on a calorie for calorie basis. This means that they will fill you up quicker than high sugar and highly processed foods (5). If you eat these first, it will then reduce the likelihood that you eat more calories from the calorie-dense junk foods later. Also, have you ever tried eating chicken and vegetables after cake and ice cream? Yeah, no, not doing that. Protein first.
I find that I actually enjoy my sweets more if I have a healthy meal beforehand. Or at least a meal that has a decent amount of protein and fiber per calorie. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Chicken thighs and baked beans is a lower calorie option than a high fat cheeseburger with fries. For more information and nutritional resources, check out this link, and go to the nutritional resources section (6).
7.) Appetizer, Or Dessert. When you are going to dinner, choose to only order an appetizer or a desert, not both. While it is certainly possible to overeat if you are eating just one of these, your opportunities for overeating drastically go down if you only select one. Keep in mind, there are a ton of calories in most foods that you're going to find in this section of the menu (7). If you get both, you can easily consume 2,000 calories in just one sitting.
You can break this down further by also minding your portion sizes, and opting for healthier, lower calorie dessert / appetizer options. Read the menu! Look at how many calories are in things (if listed) and make a measured decision.
8.) Double The Protein, Half The Carbs. A good way to illustrate this is if you were to go to the restaurant chain Subway. You could order a footlong. Or instead, perhaps consider ordering a 6-inch sub with double meat. Generally this will have less calories, more protein, and be more filling.
I will couple this with a second tip. Simply forgo the extras and sides from your meal. Don't get a 6-inch sub with AND a bag of chips. Just skip the bag of chips. You may realise after you're done eating that you don’t really miss the chips, only now you have also saved several hundred calories.
9.) Drink Zero Calorie Beverages. Artificial sweeteners have been heavily studied, and there is no conclusive evidence to show that they have deleterious negative effects to humans other than perhaps some digestive distress if you ingest them in extremely large quantities (8). Further, there is evidence to show that using such beverages as substitutes for those with calories is an effective tool for weight-loss (9).
To be honest, you should be drinking mostly water, as this is the best overall option. But a Diet Coke is probably a better choice than a real coke nine times out of 10. You can save yourself hundreds of calories without even thinking about it if you just go for zero calorie beverages instead of juices, sodas, and other high sugar beverages.
10.) Stock Your Mini Fridge. I'm not talking about stocking it with leftovers from last night’s dinner. Or bags of potato chips and Martini mix. I'm talking about stocking your fridge with healthier snack options, so that they are ready and available for when you get hungry.
One of the largest factors that determines someone's success with following a nutritional approach is how easily they can access the healthy options. Whatever is the first thing that you see when you open your pantry, cupboard, fridge, or other food storage location is what you are most likely to eat. Make the foods that are conducive toward your success front and center.
11.) Plan Ahead. Look at menus for restaurants before you go there. Even if you're not going to go in-depth and look at all of the nutritional information available, it's still a good idea to know what you're getting yourself into.
Glance over the menu, and select an option that fits your daily calorie allotment. WARNING: Do not attempt to always go with the lowest calorie option. Doing so may leave you unsatisfied, sad, and you may end up bingeing later anyway.
EXTRA TIP #12 (non-dietary). Bring a set of exercise bands with you on the trip. Exercise bands are light and flexible elastic bands that can be used for a variety of workouts. They are versatile, portable, and colorful. What’s not to like? You can also get a free band & bodyweight home program by signing up for my mailing list here (10).
In the end…
The game is not restriction, it is intelligent choices. You can give yourself a healthy limit, or make the decision to be in control of your eating choices without encouraging a dysfunctional relationship with food. Quite the opposite actually, as those who feel more confident and plan ahead tend to have a better relationship with food.
That's it, those are the tips! I hope you liked the article, and got something out of it. If you have any questions or concerns, please direct them to email@example.com.