Travel Eats – Pack your suitcase instead of packing on the pounds

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                     Driving from Toronto, ON to Washington, D.C. Thanks GPS for taking us off the highway every few miles. 

So you’ve been improving your eating habits and exercising consistently and seeing some great results (losing weight/tightening up your physique) but uh-oh, you have a vacation coming up. You’re really excited to have some time off of work to unwind but you start to worry because you won’t be in control of all the food you’re eating and you probably won’t be able to get to the gym much (if at all). You don’t want to undo all the progress you’ve made because you know that weight is a lot easier to put on than take off but you also want to enjoy your vacation and not miss out on anything. 

 MAINTAINING CONTROL THROUGH FLEXIBILITY

I recently went away for 10 days with my husband to visit our families in Washington D.C. and Wisconsin. A few years ago, this type of trip would have filled me with trepidation. How will I stay on plan if I can’t control all the foods I’m eating? What will I do if I’m at a restaurant that doesn’t serve healthy food? How will I survive the long car trips without eating unhealthy fast food meals? Now I simply plan as best I can and realize that I have the power and am able to make educated choices with what’s available.

I’m very consistent with my eating and practice something called flexible dieting, meaning I make sure I hit certain macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) targets everyday, basing the numbers on my current weight and training goals. The majority of my diet consists of whole nutritious foods but this gives me the flexibility to fit in some treats or enjoy a meal out without derailing my progress or feeling the guilt many people experience when they eat ‘bad’ foods. While I didn’t track my food while I was away because it just wasn’t practical, I applied the same principles of enjoying treats and meals out and accounting for them by modifying my other meals. It’s about strategy, not restriction. 

 TIPS FOR STAYING ‘ON PLAN’ WHILE TRAVELING 

1. Be flexible

So your uncle insists that you try the local ice cream shop because it’s the best strawberry ice cream you’ll ever taste. You want to have some but you worry that once you eat it, it will immediately deposit itself as a layer of fat on your stomach. #1 This will not happen. It takes a lot more than that to derail your diet. #2 There is nothing inherently evil about ice cream or other treats. It’s comprised of mainly carbs (sugar) and fat. If you know that you’ll be eating ice cream later, choose a lighter lunch. Substitute those fries with a salad (dressing on the side) and that coke for a bottle of water. You just saved yourself about 500 calories of almost exclusively carbs and fat. Definitely enough to fit in an ice cream cone later.

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#2 Remove the guilt – enjoy it and move on

People often get into the mindset that when they have a food that they view as ‘forbidden’ or not ‘diet-friendly’ that they’ve blown it and might as well go all out and stuff their faces because they’ve already ruined their diet. This is an unhealthy attitude which can easily lead to more restricting and binging. I’ve been there and it’s not a fun place. Enjoy your treats in moderation and make them fit into your overall daily calories as best you can. Want to try that amazing pizza joint? Great. Account for it by eating a lighter lunch, enjoy a couple slices, and move on. There’s nothing that sucks the fun out of visiting a new place like obsessing about what you did or didn’t eat. 

#3 Watch your portion sizes

It’s very easy to overeat in social settings. You’re eating a big family dinner and you keep loading up your plate because you’re having fun and chatting and not concentrating on how much food you’re eating. Studies have consistently shown that people eat more when with friends and family than when they’re alone. This is especially true for high sugar and fat foods. How to avoid this;  try to load up at least 1/2 your plate with veggies, 1/4 with lean protein, and 1/4 a higher carb and/or fatty food (e.g. potato salad).  After you’ve eaten, don’t mindlessly go for seconds. Drink some water and assess if you’re actually still hungry. You can enjoy your time without stuffing yourself, I promise.

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#4 Bring some high protein travel snacks

Being prepared is never a bad idea. On our recent trip, we spent almost 40 hours in the car and boy was I happy that I packed some snacks. Because it’s so easy to get high carb and high fat foods while on the road but harder to get protein, I suggest packing some high protein snacks; baggie with some scoops of protein powder and a shaker cup (just add water), Quest protein bars, single serving greek yogurt, turkey jerky. Other snack ideas (not high in protein but tasty and portable): single serving nut butters, rice cakes, fruit, etc. Side note: be careful when bringing fruit over the border to avoid having a near panic attack at customs over your contraband nectarines…I speak from experience. 

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#5 Utilize fast food menu ‘healthy options’

You’re out sight seeing and need to grab a quick meal and the only place around is McDonald’s but you don’t really want to have a greasy burger. Almost all fast food joints have taken note of increasing public awareness about health and nutrition and now have ‘healthy menu options’. If you’re trying to limit your calorie intake, choose a salad with lean protein (e.g. chicken) and get the dressing and additional toppings (e.g. cheese and cranberries) on the side. Some of these fast food salads pack a lot of calories which largely come from the dressings and toppings. You can better control how much you eat if you add the amount you want yourself.

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 #6 Limit liquid calories

This is just a good dieting strategy, period. It’s likely that you’ll be eating more calories than you normally do while on vacation so it’s good to reduce where possible. An easy way to do this is to limit calorie-dense and nutrient-poor drinks. Dessert coffees, soda, and fancy alcoholic drinks are all tasty but can add A LOT of excess calories without contributing to satiety.  

You earned that vacation so enjoy yourself but don’t use it as an excuse to ‘fall off the wagon’ with your diet plan. Be strategic, watch your portion sizes, and enjoy your treats and the much needed time off. 

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