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Travel and Food

November 11, 2009

Travel is not designed for people who are trying to lose weight. At least, that’s been my experience from traveling over the past 10 years. Much of that has been for work, but some vacations as well, and for both, it’s a real effort to avoid gaining weight. (Unless, of course, you catch some unfamiliar virus that makes you so sick you can’t keep anything down, but that’s hardly something to hope for.)


The problems start with the actual travel, primarily if you’re flying. Airports are not known for their complement of healthy meal options, although they are improving. While they still don’t give you the full nutritional breakdown of their meals, some are starting to indicate overall calories, or if something is low fat, low cholesterol, etc., and to offer more in the way of salads and lighter fare. Still, it’s not something you can count on. My brother, my niece and I will never forget that when connecting at Dulles Airport, our only options for food were MacDonald’s and Ben&Jerry’s (we didn’t count the place selling alcohol).

Because of that, I’ve taken to traveling with a lot of my own food: nuts, hard-boiled eggs, salami (the kind

that’s cured so it doesn’t need refrigeration), PB&J sandwiches, carrot sticks, sugar snap peas, fruit (dried or fresh), trail and energy bars, chocolate, peanut butter crackers, and pretzels. It makes packing a carry-on more challenging, admittedly, and it might draw some odd looks. For instance, I once had my bag searched because apparently my flashlight looked armed and dangerous to the X-ray machine. It was early morning, and the man searching my bag said, “You’ve got a lot of food in here. You’re lucky I’ve already eaten breakfast.”

Despite all that, I think it’s worth the extra preparation and packing because then, at least, I know what I’m eating. I also don’t have to worry about flight delays or trying to get food in a tight connection. Similarly, I always bring at least one empty water bottle with me and fill it up at the water fountains once I’m past security.

Once I’m actually at my destination, my strategy varies depending on if I’m traveling for work or fun. In either case, one of the things I most enjoy is trying new restaurants and cuisines, but I need to try to balance that. When I’m on vacation, I don’t worry so much about it for a couple of reasons. Partly it’s because I can choose when I’m going to eat, and where, and also because most of my pleasure trips involve lots of walking. The record may be when my brother, my niece and I walked 14 miles in one day in D.C.

 

But when I’m traveling for work, as this past week, I don’t often have control over when I can eat, and often not where or what my options are. My exercise is also generally limited to going to and from the elevators, or getting in a walk or swim as I’m able. Mostly I’m sitting, and that fails to burn the calories from any big meals. The challenges are two-fold. One is that if it’s a conference that my company sponsors, food is over-abundant and highly caloric. Three times a day are all-you-can-eat buffets, with rich, luxurious foods. And in case that’s not enough, we have afternoon snacks, things like ice cream, giant cookies, pastries, etc. It’s a severe test of will power for anyone who loves food. Or, if it’s not one of our conferences, I can buy my own meals at restaurants of my choice, within a certain budget – but it’s not my budget. The temptation here is to eat more than I should, simply because I’m not paying for it and can get whatever I might like. The lure of free food is hard to resist.

So, I bring my own breakfast, to at least have that much known and accounted for. It used to be dry Cheerios, juice boxes, and fruit. Once I discovered the joy of mini fridges in the hotel room, I started bringing things like hard-boiled eggs, cheese, more salami, and fruit. (Quick note of caution – always check the setting of your fridge as soon as

you get it; otherwise, you may end up with frozen and then soggy fruit as I did.) I also bring some vegetables for snacking, typically carrots, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, and/or cucumbers. Having those to fill me up helps me eat less at the buffet or restaurants, and the portion control is a big factor. I enjoy trying tastes of all the things at the buffets, but if I’m already partly full, it’s only a taste instead of a full helping.

Even knowing all this, I can still go overboard, as I did last week. But it’s not as bad as it could be, and I also know that once I’m back to my regular eating habits, I’ll quickly lose whatever weight gained. It’s still a challenge, but at least now I’ve discovered what works for me.

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