I travel quite a lot to speak at and attend conferences. I enjoy travel, meeting people and seeing new places, however travel can leave you feeling tired and risking illness. If you only travel once or twice a year, it’s a special occasion and a time to let your hair down, this post is not for you. This is for people like me who need to travel for work and want to ensure it doesn’t play havoc with health, fitness and the ability to work on your return.
As an ex-dancer I’ve done all the silly dieting in the past, and I put weight on easily. These days I want my diet to help me feel good, stay healthy and active, and I want that whether I am at home or traveling abroad. I’m not an expert or dietician, this is just what works for me, and after talking about it on Twitter I thought I’d write it down in case it helps others.
1. Start each day well
When staying in hotels breakfast is often your best chance of a healthy meal, and a good way to stop yourself snacking on junk later.
I try and have a high protein breakfast, you can generally get eggs of some type anywhere. If I’ve managed to get a run in first thing I might have some oatmeal or muesli with yoghurt as well. I used to find the idea of salad items at breakfast strange but now I take them as a chance to stock up on fresh veg!
2. No conference snacks
Conference snacks are usually muffins, pastries, biscuits, cupcakes. All of this is just crap. You don’t need it, you will eat it because it is there. It will spike your blood sugar and make you feel tired later, and you’ll still be hungry and eat as many calories at dinner later.
If you know you will be tempted to eat them take your own healthy snacks with you. Having a good breakfast should also help you not be tempted by the junk.
3. No fizzy drinks or sweets
I like my coffee and drink coffee either black or with skimmed milk (mostly because I don’t like milk as opposed to being worried about the fat content). I also drink lots of water. Fizzy drinks and sweets (candy) are just a way to eat sugar. Stay hydrated with plenty of water and you’ll feel more awake and also avoid lots of extra calories from sugar.
4. Beware the conference lunches
The wonderful ConFoo provide a lovely sitdown meal each lunchtime, however most often conference lunches are carb heavy and likely to just make you feel sleepy in the afternoon sessions. I scope out where I can sneak off and get a salad or soup for lunch – especially if I know I want to enjoy a nice dinner later.
Try and avoid bread and pasta, in particular avoid white bread and highly processed things. Something like an egg or tuna sandwich on wholemeal is a reasonable choice if sandwiches are the only option.
5. Make sensible choices at dinner
Dinner at a conference is often a great time to chat with other people and be sociable. Being too worried about what you are eating can spoil that. One reason I am careful not to eat junk all day is that it means I can feel more relaxed about my dinner choices.
Once again however you can make smart choices. Avoid picking at bread or other nibbles pre-dinner. When the bread basket comes round just pass it on. Most restaurants – especially those in major cities – will do you some plain veg if you ask. Ask for any butter, dressings or sauces “on the side” as then you can choose how much you put on your food. Check the side dishes for additional vegetable options or side salads and swap fries or other potato sides for those.
Alcoholic drinks obviously contain a lot of calories, and can make you feel dehydrated and tired the next day. If you like a drink then avoiding sugary cocktails and making sure that you also drink plenty of water will mean you drink less and stay hydrated.
My rule for dessert is to avoid it unless it is something I know I really love. It really is about eating in a thoughtful way – rather than just having things because they are offered.
It is, very boringly, about self-control
I run. I run a lot and I’d advise everyone to also try and get some exercise when travelling – outside if possible but the hotel gym is better than nothing. Even so, running for 10 minutes burns only around 100 calories. You have to be doing a huge amount of exercise to burn off the number of calories that you can eat just grazing on cakes and pastries. So if I want to keep at a healthy weight and also feel healthy, I feel it is worth walking past the snacks.
If you are trying to lose weight then starting to log what you eat using a calorie counter app like My Fitness Pal is very revealing. You can see how quickly the numbers add up from small snacks. Even if you don’t want to constantly count calories, using an app for a week or so can help you work out the places where you can cut calories without missing out too much.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Rohn
If you set up the rules before you travel, it makes it much easier not to go off plan. It will be hard at first to say no to tempting things. However as you practice self-control you get better at it. It becomes a habit, and you will probably start to notice physically when you haven’t been following your rules as you will feel tired and sluggish.
By eating in a mindful way I find that I enjoy food more, not less. When I choose to have a lovely dessert, have that extra glass of wine or try the local specialty in the country I am staying in, I can enjoy it and not feel guilty – because I know that during the day I have eaten healthily and will do so the next day.
These are my tips – I’d love to hear your suggestions or travel food horror stories in the comments.