How do you stay healthy when you’re on the road a lot? In Italy you can find plenty of fresh foods at approachable prices everywhere. But what about travel in general? This becomes especially difficult when family or business events keep you up late at night and you’re an early riser.
You can be the most disciplined and prepared person, and still snack too much and miss exercise. The answer my great-grandmother would give is eat less and slowly, mix it up, stay hydrated, and enjoy what you’re eating.
As general advice goes, this is pretty solid, she lived to 100. But I found it difficult to apply it consistently outside Italy (where I always lose weight and enjoy everything!)
Think of food as nutrition
A year ago, I went to see a nutritionist in Bologna. I was impressed by my mother’s success – she was able to lose more than 50 lbs. at her age and has kept it off for years. I’m also very curious about food chemistry.
We’re mostly fairly smart about the things that are very bad for us, but not so good at deciding what doesn’t work for us. I wasn’t surprised to learn that my allergies to some nuts made the whole nut family a “no-no” for me. Sigh, the Nutella and dark chocolate with toasted hazelnuts had to go.
But there were other more silent contributors to un-wellness I did not suspect. My whole family has now gone to see the same nutritionist with excellent results. For us sisters it was mostly a matter of fine tuning, but we also felt so much better.
Yes, we each had “no-no” things to eliminate, each different. There were also things in common among the four of us. After the initial period of adjustment, once we reached the ideal weight, we reintroduced some foods, in moderation.
You already know that drinking, and lack of sleep are a recipe for disappointment on the scale. Not your friend, then.
Food tricks easy to follow
Other things like adjusting portion size and eating slowly work very well. When in doubt, order fresh fruit and vegetables, get extra virgin olive oil and lemon, if it’s possible. Keep dressing on the side to use in moderation.
Carbs are not evil in general. Certain carbs are worse than others. I had no potatoes, nor dairy in my initial plan and didn’t miss them at all. I did miss tofu – apparently, the soy processing makes it like “dairy” for the body. In fact, I stopped eating tofu altogether since.
On my diet, I had two small slices of a fresh baguette toasted with honey for breakfast, a couple of olive oil grissini for late morning snack, and 2.5 oz. (70 gr.) of pasta for lunch. I love whole wheat, al dente, with zucchini or eggplant sautéed in olive oil as sauce.
The key, says the nutritionist, is to keep carbs separate from proteins and eat them early in the day. (Different digestion cycles.)
4-5 oz. (110-140 gr.) of protein with veggies was dinner. Things like lean fish, 2 eggs, beef, etc. But you could go with vegetable proteins like chickpeas, black beans, soy beans, lentils, etc. My go-to is a big salad with in season vegetables.
Here’s where a scale is your friend. This is mine, see how simple it is? Weigh things enough at home, and you start getting a visual sense of your quantities. Then you can take that knowledge on the road.
The other trick: exercise
In Italy it’s impossible not to walk. Walking as much as possible can be tricky in other places, but it’s doable. I take public transport wherever I can. MARTA in Atlanta is fantastic and much faster than driving. Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, all have train lines into the city.
I park far from the departing terminal, closer to the arrival if I get home late. Then I walk around before the flight. In the morning, I get up early and walk to a café away from the hotel to get a sense of the city, based on location, of course.
Another thing that is fun to do is taking walking meetings, especially after lunch. On a trip to London, I was staying near Green Park, and took advantage of it for my morning jog. I take the stairs between conference rooms and the lobby. In most hotels, they’re one or two floors up.
New York City is supremely walkable. You can take the subway everywhere, or you can get the car to drop you off a block or two away. If you plan extra time, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to move around. Like standing up and walking a little during breaks, walking and talking with colleagues after grabbing your coffee.
Slow down, pack some provisions, and enJOY
When you’re having fun, everything becomes easier, including taking small bites and tasting things slowly. So that’s the thing I try to remember the most – to take travel as an adventure, as I would In Italy. To chat with strangers, be observant, and take in the sights.
My South African colleague and I were flying through Seattle for a trade show with an overnight by the airport. We looked at each other and decided to get downtown for a visit on top of the space needle, and a lovely sushi sampler dinner afterwards.
I pack grissini and wheat cracker portions, an apple or fruit in my bag to have on hand for snacks in late morning or on flights. Water is my beverage of choice, even over coffee, if I can’t have a decent espresso.
Taking 20-minute power naps when possible is also a great way to avoid overeating. The key is to have a game plan and an Italian state of mind. If you find a meal irresistible, enjoy it, forgive yourself, and do better next one.