Traveling can be an exciting time. You’re going to a new place, seeing new things, meeting new people, and–don’t forget about all the new restaurants you’ll be able to eat at and the new food you’ll get to try!
Ah yes, the food… one of the most exciting things about traveling! When I look back on all my travel experiences, the food is the first thing that comes to mind. ‘Remember that great little cocktail bar…’ ‘That restaurant that we went to that was so incredible…’ ‘Where was that awesome little brunch spot with those pancakes again?’
With all that eating, it’s no wonder we come home from our travels and hesitate to step on the scale. But… what if you could travel, enjoy yourself, and not worry about weight gain? Well you can! In this article, I’m going to explain why we overeat when we travel and give you my 6 top tips of how to enjoy yourself without feeling deprived and coming home 5lbs heavier!
Why Do We Overeat When We Travel?
Even with the best intentions to eat well, there’s something about traveling that turns us into zombies and we lose all control! What is it about traveling that causes us throw every good habit we have out the window?
Traveling exposes our bodies to more stimulus than usual. External factors such as new environments, habits and even time-zones mean that we’re more distracted and less focused on healthy eating. The lack of our ‘normal’ routine can dramatically impact our eating habits and can cause us to make poor food choices or consume more food than normal.
Being in a new place, where everything is unknown can cause a lot of uncertainty about where and when your next meal will be coming from. As a result, we can develop a subconscious fear of lack of food. We’ll grab ‘unhealthy’ snacks to have on hand ‘just in case’ we need them. Or we’ll eat things on a whim, just because we don’t know when we’ll get to eat again. We tend to eat more, and more often, just because we’re not sure what to expect next. That mindset can add up our caloric intake in a big way!
Mindlessness instead of Mindfulness
The over stimulus that we feel when we travel can also cause us to be less mindful when we eat. Not only do we make poor choices, but we are also less aware of when we’re hungry and when we’re full. This can cause us to overeat. Alcohol also increases the likelihood of overeating because it reduces self-control and increases our impulsivity. Studies have shown that drinking alcohol can even make food seem tastier and cause us to eat more than we normally would.
Then of course, there’s the vacation YOLO that undoubtedly sets in. When traveling in a new place that has incredible cuisine, like Japan, France or India, we slip into the YOLO mentality. Every meal becomes a ‘this is the only time in my entire life that I’ll ever get to eat this’. We have to eat everything we can get our hands on because of the belief that we’ll never experience it again. I fell victim to this mindset like crazy when I was in Naples and I literally ate 4 entire pizzas by myself in one day. I ‘had to try all the best pizza places because Naples makes the best pizza in the world!’ (I gained a lot more than 5 pounds on that trip to Italy … and have returned two more times since then… so much for YOLO.)
Time changes can affect our internal clock and cause serious sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation impacts two important hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone responsible for signaling hunger in the brain. Leptin is a hormone that suppresses hunger and signals fullness. When we lack adequate sleep, the body makes more ghrelin and less leptin, making us feel hungrier and increasing our appetite, causing us to overeat!
Sleep deprivation also dulls the activity in the frontal lobe of the brain responsible for decision-making and self-control. When we’re tired, it’s even harder for us to resist tempting foods. The reward centers in our brains are more stimulated by foods that are higher in fats and carbohydrates…so we’re basically primed to binge on almost anything ‘unhealthy’. Our brains are telling us to!
How to Keep Your Diet on Point When Traveling
Now that we know why travel brings out the worst in us when it comes to our diet, let’s look at some simple ways to overcome these challenges without feeling deprived or suffering from ‘Food FOMO’.
- When Ordering Food, Always Think ‘Protein’ First.
Remember, travel tends to increase our carbohydrate consumption and we choose more refined carbs (white flour/sugary kinds) as opposed to whole grain options. Refined carbs not only make us feel hungrier sooner, they cause us to crave them even more. By focusing on protein-rich options, you’ll not only feel full longer and curb the onset of carb cravings, but you’ll avoid the ‘crash’ that inevitably comes from refined carbs and will maintain your energy levels for much longer. If you are going to eat carbohydrates, select whole grain options, containing loads of fiber, that will keep you feeling fuller, longer.
- Increase your Vegetable Intake.
A great way to reduce calories when eating out is to order meals with a double serving of veggies, or reduce a side of carbohydrates by cutting it in half and adding a salad. Vegetables are high in nutrients and fiber which will make you feel great and energetic while traveling and won’t add on the calories the same way a whole order of carbohydrates would. This way you can enjoy your favourite foods guilt-free.
- YOLO… just don’t YOLO everything.
You can still enjoy all the incredible foods a new place has to offer… you just don’t have to enjoy all of them, all the time, or in their entirety. A great strategy to eat all of the things without any of the guilt is to split everything in half. Eat half the pizza, have a small serving of gelato, split a dessert or have a bite of the pastry. You can still eat everything without… eating everything. You can satisfy your culinary curiosity while avoiding the regret of eating 4 pizzas in one day… I mean… over indulging.
- Don’t Drink Your Calories.
Many of the calories that we unknowingly consume when traveling come from our beverages. Whether in the form of lattes, alcohol, or tropical juices and smoothies, these unassuming drinks can add up in a big way. To avoid ‘drinking your calories’ order the ‘skinny’ version’. Opt for coffees with nut or skim milk instead of lattes. For alcohol, opt for spritzers, vodka waters, or low-calorie beers. And try to skip juices and smoothies altogether. They’re typically loaded with sugar, are high in calories, and won’t leave you feeling full for long.
If you do want to enjoy a nice glass of wine or another type of alcoholic drink with a meal, give yourself a limit and try your best to stick to it. Alcohol can inhibit our judgement and can cause us to make decisions that aren’t supportive of our goals, so the less you consume, the better off you’ll be.
- Drink water
This one goes without saying. Travel can cause us to retain a lot of water and the added salt in our diets from eating out more frequently will add to this water retention. To help offset this, make sure you stay hydrated as much as possible.
- Get some sleep.
We know that sleep plays a huge role in our hunger and fullness cues, as well as our cravings and decision making. When travelling, try your best to make sleep a priority (especially in places where there is a time change). For the first 48 hours, make time for little naps during the day. If possible, go to bed early to help your body adjust and get enough sleep. The more rested you are, the better equipped you’ll be to manage your diet until your body adjusts to ‘local time’.
At the end of the day, it’s important to enjoy yourself, the people that you’re travelling with and all the new and exciting things that you’re doing. If you make that the primary focus of your trip, you’ll be more mindful, more conscious of your choices and come home with nothing but great memories… instead of an extra 5 lbs!
With love and nut butter,