Travel and Dieting: Get Out of my Grill, I’m on Vacation
Most of my clients travel multiple times a year, typically a combination of work related travel and those that are purely vacation getaways, and sometimes a little of both on the same trip. They may be domestic or international, the latter posing a whole new group of issues and challenges to maintaining an eating plan.
First, one must prioritize the importance of staying on course with a diet plan. One may not wish to adhere to said plan at all, hence the direct quote in the title so eloquently stated to me by my ex-wife on the beach at Playa del Carmen. Her point was well taken, and three pina coladas later I saw the light. More on this trip later.
The decision on how strictly to “watch what I eat” usually falls into one of three categories, maybe all on the same trip. One may choose to rigidly follow their dietary guidelines, particularly if there are clinical health issues to consider, or if you are hopelessly obsessive-compulsive, as some of my clients through the years have demonstrated. I once jokingly answered a client’s question of what she should eat on an upcoming European trip by asking her, “How do you feel about acorns and leaves?” She said, with a perfectly straight face, “Can I put salad dressing on them?” Now that, my friends, is dedication, or something?!?
Others will choose to loosely follow their eating regimen, picking their spots to splurge, but not abandoning all of the principles they have been given.
Then there is the third group. Their goal appears to be mass consumption of any and all manner of food and drink. “I may not get back to Italy again, and the pasta and bread are homemade, and they butter everything, and they drink wine with every meal, and they are not fat!” They also walk about 7 miles a day, as opposed to walking to the door to let the masseuse in.
For most of us, being “on vacation” means not preparing meals for ourselves. If you have the tools (a kitchen and grocery access) and desire to prepare your meals, very little would change from your home routine, depending on goals.
So what we are really talking about is dining out. This can vary widely, depending on the country(s) you are visiting. Rather than trying to cover the entire world’s eateries, we will look at some dining “constants” if you will. We will not address camping out or wilderness trips, safaris or big-game hunts. Anyway, I never understood the “roughing it” mentality of some of my friends who resided in town, desiring to roast over an open flame, something they caught or shot. Now, I grew up on a 4,000 acre cattle ranch, miles from town, surrounded by lush wooded areas crisscrossed with rivers and streams containing abundant wildlife. Instead of “camping out,” my thought was let’s go play in the woods till we had our fill, then go back to the house, eat something mom made, and I will sleep in my bed, not on the ground with spiders and snakes – spiders the size of your hand and poisonous snakes!
Back to dining out while traveling. Proteins are probably the easiest to accommodate, with some lean form of meat, poultry, pork, fish, eggs, or dairy almost universally available. Non-fat or low-fat dairy, or one of the meats prepared “dry,” meaning minimal oil or butter, should be easy to locate, with few exceptions. Note: In rural northeast Texas cafes, ordering deep-fried Catfish filets “dry” is potentially hazardous to one’s health.
More difficulty may be encountered in finding low-glycemic starches and a variety of fibrous vegetables. Typically, some variation of white rice, white potato, or corn, along with a bread or tortilla are offered, all of which are relatively high-glycemic starches, meaning they rapidly elevate glucose or blood sugar, resulting in a hormonal response and conversion to and storage of body fat. A few examples of lower glycemic starches that are relatively common are beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, brown rice, oats, bran flakes, and kashi. Less commonly found, but also in this class are sweet potatoes, yams, red potatoes, new potatoes, quinoa, and wild rice, which is technically a grass. A couple of corn tortillas are not the end of the world at 40-50 calories each, as opposed to flour tortillas at 100-150 each.
Fibrous vegetables will vary greatly, and are too numerous to list. The key question is, are they “clean,” meaning is there hidden sugars or fats added. A cup of steamed broccoli is approximately 30 calories. This same cup sautéed in a tablespoon of olive oil and a pat of butter is now 250 calories!
What about fruit, you ask? A couple of pieces of fruit or 2 cups of berries will range from 100-250 calories, loaded with vitamins and minerals, most with fiber, but all are 100% sugar. Fruit could be subbed for a cup of starch, which averages approximately 200-250 calories. Fruit “smoothies” on the other hand, may be more problematic. Let’s return to the aforementioned Playa del Carmen trip a few years ago. For breakfast, the hotel had a wonderful outdoor omelet bar sitting on the beach. That first morning, I had 3 eggs with 4 slices of bacon (yielding approximately 450 calories), no bread or biscuits or hotcakes or waffles or any of the delicious looking pastries, pies, cakes, or cookies that were available for the taking. After all, I am a fitness/nutrition expert arriving in the Caribbean at 6-8% body fat. I’m ripped, and I have the knowledge coupled with the willpower to execute my plan. And then, I overheard someone order a smoothie. A “fruit” smoothie. I queried my fellow vacationer, “Is that good?” “Oh it is absolutely wonderful!” she exclaimed! The innocent looking fellow behind the breakfast bar offered me a small sample. I tasted. “Holy mother of pearl, by all that is great and good, I must have one of these!” Or so I remember the fateful event. I wandered off with this delightful concoction of 16 oz. of yumminess, reveling in my fortunate discovery. And it’s made of fruit. Fruit and something, but who cares. I will ask the fellow tomorrow. The following day found me at the bar; I consumed my eggs and bacon, and gleefully ordered the smoothie. I inquired of the ingredients, because I might wish to take this recipe stateside, maybe even sharing this with clients. “I take 1 banana.” Check. “1 cup of strawberries.” Check. “A slice of pineapple.” Check. “A little papaya.” Check. “A few ounces of simple syrup.” Oh. “And a cup of fresh, whole cream.” Whaaaat? For the next three days I followed my “reasonable breakfast” with the smoothie.
|1 cup strawberries||50 cal.|
|1 banana||125 cal.|
|1 slice pineapple||50 cal.|
|A little papaya||25 cal.|
|2-3 oz. simple syrup||200-300 calories|
|1 cup whole cream||816 calories|
1266-1366 big fat calories
Now, let’s throw in the 3 pina coladas (at about 700 calories each) I consumed daily, and I was drinking 3300-3500 calories on top of the actual food I was eating! At the end of the fifth and final day in this tropical paradise, my once razor-sharp six-pack had morphed into a one-pack – I had gained 5 pounds! I told myself I was surely holding a lot of water. But, who cares, right? I was on vacation! It took about 6 weeks to get most of the newly acquired belly tissue off. Was it worth it? I’d rather not answer that.