Renée Melton is vice president of Wellness and Health Promotion for Sensei, a health technology company delivering patented, HIPAA-secure platform solutions to organizations seeking to transform health, outcomes and engagement. She has extensive experience in program design, development and management, as well as the use of technology in health, wellness and education. A registered dietitian by training, Renée has written health content for both web and print.
Travel, whether for work or pleasure, can disrupt your daily routine – altering normal sleep and eating schedules. For many people, it’s a time to let go and experience new cities, cultures and foods. However, the last souvenir you want to bring home is extra pounds. The key to enjoying your new surroundings without overindulging is to plan ahead.
As a dietitian, I always travel with food. It means I’m not limited to fast food on road trips or overpriced, high-calorie airport fare. Having my own snacks easily accessible means I can eat when I’m hungry and on my usual schedule. Next time you hit the road, try the five tips I rely on.
Before you go: If possible, book a room with a mini fridge and microwave. Take a quick trip to a mini-mart or local grocery store when you arrive to stock up on bottled water, fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt and other healthy snacks to have on hand when hunger strikes.
Pack healthy snacks: Even when flying, there are plenty of options that will fit into your carry-on bag. Oatmeal packets for mornings, low-fat microwave popcorn, low-fat cheese sticks and crackers, granola bars, or small baggies filled with nuts, dried fruit, pretzels or sliced produce. My go-to snack: individual, shelf-stable hummus packages with wheat pretzels or vegetable sticks. These also come in handy during long flights or delays.
Drink lots of water: Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after passing through airport security (or purchase one near your gate). The low humidity in airplanes can be dehydrating. Being even a little dehydrated can affect everything from your energy level to regularity – not a great way to kick off a trip. Carry the bottle with you as a reminder to hydrate. If you feel fatigued or sense a headache coming on, drink up before reaching for an over the counter pain reliever.
Stick to your normal (healthy) meal routine: When much of your daily schedule is changed, it’s tempting to throw caution to the wind with your diet. Adding snacks or skipping meals (which often leads to overeating at the next meal) generally means extra calories, and probably not from the healthiest of foods.
Make most dining choices healthy ones: Don’t make travel an excuse for mindless eating. Set the tone for the day with a healthy breakfast. The pastries tempting you from the buffet line are only going to make you feel sluggish and tired – opt for lean protein, whole grains and fruit instead. If you have a big dinner scheduled in the evening and want to splurge, plan ahead. Make sure the rest of the day is healthy and light. I once had a client tell me he gained more than 10 pounds every time he took a brief cruise. When he left for vacation, he left his self-control behind and was always shocked at the number on the scale when the trip ended.
Restaurant foods almost always have more sugar, fat, salt and calories than you think! Read menu descriptions carefully, choosing baked, broiled and grilled meats. Stay away from dishes described as creamy, fried or rich, and don’t be afraid to ask for sauces or dressings on the side. If the menu isn’t clear, ask your server how a dish is prepared.
Finally, don’t forget to be active! Squeeze in a workout in the hotel fitness center or walk during breaks and do your best to get enough sleep. With a little planning, you’ll return home refreshed and without any extra baggage (pounds).