Travel days are tough from a food perspective. Odds are:
  • you are off your schedule;
  • you don’t have ready access to the foods that normally make healthy eating a little easier;
  • you have nothing else to do while waiting for a plane or on a plane;
  • the healthier snack options are expensive and decidedly not delicious;
  • the junk food is plentiful, in fact sometimes you even get free cookies.

In short – your food Intake is inflating, while your exercise levels all but disappear. It’s no wonder people who travel frequently tend to carry extra weight.

I wrote this while traveling to California to spend some time with my niece. I almost always gain a few pounds on this trip because:
  • my brother is a great cook,
  • his fridge is always stocked with delicious beers,
  • candy corner.

What is candy corner? It’s a portion of my brother’s kitchen table that houses all manner of delicious temptations, including chips, pretzels, nuts, chocolates, biscotti…no matter what you fancy, I guarantee you will find it in candy corner, and if you don’t, my awesome sister-in-law will find out what is is and get it for next time – or possibly even the next day. She’s good.

Candy corner
Candy corner
When I am not on vacation, my primary method of keeping my belly in check is by making my home a safe zone. You won’t find junk food in my house. If it makes it into the house, I will eat it. And I don’t mean I will eat it eventually, by eating reasonable portions over time. I mean I will eat it now. Today. A lot of it. Maybe even all of it. Unless it is a ridiculous quantity. Then it might take two days. Thankfully I know this about myself, and take appropriate actions – safe zone.
My brother’s house is the opposite of a safe zone.Truthfully, I don’t mind so much, because I know I will enjoy it, and it’s not all the time.
That’s why being mindful on travel days is so important: I’m going to enjoy my food indulgences, but I can’t say the same for the extra calories I would get on a travel day. So I have adopted a new approach to travel days: Enter Operation Low Waistline Impact (OLWI). Here’s the implementation plan:
  1. The free cookies with coffee on a plane is a trick. Don’t fall for it. Does anyone even like those cookies, or do we all just take them because they are free? I look at them differently. Instead of thinking ‘cool, free cookies‘, I think ‘if I skip those, I will enjoy the Burger Lounge burger in San Diego much more’.
  2. Being a little bit hungry is not going to kill you. Your muscles will not eat themselves if you go without food for more than 3 hours. I will admit that being hungry isn’t the best feeling, but on travel days, it may be necessary. Take my current travel day, for example:
    • woke up at 430am
    • Caught the bus to the airport at 5 and at the gate by 5:45
    • 7am flight arrives in Toronto at 8
    • 10am departure to San Diego where my brother will pick me up at noon California time (3pm Ottawa time)
    • It’s a pretty safe bet that we will stop at Burger Lounge on the way back to his house
    • Dinner in the 5 to 6pm range (they have a young child)
    • Intermittent visits to candy corner throughout the day
That’s a long day that could easily result in 1 or 2 extra meals, and much less exercise than I normally get. Instead, I am managing it by:
  • Not eating before leaving the house in the morning
  • Having oatmeal and coffee for breakfast at the Ottawa airport
  • Passing on the free plane cookies, but did enjoy have a coffee on the flight.
  • Not eating at the Toronto airport, and only buying a $3.15 bottle of water (thanks for the clubbing!)
  • Taking every opportunity to move. It’s so easy to follow the herd and take the escalator and moving sidewalks, but it’s not a free ride from a health perspective. And let’s not forget your poor joints will be cramped into a vertical semi-fetal position for most of the day; you would take your dog out for a walk if he was cooped up all day, wouldn’t you?
  • Bringing a Tupperware container with cut vegetables and a small container of raisins and unsalted almonds (I talked about the salted ones here…). By the way, it turns out you can bring chopped vegetables through customs, or at least I was allowed to on this day. I will continue to use either ziploc bags or tupperware-type containers that I don’t mind losing, just in case the Customs officer interprets the rules differently next time.
Stairs are for suckers?
Stairs are for suckers?
Photo credit: Glutnix
About an hour and a half into the 5 hour flight from Toronto to San Diego (7 hours into my day), I was definitely feeling hungry. I acknowledged the feeling and then I tried to put it out of my mind, remembering that I’d soon be enjoying a burger and beer with my brother.
It might sound like I am suggesting depriving yourself when you travel, but I’m not. I’m suggesting managing your day so that you don’t eat extra crappy food, and instead allow yourself to enjoy the upcoming family feasts that we tend to enjoy once we reach our destination.  mmm…turkey…stuffing…potatoes…pumpkin pie…
Give this some thought next time you travel – and consider looking at your travel plan for the day, planning your meals appropriately, and maybe even bringing a tasty but healthy snack with you.
How do you deal with food and exercise on travel days?
Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada

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