I will be the first to admit that I’m not someone who worries about eating too many calories while traveling, nor do I feel guilty when I indulge in foods I don’t normally eat. What I do care about, however, is not feeling like total crap. I think we’ve all had uncomfortable symptoms while traveling. Gastrointestinal (GI) upset, including bloating, constipation OR diarrhea, and heartburn are all really common when you are consuming foods your body isn’t used to. I’m pretty sure that’s the last thing any of us want to deal with on vacation. Headaches, fatigue, and irritability are also pretty common when out of your normal routine and especially if you are skipping meals (blood sugar instability) or becoming dehydrated. Not feeling awful is a big motivator for me, which is why I try to practice some of the following tips while traveling:
1) Stay Hydrated
As someone without much of a thirst sensor, I really need to take my own advice here. My best tip to stay hydrated is to carry a water bottle with you everywhere you go. In general I suggest avoiding plastic due to potential toxin exposure with plastic bottles and the fact that using plastic is awful for the environment; however, I know that can be tricky when traveling even when you have the best intentions. Pack a glass or stainless steel water bottle and fill it up with filtered tap or restaurant water whenever you get the chance. Another option would be to pack a gallon or two of water with you (depending how long you will be traveling) and just keep refilling your own water bottle- that way you at least aren’t constantly having to put your mouth on plastic. If you are consuming alcoholic beverages, you will have to drink even more water. I recommend drinking 1 full glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume.
Why it’s important: Avoid dehydration, reduce risk of constipation, and less chance of developing a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) which can be common when traveling due to less water and less access to bathrooms.
2) Pack healthy snacks
Don’t count on a gas station or your hotel gift shop to provide you with healthy snack options. Some of my favorite on-the-go snacks are Larabars, Rxbars, nuts/seeds, nut butter packets, and fruit. My next blog post will have more details on this. The key to a good snack is to aim for a good mix of protein, fat, fiber, and carbs. Just an apple (carb and fiber) isn’t going to fill you up, but adding in some protein and fat with it (like nut butter) will help stabilize your blood sugar and give you more sustained energy.
Why it's important: avoid "hanger", get in some extra fiber, save money
3)Don’t veer TOO far outside of your normal food intake and focus on fiber
You are on vacation and of course you want to enjoy yourself. The pancakes, French toast, cereal bar, bacon, and sausage can look pretty tempting on that hotel buffet. However, if you are used to eating oatmeal with nut butter and fresh fruit every morning or a veggie omelet with sautéed sweet potatoes, how do you think your body is going to react to the shock of being fed all that sugar and fat in an absence of fiber? My guess would be not too favorably.
The same goes with lunch and dinner time – if you are used to eating things like rice, vegetables, and lean protein or beans for dinner and you start having fried chicken sandwiches and burgers with fries for each meal on vacation, my guess is your body isn’t going to be thrilled. My suggestion: Keep at least half of your meal similar to what it would be at home. For example:
· If you get a burger, instead of getting fries get a side salad or steamed veggies
· If you want fries get a salad with lean protein with it instead of a sandwich
· Oatmeal + fruit + bacon/sausage instead of bacon/sausage + French toast
Please keep in mind that these are only suggestions. You are ultimately free to choose whatever you want and you should NEVER feel guilty about what you eat. These are just some tips that might leave you feeling physically better while traveling.
Why it’s important: Fiber “keeps things moving” and also fills you up.
4) Chew your food really well and enjoy your company
The process of digestion starts in your mouth. If you only chew your food 3-4 times, think about how much harder your body is going to have to work to break down that food vs. if you chewed it 10-20 times before swallowing. You are under no obligation to finish your entire meal, just because it’s in front of you either. When you eat slowly your brain has a chance to catch up with your stomach- it often takes 15-20 minutes for your body to register that it is actually full. If you eat your entire meal in 10 minutes, you never gave your body the chance to realize this. Also remember to slow down and enjoy your company. We don't get much "unplugged" time these days, so put your phone down and have some meaningful conversations with the people around you.
Why it’s important: Proper digestion starts in the mouth- you will be less likely to have GI upset if you chew your food really well and don’t over-eat
5) Ditch the tums and consider digestive bitters instead
I think we’ve all popped Tums (or similar antacids) a time or two after eating a meal that doesn’t agree with us. There’s no denying that tums do provide pretty immediate relief; however, in the long run using tums might make your digestive symptoms worse. We actually need stomach acid to properly digest our food and also to absorb vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, B12, and folic acid, so reducing stomach acid long-term isn’t in our best interest. One of my favorite natural products for helping with digestion is digestive bitters. My favorite brand is Urban Moonshine.
Historically, we ate a lot of bitter foods (think scavenging in the forest for different greens, roots, and blackberries). Most of us don’t find bitter foods appealing, and since we have more of a variety of foods to choose from these days, most of us don’t consume many, if any, bitter foods. Bitters help stimulate digestive juices and can help reduce symptoms of indigestion and heartburn. They do contain a bit of alcohol so it is not recommended to use these when pregnant. Of course, always consult with your personal healthcare provider before deciding to add any supplements in. Another warning – they don’t taste very good. It’s funny to watch the look on people’s faces when they try them for the first time. Remember back in college the face you made when you took a straight shot of cheap rum? Yeah, kind of like that, but in much much smaller quantity.
Why it’s important: To avoid reducing stomach acid levels further - many times GERD and chronic heartburn is related to too little stomach acid, rather than too much. Stomach acid is important and needed for the digestion of certain nutrients as well as to break down your food.
Well folks, there you have it! Please keep in mind that these are helpful tips for always too, not just for when you are traveling. I’d love to hear your feedback so feel free to comment below!