Sunday, August 07, 2011

Travelling Light

Travelling is stressful. Fun, yes; but still stressful. Psychologically, humans are most relaxed around familiar things and heading out into the unknown is, well, the opposite of that. For anyone with food or weight issues, travelling can be a minefield of difficulties, mostly revolving around a loss of control. You don’t know what you will eat, or when, or  how to shop for what you want in the local language.  Ironically, getting all anxious and stressy about these things can add the impetus of stress eating on top of the usual holiday indulgences.

At the height of my own eating problems, I became so nervous about travel weightgain that I preferred not to travel. During this time, I took a trip to Amsterdam, the travel journal of which is notable not for recording the Anne Frank house and live sex-shows, but for documenting every morsel that passed my lips and every body-related neurotic thought that crossed my mind. Sad, sad, sad. I also spent time with The Programmer in England (he was working there) and gained 5 kg, mostly because I was attempting to stick to an overly rigid 1200 calorie a day regime and bingeing when I could not. I took a trip to the Gold Coast, which I remember for fervently sticking to my Marisa Peer ‘no grains, no dairy’ religion, which also required listening daily to a hypnosis track. Gawd.

Over the years, I’ve slowly learned how to travel without bringing home extra baggage on my butt.  I’ve also collected a few tips from fellow travellers. 

Here are our top 10 NO EXTRA BAGGAGE tips:

1. Keep it real. Although you 'could' spend a month in Europe and not touch a croissant or a slice of pizza, you probably won't, and it's helpful to acknowledge that in advance.  Ditto for your fitness regime. You 'might' do your resistance band workouts  in the space between beds in the hostel, but a walk around town is more likely.  Don't burden yourself with rules that will make you miserable. Be adaptable and trust yourself to make the right decisions in any situation.

2. Set your goal.  What is your plan? If it's a short holiday, you might elect to ditch all your usual rules, indulge yourself and deal with the consequences when you get back. If it's a longer trip then you might want to feel a bit more organised. How I roll is to try and stick to meal times (breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner) - which stops me nibbling mindlessly all day long. My goal is to maintain my weight within about a kg of where I was at the start of the holiday. I loosely monitor this through noting the fit of my clothes and by keeping things balanced.

Balancing out last nights dinner with a healthy breakfast - poached egg and salmon on rye bread and a donut (peach)

3. It's a matter of balance. There is no special voodoo to holiday kg's. It's an input-output thing, just like regular life, so try to keep your head on. If you ate pain au chocolat for breakfast, don't panic and think that it heralds a day of mindless noshing. Lighten it up at lunch with a salad.  You can think ahead. I did this in Verbania. I knew I'd want to enjoy the buffet breakfast, so ate lightly at dinner the night before. Travel days can vary in activity levels. A day of climbing steps in Bellagio could easily justify pasta at dinner time, but a lazy day at the beach might not. My favourite way to deal with fattening meals is to go all 'French Women Don't Get Fat' and apply the 50% rule. Eat half. I do this all the time with pasta. Eat half of what comes on the plate and pair it with a salad.

Eat half.
Balancing out a fresh croissant with a fresh peach. Both fabulous.

4. Choose your indulgences. Some things are worth it, some things aren't.  A chocolate donut at Starbucks is not a local delicacy. A homemade apfelstrudel at a historic coffee house in Vienna, is. Most of the time, the bread that comes before dinner is not worth it. Vending machine chocolate bar, not worth it. Locally made grappa served at the end of a fantastic meal? Worth it.

5. The first three bites are the best (eat like a child). This is my favourite trick. Just because you order it, does not mean you have to eat the WHOLE THING. I learned this from my niece. She will beg for something that caught her eye, then eat one or two spoonfuls. The chef may be offended, but a child does not care about this, and nor should you.
Chocolate pear cake. This is all I ate. The best bit from the end.
6. Go Fresh. Not all indulgences are baked, fried or alcoholic. Markets are colourful and tasty. As I like to travel to warm places, there are usually summer fruit and berries available.

7. Pack a snack. Carrying something healthy like some almonds, an apple or a dried fruit bar can help with those moments when you are hungry but the available food is not appealing. For example, on the Lago Maggiore ferry boat the choices were icecream or all sorts of long-life pastries in packets with bazillions of calories and a long list of additives. No thanks.

8. Hydrate carefully. Drink lots of water and not too many creamy coffees or calorie-packed alcoholic beverages. Liquid calories can make or break your holiday waistband.

9. Make your needs known (weight related or not). I don't eat nightshades - potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants or peppers. Learning a few phrases like Salat mit keine tomaten is very helpful. If you have allergies, religious requirements, or intend to stick to your vegan or zucker-free diet, then you'd better learn how to express that in the local language. 

The two on the right are to my requirements. The other one has evil nightshades.
I should mention that it was not completely possible to avoid all nightshades and there were some nights when I had that particular joint pain that indicates I've eaten something containing potato flour or capsicums. If you have a life-threatening allergy, I would be inclined to avoid restaurants unless you have a skilled language speaker that can negotiate with the chef.

10. Relax. It is an unfortunate paradox of stress eating that the more stressed an emotional eater gets, the more they eat - even if the thing that's stressing them is weight or food. When I sense those little stressed out thoughts infringing on my fun, I like to RBT (rational behaviour therapy) them away with contradicting statements like "I'm actually doing well, considering this is challenging for me", "It will all be fine", "I will eat a light dinner", "I did a lot of exercise today", "I'm not indulging any negative thoughts today", "I am going to focus on my adventures, not weight" and "shut up, I'm on holiday". If I have really overdone it (hey, it happens), I use "what I choose to do now can make the situation worse or better, it's up to me". The trick is to not let a little overindulgence become a full-holiday binge. 

I hope these tips are helpful. Don't be scared of travel, it is one of the most worthwhile things to do in life and with a bit of forethought, it is not difficult to come home with an expanded mind, rather than an expanded belly. You can do it!


  1. Some really good advice there Chick... which can be incorporated into everyday life too... not just when travelling.

  2. Brilliant advice! :) So sane and wise and doable. Especially love the one about realistic expectations from the start, as someone who has often packed a resistance band and has it ever come out of the suitcase? Noooo :P

  3. Fantastic tips, Sara! That food looks amazing. :)


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