10 way to eat healthy while traveling (from a dessert lover)

Posted on
Mar 7, 2011

Let’s talk about being healthy.

(Cue sound of people getting up from their computers and stampeding towards the nearly door.)

Well, goodness. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting a hugely positive reaction, but the gazelle-like sprint for the door was a little shocking. Anywho, yes, it’s kind of a mundane and boring topic, but I feel like it’s one that needs to be mentioned – being healthy while on the road is tough. If you travel only occasionally, and your vacation also happens to be your vacation from watching your diet, then it’s no problem. You can gorge yourself on margaritas and cupcakes and margarita cupcakes. And life will be good.

But for those of us who travel for more than a few weeks out of the year (I know, I know – rough life), eating with abandon isn’t really an option. It will catch up with you. As as you find yourself at home for a brief break between trips, you might have an exchange with your spouse that you’d never thought you’d have. Something along the lines of …

“God, I am so happy that we’re eating at home tonight.”

“Me, too!”

“Sweetie, what would you say if we went vegetarian for a while?”

“OMG – I was thinking the exact same thing!”

Yes, that exchange happened. And in my home. And no, those lines were not uttered by people who I promptly kicked out of my house. They came out of my mouth and that of my husband.

I know. No one is more surprised than me. But after lots of travel, and lots of eating in restaurants, Rand and I both felt like we needed a bit of a detox. Still, I know him. I know that he can live without bacon, and without shellfish, but not without both (Sigh. Gotta love those non-practicing Jewish men – all the neurosis and Semitic good looks, none of the food restraints). So we compromised and agreed – we’re going to be pescatarian until our next trip to Europe (which isn’t that far off, but suddenly seems like an eternity away). I’m actually feeling excited about the decision, though that might simply be meat withdrawal talking (note to self: “Meat Withdrawal” would be a great band name).

Of course, the struggle to not eat ourselves into elastic pants continues. And now that Italy is on the horizon, and cannoli lurk around every corner, I’ve put together a list of ways in which I try to eat healthfully while on the road. Some of you will see this as blasphemy – your dessert-devouring Everywhereist turned against you. But I promise, this isn’t the case. The way I figure it, the healthier you eat overall, the less you have to skip cupcakes.

  1. Try adding fish in the mix. For years, whenever I saw a fish option on a menu, I ignored it. Why bother with salmon when there’s veal on the menu? But my bias was a silly one – not only is fish stupidly good for you (the Mayo Clinic diet recommends eating it twice a week), but I can dine on it without feeling the need to pound on my chest afterward to keep my heart going. And if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of what you’re devouring, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s recommendations for sustainable fish (and yes, they have international recommendations, too).

    Salmon tartine from Le Pain Quotidien.

  2. Make it half vegetables. I’ve found that you really can eat whatever you want (in moderation) as long as half of your meal is veggies. I try to devour all the green stuff first, so I can devote my full attention to cheese, or prosciutto, or pasta, or (let’s be honest) more cheese.


  3. Remember: you can split things. This was an amazing realization for me and Rand – that we could share an entree, and that meant we could also split a salad and an appetizer. We even ended up saving money to boot. And it took us years to realize this. YEARS. Yeah. You’re welcome.
  4. Ask for a half portion. If you’re traveling on your own, or you and your date can’t decide on a single dish to split (and maybe, just maybe, it ends in devastation and tears and shouts of, “WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU SUGGEST WE GET CHICKEN? I CAN GET CHICKEN AT HOME.”), check with your server to see if they can prepare a half order of an entree. Odds are they can, meaning that you’ll have room for a full portion of cake afterward (note: full portion of cake can be multiple pieces.)
  5. Dessert or booze – not both. Okay, this actually sounds a bit extreme, I know. Few people outside of Aron Ralston have had to make more difficult decisions. But if you’re going to go out every single night for several weeks, a bit of moderation is in order, and deciding between a drink and a sweet is the best way to do that. Of course, for me, the answer is simple: I eat dessert. And I always will.

    They made me share, so I made them order two desserts. Yes, I'm serious.

  6. Walk it off. There’s this tendency amongst my family members – particularly those still in Italy – to go for walks after a meal. This is counter-intuitive for me – after meals, I usually like to go on naps. But I’ve got to admit – talking a leisurely stroll after a meal helps you digest easier and substantially reduces that “I think I’m about to pop a button on my pants” feeling. Plus, many of the best after-dinner treats (gelato, cupcakes, enormous heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate) can easily be eaten while walking.
  7. Go ethnic. Okay, this is a huge generalization, but here goes: in many countries, authentic regional cuisine tends to be pretty healthy. Traditional Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Spanish, and even French food is often a lot better for you than it’s Americanized cousins. Case in point: compare the Olive Garden (smothered in cheese) to actual Italian food (smothered in tomatoes). So when it doubt? Go traditional.

    Traditional Thai food in S.F.: not a Pad Thai in sight.

  8. Buy some groceries. Sometimes it’s hard to find something to eat, period, much less find something healthy. When your only options are fast-food, it’s time to hit up the local grocery store. Even if it’s just to pick up some fruit or yogurt, that’s probably worlds better than what you’d get out of the hotel vending machine. Plus, if you keep a few healthy snacks with you, you’re less likely to devour junk food in a moment of weakness (bonus: it’s fun to eat things directly out of your purse and watch people’s reactions).
  9. Load up on water. The jury is still out on whether or not water actually helps you lose weight in and of itself. But it’s a lot better for you than say, sugary drinks, can help you feel fuller longer, and after all that walking and exploring you’re going (you are walking and exploring, right?) it’s good to re-hydrate. So bottoms up.
  10. Don’t feel like you have to clean your plate. I have a tendency to keep picking at a dish until it’s all gone – even long after I’m full. Eating at restaurants doesn’t make the process any easier – I feel like if I’m paying for a meal, I should get my best value for it, and that mean devouring everything. But in the process, I end up eating way more than I normally would. Now, I pay closer attention to how hungry I am, and push the plate away when I feel full. Less value? Maybe. But then again, I’m saving money on not having to buy new pants.

Ugh. Did I really just do a top ten list of ways to eat better while on vacation? Yeah, yeah, I did. But in my defense, it’s for a good reason. Whenever I don’t clean my plate, or order a drink, and people ask me if I’m on a diet, I simply smile and tell them no, I’m not. I’m just saving room for cake.

Why, hello there.

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