Because added weight isn’t the souvenir you had in mind, right?
Quick backstory: I was a chunky monkey from infancy into my young adult years. And family members – who were rail-thin – never let me forget it.
One Christmas, a relative spotted me in my – I thought – beautiful, new scarlet robe and told me that I looked like Santa Claus.
Happily, life today is a little better for our curvy friends. The modern world boasts the likes of Christina Aguilera singing Beautiful (“I am beautiful no matter what they say, words can’t bring me down. . .”) and Lady Gaga rocking Born this Way (“There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are she said, cause He made you perfect, Babe.’”).
Bottom line: Don’t waste precious daylight trying to change people who attack. They’re stuck with themselves. You, however, can move on. (And while you’re at it Google Narcissistic Personality Disorder to learn more.)
But I digress, let’s talk keeping weight off while traveling starting with one caveat: this is not a how-to for extinguishing food-lust. Consumed by it for decades I know well the grip food can have on our lives. If that’s what you’re grappling with search online: “Brooke Castillo” and “urges” for her great podcast on overcoming the food-urge. (Brooke’s podcast is a lovely way to begin.)
Once I figured out how to stop stuffing myself like it was Thanksgiving every day of the year I lost the weight. (I didn’t merely stop stuffing myself — I used several systems simultaneously — but learning that I didn’t need to eat myself into a stomach ache was huge for me.)
As I was losing, my main focus was on training myself to eat well and in reasonable portions. Eventually my brain began to see food as fuel.
Never again would I see food as a warm teddy bear to cuddle when I felt emotionally bullied or a boredom buster when I couldn’t be bothered to find a good book or take a bath.
Food would be fuel.
End of food’s story.
So today’s post isn’t about how I took off the pounds in the first place, but is about how I keep the pounds off when I’m involved in a somewhat out-of-control activity like travel. (Because losing weight and keeping weight off are two separate skill sets.)
This post won’t address the emotional reasons that we overeat — trauma, depression, rage and so forth — but will go into how I control my eating-environment when I’m on the road. (Which is where I find myself often as a family travel writer. I had to get smart about eating while traveling or I’d gain back every ounce.)
Upgrade Your New Life
One evening I was watching Big Hero Six with my son when an aha moment burst into my world.
Hiro — our main guy — says to his friends, “Actually, I need to upgrade all of you!” Hiro’s friend says, “Hiro, we want to help, but we’re just. . . us.”
Hiro responds, “No, you can be. . . way. . . more.”
With tremendous excitement another friend adds, “Can you feel it? Our origin story begins!!”
At that, we see Hiro upgrading each friend to become stronger, highly-skilled heroes who go on to save the city. If you need inspiration, watch this quick clip daily.
Why my aha moment? Because I knew then and there that — if we’re going to realize our dreams — we have to upgrade ourselves. We have to become stronger, more highly-skilled, newer versions of us.
Every word that follows is how I worked — and work to this day — to upgrade myself when traveling life’s highway.
I Am Beautiful!
Ignore me at your own peril, but the more you say, “I’m such a slob!” the super computer sitting behind your eyes says, “Really? Okay, boss you’re a slob!”
See my point? You need to identify as a thin person who makes smart choices around food. So claim your upgraded identity and say to yourself daily, “I’m becoming a person who eats for fuel, not for emotional reasons. I’m a new version of me and this new version is slowly but surely putting food in it’s place.”
- Then, you know those scraggly fingernails? Upgrade them and keep them upgraded.
- You know how you stop shaving in the winter? Shave!
- You know how you wear old undies with holes? Trash them and buy beautiful lingerie.
Think this strategy belongs to me? Nope, read more about it in Atomic Habits by James Clear. Clear brings awesome clarity — ha! — to how upgrading one part of our lives ripples into other areas. (However, it can go both ways, so be sure your ripples are going in a positive direction!)
My Three Danger Zones
To upgrade any area of my life I start by identifying the most challenging zones. The three events that are my biggest triggers to overeating: boredom (my biggest problem), people being extra mean and times when I’m absolutely famished. It might be different for you, but these are the three events I watch out for.
Figuring out your danger zones is an important part of the weight loss puzzle. Writing, writing, and more writing will deliver the answers you’re looking for. Ask your brain: when am I strong re: eating on the road? How can I eat for fuel and not for emotions while traveling? What are the most challenging times for me with food? How does anxiety present when I’m on vacation?
Bored. . .zzzzzzz
I don’t care what the travel world says, travel is layered in boring moments. If I’m taking a road trip, I’m looking at three to nine hours of car-boredom.
Flying? Hours of airport- and plane-boredom.
Sitting all day on a beach? Gorgeous-boredom, for sure, but beach-boredom all the same. I still want to inhale millions of crunchy, salty carbs while watching the waves roll in.
To slay the boredom-eating dragon, I whip up a detailed plan for surviving the road trip without eating everything on the road.
First I found an adorable lunch tote that I ♥♥♥. I purposely bought an extra fancy bag knowing that I’d search for reasons to use it. Before heading out, I fill my beauty with everything I plan to eat that day while in the car. I pack one or two crunchy items like baby carrots and apples with a teaspoon of peanut butter. I also pack cartons of yogurt, a small bag of prunes (sounds gross, but I love them), and a small burrito.
My goal – over the road trip — is to eat only out of my pretty tote. Once my tote is empty, I’m done eating in the car. Having a plan – and keeping relatively full – helps me avoid the bazillion junk food danger zones along the way.
Hot tea goes into my travel mug with its lovely saying — that I earned — and that visually reminds me to stay on track.
Never, ever did I think I’d rave about tea, but my very favorite of all time is Bedtime tea by Yogi that has a (very mild) sweet flavor. (In IRL I can only find it at Publix where it’s $3 and change.)
Next I pack an anti-boredom bag for myself that includes my iPod (loaded with my favorite podcasts), a book or two, magazines and so forth. (Have you read Pachinko or Free Food for Millionaires? Both are by Min Jin Lee and are five-star, out of this world reads. Loved them both to the moon and back, but I think Pachinko is my favorite.)
For plane-, train- and beach-boredom, I do the exact same thing. I pack both a lunch bag and a fun activity bag. (Yes, you probably think I’m packing for a hyperactive toddler and you would be on the right. My tendency to overeat when bored never left preschool.)
Once we arrive at our destination, I tend to experience a bit of “new space” anxiety. (No idea why.) My boys flop on the bed to watch television, my husband dives into his laptop (for work reasons) and I twiddle my thumbs (and think about what I can eat).
So, I’ve developed a habit of how to manage hotel-eating when we first arrive.
The first hour or two in a new hotel I unpack, tidy up the room and make myself a cup of decaf coffee. I might talk my boys into turning on HGTV and watching with me for a few minutes before I grab a shower. All of my activity revolves around soothing any mild hotel anxiety that (usually) erupts. Having a great book to read is always super helpful too.
Through the years I’ve heard people say, “That’s silly. Her plan is too much like work!!”
Here’s the deal: Keeping weight off – for decades — is work. People who lose a lot of weight and later say, “I never even think about food anymore” are lying. 🙂
But I’m Starving!!
Back to trip-eating. Using One Note in my laptop I put into writing every problem area on my trip that I might encounter. For example, I’m on easy-street at breakfast and lunch.
But afternoon, dinner and evenings tempt me big-time — usually because my husband scarfs cookies and candy each evening. So I type out how I’ll manage the various challenges.
Solutions run along the lines of keeping healthy food with me throughout the day that I can easily access with the goal of never becoming overly hungry. When I’m famished, every good eating intention goes out the window. (Any day of the week, turn me upside down and shake hard and a Cliff bar, a banana or an apple will fall out. Sometimes all three.)
The Magic of Writing
I’ll say it again: plan your danger zones in advance and write them down in a special journal or make notes like I do in a laptop, but write about your challenges and how you plan to side step them daily.
Do not say to yourself: Oh, I’ll just noodle through the danger zones and come up with a work-around in my mind.
A hundred times no.
For some reason, the magic only happens when you write down — in detail – your plan for steering around poor eating. Write about how you’ll deal with boredom, how you’ll avoid becoming overly hungry, how you’ll wear headphones when the kids are driving you nuts in the car and so forth.
When Life Hurts
This last event doesn’t ruin my great eating plan nearly as often as it once did, but when someone I love is super angry and throwing said anger at me (cough, cough teenagers) or someone is in danger (our dog had a bleeding ulcer once while we were away; all turned out well, but still), I tend to head for the rocky road ice cream.
Over the years, I’ve learned to talk myself through these difficult moments. I actually remind myself that plowing through food and gaining weight won’t help the problem at hand, but will give me a terrible stomach ache (if your stomach is used to less food, ingesting a lot of calories really hurts). I then suggest to myself a relatively healthy food-fix like a bowl of my favorite cereal with almond milk, nuts chopped up in yogurt, or carrots dipped in hummus.
If we’re visiting a beach, I walk at least a mile on the sand. If we’re staying in a hotel, I use the workout room (yes, even if it’s not fancy.) But if I’m looking at a nice workout room? Color me tickled. I try out all of the equipment just for fun with the tunes playing on my iPod. (That said, if you love vintage Cher, you likely need this on your soundtracks.)
I never enter a restaurant half-starved or I’ll most certainly make abysmal choices. I always eat an apple or baby carrots on the drive to the restaurant (and, yes, I’ve long endured family members who say, “You’ll ruin your dinner!” I answer, “That’s the plan!!”)
If we’re eating in a restaurant, I either order a salad with protein on top – at whatever pizza spot we end up at — or vote for eating at a Thai restaurant (that also tends to have great salads on the menu).
If we’re eating buffet, say, on a cruise ship I practice portion control. I’m always working with the goal of being comfortably full — never, ever, ever Thanksgiving-stuffed.
Drinking on Vacation
I know I sound like a total snooze, but I avoid alcoholic drinks on vacay. Why? The price, the calories, and the complete loss of good eating intentions.
You know how some people become mean after one drink? Well, I transform into an IRL emoticon happy face who eats everything in (and out) of sight.
The Why of Trip Clothes
I’m not a clotheshorse, but I’ll often buy a new item that visually encourages me to keep my healthy eating plan going strong on a trip. I might have found a fantastic new bathing suit, a fabulous new pair of jeans or just something different and fun. Whatever it is, I bring something special on the trip that’s a reminder that I’m choosing to upgrade my life.
I am now — I say to myself — a thin person. (So I therefore eat like a thin person.)
If the family is digging into pizza, I eat my salad feeling happy and thinking about the new suit I plan to wear to the beach the next day. (Side note: I was once a pizzaholic. LOVED my pizza. Today I eat pizza — maybe — once a year. Once you start saying no to the pizza dragon — or the ice cream dragon or whatever dragon you battle –, your “no” muscle becomes stronger and stronger.)
I also once bought an inexpensive bracelet to wear on a trip. When I looked at my pretty bracelet I remembered the contract I made with myself about eating well on the trip. (Sounds hokey, but it worked.)
In my case, the day we return home is fraught with eating dangers. It likely has something to do with the stress/boredom of driving (or flying) home, unloading the car, throwing in a load of laundry and so forth. I tend to feel out of control and slightly stressed.
My way out? I plan in advance (again in One Note) exactly how I’ll handle my stress. Everybody is different, but in my case, it feels efficient and smart to start laundry, take a relaxing shower or bath and — the big key — go to bed early. (Also in preparation for our return, I stocked the freezer with healthy choices and left a new bottle of something wonderful in my bathroom like Neutrogena body oil for dry skin — the amazing scent should be a Chanel perfume. I combine Lubriderm lotion and a bit of this body oil on my skin after every shower. I’ve had excema since I was a kid and this pairing really works on dry skin. And no calories.)
The next day – after a good night’s sleep in my own bed – I’m always in a much better mood and prepped to create a healthy day.
I hope this post has given you starting-gate ideas on how you can upgrade yourself as you explore our beautiful planet.
Now that you know my strategies for avoiding trip-gain, I hope you’ll share yours! What solutions do you use to help you maintain your positive eating goals?
Our origin story begins!