Ever feel like you’ve just started to get in the good eating groove and then a trip comes along and derails your slim down efforts? Fortunately, travel doesn’t have to lead to weight gain, especially if you plan ahead. Try these five slim-down strategies next time you’re leaving home.
Pump up the protein at breakfast
It’s important to add adequate protein to your meals especially at breakfast. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that participants who ate a protein-packed breakfast ate 26 percent fewer calories at lunch than those who ate the same amount of calorie with less protein. Researchers think the nutrient helps release a hormone that tells your brain you’re full. A good goal is about 30 grams of protein per meal. Greek yogurt with berries, a vegetable omelet, oatmeal with walnuts, or toast with peanut butter all provide protein to keep you going.
Enjoy fruit for dessert
When traveling, it’s easy to throw healthy eating to the wind and run into the arms of an ice cream sundae. After all, life is short and vacations are even shorter. Instead, balance your sugar cravings with a sweet treat that’s actually good for you. Grapes are just one of many fruits that are perfectly portable and can go anywhere you do. Frozen grapes are also fun in the summer heat and make for a perfect grab-and-go snack. While 3/4 cup of ice cream has 345 calories and 21 grams of fat, the same amount of grapes has just 90 calories, no fat, and grapes of all colors are a natural source of health-promoting antioxidants. Eating out? Restaurants will usually provide fresh fruit as a dessert, even if it’s not noted on the menu.
Pack healthy snacks
When traveling, pack foods that provide a combination of protein and fiber to keep you energized, but won’t weigh you down. Cut up vegetables like carrots, celery, and bell peppers will help fill you up without a lot of calories. Pair them with a Greek yogurt or a handful of nuts for added protein. It’s also a good idea to have a “clean” energy bar on hand for when you need a more substantial snack. Strong & KIND bars pack in 10 grams of protein per bar and are made with ingredients you can see and pronounce. I work with the brand to help people make healthy snack choices and I like that they're also soy, wheat, and gluten free.
Choose one indulgence a day
For most people eating well when traveling is black or white – either you watch everything you eat, or nothing at all. The reality is you will probably eat more when you travel, but you don’t have to completely blow your diet. Since travel involves eating out more, that generally entails bigger portion sizes and more courses in your meal. While at home you might have one main dish for dinner, at a restaurant the bread basket, appetizers, and desserts are all very tempting, in addition to your entrée. One rule of thumb when traveling is to choose one indulgence a day – that means one slice of bread with olive oil, one glass of wine, or one (small) dessert – not all of them. When you choose the one item you really want, you’re likely to enjoy it more and feel just as satisfied.
Catch your Zzzzs
Long travel days, jet lag, and unfamiliar hotel rooms can often make getting a good night’s sleep challenging. However, adequate sleep is one of the best things you can do for your waistline. A review study that looked at 36 studies on sleep and weight gain found short sleep duration was independently linked to weight gain. Another recent study found that restricting sleep even for a few nights makes you hungrier, more likely to have food cravings, and increases your caloric consumption—the perfect recipe for weight gain. To get a good night’s sleep it’s best not to go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Doing something relaxing before bed like taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to music can also help, as well as packing earplugs for when noisy situations arise.
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.