Alternatively Titled, A Work in Progress
Remember when I blogged about getting kind of fat while living as an expat? Who would have guessed that fifteen pounds would lead to one of my most popular posts! I’ve mentioned a few times that I initially dropped those pounds in the hardest/easiest way possible – the breakup diet. I had zero appetite and my stomach was doing all kinds of horrible things, and it led to fifteen pounds falling off my 5’1” frame in just six weeks. Once I started feeling better I realized my appetite would come back, and I didn’t want the weight to come with it. I’ve since made serious changes to my lifestyle, but I’ve never gone into any detail about them, despite a few requests from readers. I guess I didn’t feel it was pertinent enough to blog about again, but upon reflection I’ve realized that health is an incredibly important topic when it comes to travel — and I’m not the only one musing over it. I have some pretty big travel goals and dreams — I want to do a yoga retreat in Bali, hike the Inca trail, do more competitive swims. All of those goals have one thing in common — they require a healthy body.
Swimming the one mile Flowers Sea Swim in Grand Cayman
In the past three months I’ve made an active effort to live a healthier lifestyle, and the results are more than I ever expected. I sleep less and I wake up naturally, and I stay alert and awake throughout the day. I look at my body and instead of being critical of things beyond my control I feel proud of definition and muscles I didn’t know existed. I’m sad to say it took me more than twenty years to discover the secret to health:
Eating a moderate and healthy diet and exercising somewhat regularly.
I know, groundbreaking stuff, right? Like my post on affording travel, this isn’t a how-to or a guide or anything of the sort — it’s just whats working for me right now, along with some requests for advice from you! I’m so, so far from a pinnacle of fitness here — but I’m trying to find a way to make these shifts into a lifestyle change, not go on some crash diet. Not in a million years will I give up the occasional cotton candy, the road trip fast food binge or indulgent cocktails with friends. And I’m never going to be a marathon runner, or give up my lazy movie nights. But I am trying to lead an overall more healthful life. So this is just the story of what I’ve done so far, how I’ve maintained it through a summer of short-term travel, and how I hope to sustain it through a future of long-term travel.
[Eating and drinking]
So, here’s the thing. I don’t tend to do things half-way, and so in the past when I pictured “eating healthy” I had visions of a lifetime of nothing but lettuce and quinoa and water. Seriously, I ordered a salad once in my entire life and I kind of cried in the restaurant, which upset the waiter. I mean, logically I understood the concept of moderation, but I didn’t really see how it would work in practice. Like, only have a bagel for breakfast one day a week instead of five? Buy a pint of ice cream and eat it over three nights instead of in ten minutes? Crazy talk!
My usual diet
And then something just clicked. I would say I’ve flipped from eating a diet that was 70% crap and 30% real food to the other way around. One thing that helps me greatly is that I have no issues eating a very routine diet. So my days consist mainly of a sampling of fruit, banana oatmeal, scrambled eggs, grilled chicken, broccoli, asparagus, granola and yogurt — or Lean Cuisine pastas if I’m being lazy. I often have dinner or lunch with friends so that’s when I go wild and let myself eat whatever I want – breads, pastas, desserts.
Then there’s my good friend alcohol. I’m pretty sure alcohol was a major culprit in that weight I packed on earlier this year. When I started working out I realized I could just kiss those glasses of cider and buckets of mojito goodbye if I wanted to see any results. So, now when I’m going out for a big night of drinking and dancing I stick to vodka and soda water. Its kind of gross but not so bad with a splash of grenadine. But again, it’s all about moderation — if I’m out to a nice dinner or just going out for one drink I’m going to order a fancy cocktail, calories be damned.
My old friend McDonald — we don’t see too much of each other anymore
So how does all this translate to travel? Well, I try to bring my little oatmeal packets wherever I go, so I can start the day with something healthy. For other meals I try to look for protein and vegetables, which can be found on menus in most parts of the world. Portions in restaurants can often be massive, so I try to find someone willing to share (you can always order more food!) And if a meal comes with a side I’ll be tempted to eat but don’t really want to indulge in at the moment (fries, etc) I ask the waiter not to bring it at all. Also, if I’m eating pastas or something carbohydrate heavy I try to have it for lunch so I have the rest of the day to work it off.
I guess I’ve been lucky – so far, I’ve traveled mainly in Southeast Asia where its pretty easy to eat healthy if you just go easy on the rice — muesli, fruit and yogurt for breakfast, chicken and broccoli stir fry for lunch, etc. But obviously each part of the world has its own challenges. I think my biggest problem with eating healthy on short term trips no matter the destination is the whole “treat yourself!” mentality and the inability to cook for myself. Still, my eating habits definitely take a turn when I’m traveling — and for someone who travels as much as I do that’s a problem!
Do you guys have any other tips for maintaining a healthy diet when on the road?
My friend Will really kicked off my workout schedule in Thailand– I owe him big time. We were doing a lot of Crossfit stuff and working out with him seriously changed my baseline for what a workout was, and what my body can do. I remember coming home and going to a class with my friend at the YMCA and I was like, “That was way too easy, no one even cried.”
Then when I was home in May I scored a Groupon that let me join a local gym for 3 months for $30. Since then I basically alternate three workouts — running a mile (real running, not on the treadmill), doing the Body Pump class at my gym and doing Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred video. Sometimes I mix it up with yoga or pilates. I get that running one mile without stopping or walking might not seem like an accomplishment for a lot of people, but it was only very recently that I did so for the first time ever. Recently I got my mile under 9 minutes, and I’m even looking into running a 5K. Invasion of the Body Snatchers: It happened to me.
Muay Thai in Thailand
So, what about when I’m traveling? Well, for trips that are two weeks or less (the kind I’ve been doing this summer), there is no way I’m wasting precious travel time seeking out a gym, unless I happen to be staying in a hotel that has one — which never happens. I focus instead on doing physical activities when I travel, since I enjoy them anyway — like taking long photography-walks when I was in Colorado, or going scuba diving in Iceland. No matter where I am in the world I try to do push-ups and crunches before I get in the shower, and I recently came across Nerd Fitness’s Twenty Minute Hotel Workout. I’m definitely hoping to incorporate that into even my shortest trips. I just really love the image of myself flailing around doing jazzercize in some cramped guesthouse in Guatemala.
When I take off again for long-term travel is when this will really be put to the test. My first priority will be to seek fun, local ways to get a workout in — for example I loved doing Muay Thai training when I was in Thailand, and here in Martha’s Vineyard I’m taking yoga on the beach. I’d like to keep running when I travel but I think I’ll need to get a little pedometer thingy, and it would depend on the climate I’m in — no way in hell could I run in Thailand heat.
Staying active: Learning to windsurf in Vietnam, Drysuit diving in Iceland
Luckily its possible to find a Western-style gym with treadmills and weights almost anywhere in the world — even in small or rural towns, big hotels usually sell day passes to their gyms. The benefit of long-term travel is that there is less of a time crunch, so I won’t feel guilty spending time at a gym. Of course there is the inflated cost of paying for day passes, but I’ve decided to see every dollar I spent on my health today as an investment — money saved on health problems down the road.
How do you guys squeeze in exercise when you travel? Also, I’m on the hunt for a workout video that doesn’t require hand weights. Any suggestions?
Now I’m going to get touchy feely for a minute.
I’ve been pretty lucky, I realize I have good genes. Making some small (yet difficult) changes has yielded some major results. And yet a big part of this journey has been letting go of unrealistic expectations. I will never, not in a million years look like Gisele Bundchen, or Jessica Alba or any of those other women whose images I used to cut out of magazines and use as (unattainable) goals. I’m just over 5’1″, my thighs are always going to be bigger than I want them to be, and I’ll always have one wonky eye. I can’t change those things — but I can push my body to be the best that it can be. And you know? These days when I look in the mirror I see less of those things I loathe and can’t change, and more of those great things that are results of my hard work. Of all the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle, I think this one is the greatest — embracing the body I was born with and being grateful for all I can do with it. So, you know… girl power and all that stuff.
Hiking Ben Nevis in Scotland
I’m so happy with how things are going right now and yet so nervous about what will happen when I really start traveling full-time again! I cant wait to hear your suggestions and incorporate them!