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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 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?

[Exercise]

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 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 . 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?

[Perspective]

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!

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45 Comments...
  • Gram
    August 11 2012

    GOOD FOR YOU! My suggestion: save this good blog and read it to yourself every day when you’re on the road. When you are 82 you’ll be glad you did!

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2012

      That’s definitely a good suggestion… blogging about something usually makes me more accountable to it, and I’m hoping that will be the case here!

  • Grandma Burr
    August 11 2012

    You certainly look good. Just try to remember – you don’t have to eat ALL the food on the plate. Gram E

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2012

      It’s true — portion control is so important. Always something to work on.

  • Shing @ Blog Me Travel
    August 11 2012

    Sometimes clichés work, and ‘everything in moderation’ is definitely one of them!

    Like you, I’m 5’1 and don’t mind always being the short one in the group, but I hate that us ‘shorties’ don’t have the aid of long legs to create any illusions about how slim we really are! But I guess that provides the perfect motivation to stay active and eat moderately healthy – after all we can’t abstain from all life’s edible pleasures!
    Shing @ Blog Me Travel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2012

      Yeah, I actually don’t mind being short at all! But it doesn’t fit the stereotype of the long, lean, perfect body. All the more reason to take care with what I put into my body, and what work I do with it!

  • Martin Blair
    August 11 2012

    Great inspiration for me. . . I’ve put on a few pounds and gotta get them off so my wetsuit will fit LOL

    Martin

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2012

      Ugh, wetsuits…. I don’t think they are easy to get in and out of no matter what size you are, unfortunately! 🙂

  • Diane C
    August 11 2012

    This is a great post. You do inspire so Yes to Girl Power..and what lovely Grandmas you have!

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2012

      Thanks Diane! Like I said… work in progress!

  • Sam
    August 11 2012

    Ah you are the best! A quick survey of Sydney has revealed that no such banana pie exists in Australia so it looks like I’ll have to come back to you ASAP for some Sweet Sugar Sunshine lovin’ ! Great post lovely girl xxx
    Sam recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      Oh my gosh, if I ever really want to be a healthy person I need to find a way to erase from my brain the fact that Sugar Sweet Sunshine exists…. AHHH!

  • Amanda
    August 11 2012

    My plan of attack for not gaining weight on the road is trying to not bring American eating habits wherever I go: don’t eat American food (no McDonald’s or Pringles from 7-11), eat smaller portion sizes, don’t snack, and don’t eat huge desserts (fruit instead of a Magnum bar). I also try to take a walk after dinner, even if that’s just walking back to the hostel. I don’t always follow it (I loooove Magnum bars) but that’s what I try to do!
    Amanda recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      Avoiding American snacks when traveling is important! I get SO excited when I find Goldfish in a Tesco Lotus, you would think that the entire brand had been discontinued for eternity. I need to remember those things are always going to be available back home! And yes, snacking has always been my biggest issue, which being on the road really does help with.

  • Lindsey
    August 11 2012

    Whoop whoop! It’s great you’re getting such good results! I always take resistance bands with me when I travel, though actually using them is a whole other ball game 😉

    I find that eating in moderation is much easier in hot climates – I just don’t feel like eating so much. Plus wearing less clothing to disguise those bits we don’t like (that, really, probably no one else notices…). Maybe that’s the key? Hot climates. I can work with that.
    Lindsey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      This is so true, Lindsey… whenever I first arrive in Southeast Asia I just don’t eat the same. However I always acclimatize eventually and then I’m back to my usual habits, ha!

  • Chrystal McKay
    August 11 2012

    Travel IS my diet – every time I settle in a country and pick up a regiment of food and exercise I end up putting on lbs, but when I travel, on the go, I lose weight and I feel happy and healthy. Maybe it’s those 1000+ stairs to the top of the castles I more oft climb while travelling. But I agree – its hard to resist all the gastronomical charms of a country. The only is most countries cannot compete on the JUNK FOOD scale with N.America. I eat HEALTHIER while away because the fresh fruits are in abundance while the chocolate bars are far from my sight! But I do worry about my health while I travel but I have the opposite problem – maybe its a sign I should perpetually travel to stay a healthy weight?!?!? 😀 But I like your initiative to stay healthy and make it a serious priority in your life! It is important.
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      Well, you are right… when I’m ACTUALLY traveling, I am very active! But I tend to settle places… for example five months of the past year were spent in one place for me (Koh Tao!) And once I settle into an expat routine my activity levels go down and I find myself spending more and more hours in front of the computer working. I’ve got to keep up that travel mentality no matter where I am!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    August 12 2012

    I am so with you on this. I gained a size in two months when I moved to Cambodia. Eating out all the time, $0.75 happy hour beers, and no more exercise all added to it. I then started similar home exercises to you, went swimming twice a week (no way I am running in the Cambodian heat) and I joined a local little gym, where I go once a week. I am back to my normal weight again, and feel much better.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      Swimming is SUCH a good suggestion! I used to love going for evening swims in the Cayman Islands when I was training for the sea swim. My only issue, and I realize how ridiculous this sounds considering my hobbies, is that I’m afraid to swim in the ocean alone! So I need to find a buddy 🙂

      • TammyOnTheMove
        August 13 2012

        Oceans freak me out as well, so I am sticking to swimming pools. Most hotels let you use theirs for a small fee or for consuming some food in their restaurant.

  • Dad
    August 12 2012

    you are lookin’ good now so keep it up

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      Thanks Dad! If only my older sisters hadn’t stolen all the athletic genes… 🙂

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    August 12 2012

    I think the big thing with any weightloss program is that you have to make changes that you can sustain if you have any hope of longterm success. Clearly you have realized this and it is reflected with your changes in diet and exercise!

    I am actually hoping that now that I am traveling fulltime that it will help me be healthier because it will up my activity levels significantly! No more sitting in front of a computer 8 – 10 hours/day! Instead that time will be spent out in the world walking around and burning calories… and at least because Japan is so expensive, I can’t afford to eat them all back! 😉
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      My problem is that with blogging and freelancing I still spend so much time in front of the computer! I settle in somewhere and even though I am abroad I am really living as an expat more than traveling… so I need to focus on keeping active maybe more than someone just simply traveling. But yes, I totally agree about sustainability. It’s why I haven’t tried to cut out ice cream… just reduce it 🙂

  • Jess | GlobetrotterGirls
    August 12 2012

    Hey Meihoukai, thanks for the mention -so good to see I am not alone in all this. But your journey is so much more inspiring – you are kicking a** and I love it! You are definitely inspiring me to just take a few little steps at first to notice a big difference! 🙂
    Jess | GlobetrotterGirls recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      Thank you so much Jess! You are SO not alone. I don’t feel I am quite kicking ass yet but I am on the way… 🙂 The funny thing is that appearance wise I don’t look too different than I did about a year ago, before my “adult metabolism” kicked in and I started packing on pounds. So I think maybe that’s my body’s way of telling me this is my natural state, accept it! But in terms of energy I feel like a different person… I feel like I used to walk around in a daze, and suddenly I am awake! This is what I am going to try to remind myself of when I’m falling off the wagon. Maybe we should be “get healthy” buddies, try to check in on each other once in a while?

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      Also meant to say, I don’t think I necessarily would have had this success would I not have had the kick-start of all that weight falling off so quickly with the whole emotional trauma. It’s much easier to maintain than to lose, you know?

  • Savvy Scot
    August 12 2012

    My advice is to maintain the baseline. It is so easy to let it slack and convince yourself that you workouts are just as testing. My tip is to find a training buddy or exercise in a group wherever possible. This stops slacking! 😀
    Savvy Scot recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2012

      I definitely agree, Scot! I LOVED working out with my friend Will in Koh Tao, and this is why I try to do group classes when I’m home… no slacking off in front of 30 other people!

  • Nadia
    August 14 2012

    One of the hardest things I have found about remaining healthful while traveling is that your routine and access to “what works for you” changes so significantly. I dont even want to tell you how many sizes I gained while working on a boat. But I have a friend who is a personal trainer who was able to look at my restrictions and come up with a plan for me…on a boat. Pull ups off the boom, resistant bands attached to the boat, more for stability, so I dont blow my knees out in lunges with the rock of the ocean, etc. I have kept all the weight off for over a year and am in the best shape (of my adult) life. I would highly recommend seeking out a visionary personal trainer as they can overcome all of the travel obstacles. And congrats on your success!

    • Meihoukai
      August 15 2012

      Thanks! Working with Will (do you remember him?) was great, I only wish he was always around to be my gym buddy! But I retained a lot of what I learned from him. I think my next big health splurge would be to talk to a nutritionist, I’m looking into if that’s covered by my health plan…

  • Miss K
    August 14 2012

    This is really good advice. I remember gaining ten pounds the first year I started traveling a lot and freaking out about it. But once you start to think about “budgeting” a calorie splurge the same way you’d budget a financial expense, I think it’s easier to make healthy choices.

    You definitely seem to have the right positive attitude. I don’t believe anyone has ever made weight loss easier by beating themselves up.
    Miss K recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 15 2012

      So true, there’s really no upside to loathing yourself! And I like the way you think about budgeting calorie splurges like financial splurges. I’ve always been much better with money than I have with food!

  • Lauren
    August 14 2012

    THANK YOU!!!!! As for my own update, Couch-to-5k (which I totally recommend if you want to be a runner but don’t like running yet), 8 minute abs (youtube), and cutting out beer, soda, and bread have done tremendous things both for my confidence and my waistline during my long term travel, and since I last asked you about this issue. Thanks again!

    • Meihoukai
      August 15 2012

      One of my friends is doing Couch to 5K right now! I’m definitely working my way up with running… I was SO PROUD when I ran a mile without stopping! I will definitely check out 8 minutes abs on Youtube. And yes, I needed to basically cut out bread as well. It’s like crack to me.

  • EarthDrifter
    August 14 2012

    I find healthy living more challenging while on the road. I feel that the US has poisoned the rest of the world with its fast food chains. But, when I’m in a city and I see a Subway, always get a bit excited because I love their vegetarian subs. Also, I’ve recently gotten into the habit of carrying walnuts, almonds, cashews and raisins. This way I always have the ability to nourish myself when in a bind.
    EarthDrifter recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 15 2012

      I definitely like to pack a variety of healthy snacks to have on hand, it helps cut down on impulse snacking. If I’m roaming the streets when hunger strikes… there is no limit to what I might do! Ha.

  • Emily
    October 1 2012

    Hey Meihoukai!

    I just looked around your blog for the first time and I adore it! Like you, I am a native New Yorker who after finally escaping fell in love with the rest of the world.

    I like this post and can relate to it. Before traveling I was a yoga-addict. It was such a huge part of my lifestyle I could hardly imagine ever not doing it. Then, while I travelled long-term I realized it just didn’t fit into my life. There wasn’t enough of a routine to fit it in. I gained some weight but I forgave myself and it’s coming off easily now that I’m home and NY’s food tastes like garbage compared to Thailand’s.

    I think what’s important is to learn to love and accept yourself exactly how you are. When you look in the mirror, love yourself unconditionally. Even aside from seeing results of exercise and feeling proud- even on the days where you maybe haven’t exercised in months and you feel fat. Our mind is capable of choosing how to feel. I honestly believe that being loving and kind to myself helps keep my weight down.

    I’m working on saving up and developing my own travel blog now so I can hit the road again. Do you have any tips or advice for me? I’m curious how you fund so much travel and about your process developing this blog to be so awesome!

    Best

    Emily

  • Rodney
    April 8 2016

    I like this post and can relate to it. Before traveling I was a yoga-addict. It was such a huge part of my lifestyle I could hardly imagine ever not doing it. Then, while I travelled long-term I realized it just didn’t fit into my life. There wasn’t enough of a routine to fit it in. I gained some weight but I forgave myself and it’s coming off easily now that I’m home and NY’s food tastes like garbage compared to Thailand’s.

    • Meihoukai
      April 26 2016

      Ha! And it’s four or five times the price, too… A great weight loss plan!

  • Katie
    April 15 2016

    I’m so glad I found your blog posts on this subject! I’m living in Ireland for 3 months, and even being here 2 weeks I see a huge change in my lifestyle: I’m less diligent about working out, and I say yes to every slice of delicious brown bread, apple tart, fry up and pint…I am trying to rein it in, but temptation is everywhere! I’m biting the bullet though and I’ve started running again, a mile or 2, rain or shine (mostly rain, let’s be real!). I was at my ideal weight when I got here, I’m hoping to get a handle on my cravings and maintain where I’m at, at the very least.

    • Meihoukai
      April 27 2016

      It’s hard to say no when food is tied to new experiences and special travels. I think getting back into your workout routine in a great start! Good luck Katie!

  • Terry Valentine
    June 21 2016

    It’s great the you were able to cultivate a more disciplined regimen while traveling abroad; but may I point out that you also have had the advantage of being able to choose what/where you eat, how often you exercise and your daily activities in general. Have you any tips for the situations I often find myself in while traveling, in which I am subject to someone else’s agenda and schedule? This often translates to not having a chance to exercise (or even being thought of as selfish for taking time for myself), spending extended periods sitting, and/or being expected to eat more, less healthy or later in the evening than I normally would. This happens to an extent on vacations, but especially when traveling on family business, business trips with my husband or overseas mission trips.

    Most of these trips don’t last for more than a few days; but regardless I can feel the effects almost immediately (and I don’t need a mirror), and feeling “fat” (or fat-for-me as you put it) with no sense of control over my weight makes me grumpy and spoils any enjoyment I might otherwise have in the adventure. I want to be able to enjoy the experience, the unexpected, and come home with memories and pictures; but if I feel disgusting in my own skin two days out this is nearly impossible. I know how I should eat and can make wise choices if there are acceptable options; but salad, salad and more salad gets old very quickly; and people don’t understand if I choose not to eat supper past 6:30. Taking my own food is sometimes an option, but it’s still a bit conspicuous and sometimes not feasible. Do you (or anyone else) have any experience with this problem?

    • Meihoukai
      June 23 2016

      I have a lot of experience with this, Terry! I just spent a month traveling in Brazil with someone who is naturally blessed with the gift of being able to eat carbs without blowing up like a blimp — I’m not. They also happened to be pretty gym-averse. I found it challenging to carve out time for working out when the other person I was with wasn’t interested, and found it hard to avoid temptation when the other person I was with was indulging. It’s not easy and I struggled greatly during the trip.

      But my advice and what I will do moving forward is set really clear expectations with myself and the other person: be honest and say, “I can’t always eat the things you eat and so I might occasionally fend for myself,” or “Just so you know, I am going to go for a run every evening before we head out and I hope that you can join me or understand that this is something I need to do in order to enjoy myself.” Best of luck! I understand the struggle!