I recently took a trip to San Diego to see some friends and attend a conference, and unfortunately it quickly reminded me just how tough it is to stay consistent with eating right and exercising while traveling.
The problem is that even if you’ve got great habits, since you’re on vacation you’re completely uprooted from your typical routine, which includes all your healthy habits.
So what’s the secret to staying consistent if you’re on the road a lot?
Some research I dug up on Hawaiians just might show you.
The Hawaiian Secret to Staying Healthy While Traveling?
Here’s What The Researchers Found
A study done in 2011 on white and blue collar workers in Hawaii sought to figure out the biggest risk factors in obesity – based on assessing the biggest barriers relating to healthy eating and physical activity at work.
Here’s what I want you to take a look at.
The biggest barriers to the health and wellness habits:
Work demands (in other words, it was tough to take the time for a lunch break) – or being too tired to participate, and thus choosing unhealthy stuff (61%)
Having unhealthy food around – vending machines, meetings, cafeteria (as I call it, the “availability principle”) (50%)
Lack of onsite fitness facilities (44%)
Having coworkers bringing unhealthy food (22%)
And what they said made their ability to eat healthier much easier:
Access to healthy food, like salad bars and vegetarian options; healthy grab and go items (50%)
Co-workers who had healthy behaviors (walking during lunch, taking the stairs, eating healthily) (22%)
Onsite posted nutritional information (28%)
So really it comes down to the same core habits:
Access (to good or bad food).
People (that either made good choices or bad ones).
So what does all this mean for you, especially if you’re traveling?!
The 3 Step “Staying Healthy While Traveling” System of Awesomeness
Takeaway #1: The Availability Principle
The first principle here, which is something I talk about quite a lot, is simple: If it’s there, we’re going to eat it.
Think about a smoker – is it easier to smoke a cigarette when you REALLY want it if you’ve got a pack sitting in your pocket, versus needing to go drive 5-10 minutes to the local store to buy some?
Yeah, it is. Well, food works the same way. The bigger the barriers we introduce to eating crappy food, the hard it is to eat crappy food.
This is literally the simplest nutritional habit to implement in your life – if it’s there, we’ll eat it.
There’s this incessant idea that cravings and mastering food and weight loss is about iron discipline and grit. It isn’t. It’s about setting up the right habits and regular systems in our daily life.
So if you’re on the road, it could be as simple as this: if you know you’ll be gone the entire day and thus you can’t control your external environment, pack food. Even if it’s “too healthy” and you won’t normally like it, if you’re hungry, you’ll naturally end up just eating it because it’s there.
There are also lots of lessons here regarding the environment we live in, work in, and the people we hang around. What the external looks like, the internal usually reflects too.
Takeaway #2: The Energy Principle
The second takeaway here to consider is what I call the energy principle. This habit is super simple: structure your healthiest meals around the times when you’re most tired or in the worst mood.
Mood and energy are strongly linked (partly that’s due to blood sugar), and when we’re tired or in a bad mood, the physiological drive to eat something crappy and high in calories is strongest.
So if we know that in the mornings we tend to be groggy and unhappy, set up systems in the morning for making that the healthiest meal (e.g. go to the exact same spot every day, or have it pre-made – like fruit).
Let yourself eat a bit worse during the times when you know your stores of willpower are higher, so you know that you’ll make smarter choices.
Based your meals around your energy.
I know that in the afternoons I tend to get a big sluggish in the 2-3 pm time period, so that would be a horrible time to get lunch because I’d crave loads of bad foods and would probably end up going to my favorite hole in the wall Chinese spot.
Instead, I take my lunch just before this time period (so I’m already full and won’t go out to eat something unhealthy), and I make sure that my lunch is one of the healthier meals of the day.
Dinner I know I usually have pretty good energy, so I know that if someone wants to order dessert, I usually won’t crave anything that much.
Base what you eat (when you travel for work) around your daily energy fluctuations.
Takeaway #3: The People Principle
At my conference, I noticed there was a table for holistic health practitioners.
There were people in the health and natural healing niche, and I knew that chances are, by hanging around them I knew I was going to eat more of the right stuff despite the temptations everywhere else at this conference.
Now this isn’t always easy when you’re on vacation with friends or family – but take some time to ponder this both in your daily life as well as when you’re traveling – how are the people you’re hanging around with affecting your health and your weight?
There is a very surprising correlation between your income, happiness and even weight – relative to that of your friends.
Your Tiny Habit For Today:
Remember these three things, the availability principle, the energy principle, and the people principle.
Chances are, if you’ve got these bases covered on a daily basis when you’re traveling overseas or for work, you’re good to go and won’t have to worry about accidentally slipping up and falling into a guilt-fueled binge.
The Hawaiian study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780461/