I promised to cover some of the difficulties of traveling while dieting. I don’t like to point out a problem without offering solutions, so I’ll also offer some thoughts on how to prepare and deal with taking a trip. Whether you use them or not is up to you. What I share here will be what has helped me.
On my latest trip, since I was flying for the first time in almost a year—and the first time on this program—I wasn’t sure if my bars and other supplies could be taken in a carryon bag. I didn’t want to check a bag since it was a short trip and I always pack as light as possible. I decided I would have to leave my supplies behind, and see how I would deal with “living off the land,” if you will.
In doing this, let me first share the difficulties. It is important to keep your metabolism active and well fueled with small, appropriate meals (really more like snacks) every 3 hours or so. Since I did not carry them with me, I decided to limit myself to what was available. Neither was I able to prepare my own Lean & Green meals to make sure I stayed within the limits of my program. A third problem can be difficulty with proper hydration. It is essential, in a low-carb program, to get enough fluids (spelled w-a-t-e-r) to keep everything operating efficiently. Well when you are in meetings where copious amounts of coffee are available it can be easy to overdo the caffeine, underdo the water and get dehydrated. A fourth problem of such a meeting filled trip can be the temptations on location. Donuts, sugar-filled fruit bars, chips and candy are often abundant. Our table in these meetings always have small bowls filled with mini-chocolate bars. In the past, I would consume almost a whole bowl by myself. I have to admit chocolate can be tempting still today. This problem of temptations can also be compounded when trying to find food in an airport. The gate for my flight home was right across the hall from a popular chicken place with glossy displays of fried chicken, fried shrimp and fried potatoes, promising great pleasure from their Cajun spices.
An important part of my program has been schedule and structure. An alarm on my phone goes off every 3 hours of the day reminding me to eat something. It can be hard when the alarm goes off and there is nothing for you to eat, or everything available will torpedo your program.
So how can we deal with these? One of my interests is ethics, and I’ve been reading a book called Blind Spots: Why we fail to do what’s right and what to do about it, written by Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel. It discusses situations where we know what is ethical (the right thing to do), but fail to either notice that we are facing an ethical choice or simply fail to choose the ethical action. An important point in the book is the difference between what we know we should do and what we want to do. Many who give one answer when asked what they should do, will often do the exact opposite when faced with what they want to do. The authors offered several ways to help with such tempting times and to prepare for doing better. I could easily see many of these applied quite well to the situation I found myself in on this trip—the temptation to eat what I know I should not.
One recommendation is pre-planning, as I have spoken about in the past. However, preplanning for a meal out at a restaurant and preplanning for a two day trip away from home are very different. However, the preplanning here goes beyond simply “I will eat this and not that”, since I have no way of being sure what will and will not be available. The authors recommend thinking through the reasons a course of action will be tempting. I knew I would face temptations to break my diet. I could easily foresee that. However, rather than simply accepting the fact of being tempted, I thought about why these temptations would be so powerful, and what would actually cause them. Let me list a few reasons this trip would be fraught with temptations:
- I would be spending two days with friends who were in no way limited in what they ate. It would be wrong to expect them to choose restaurants, snacks, etc. based on my dietary needs. The temptation comes from thinking, “It would be easier on my friends if I just broke my diet—after all I can just go back on it later.” I could cheat for the good of my friends.
- There is no way to eat only what I should in the amount and at the times I need, so it would be better to just drop the whole thing during the trip and pick it up later.
- “I’ve done so well for the last few months, lost lots of weight, so I deserve a break; I deserve a treat; I can relax and enjoy what I’ve already done.”
- “Nothing encourages good conversation and good fellowship like a meal shared, so it would be better to just eat like my friends.”
- There will be piles of candy, sugary bars, and cans of soda and juice.
- “Hey! Juice is healthy! Right?” This one is quite common when others don’t understand the impact of sugars—“Oh, you’re on a diet? We have juice (or fruit, or…).” It would be easier to just eat whatever is offered rather than dealing with all the questions that come up.
- “I’m going to break my diet one way or the other. Either I won’t eat on schedule, or I won’t eat the right things. Doing without will be harder.”
- “This diet has been so easy. I can just drop it for a couple days and pick it up later.”
There were others as well, but these are a good sample of why we are tempted to eat what we know we shouldn’t. So how does one prepare for facing them? There are steps to take and decisions that must be made before the temptations hit.
After considering all these, I made some decisions:
- When faced with either eat something not permitted or eat nothing even though my schedule says I am supposed to eat something, which will I choose? I decided that eating something forbidden meant dropping out of fat burn, risking carb cravings, and then dealing with days of trying to white knuckle my way back into fat burn. Refraining from eating when supposed to meant slowing my metabolism (and weight loss), but this could fairly quickly be corrected upon returning home. Because of this I decided when making such a choice I would choose right foods over right schedule.
- Is it worth risking my choices and returning to unhealthy practices for a few hours of enjoyment with my friends? Absolutely not! On this trip, my diet would take priority over my friends.
- I am not done with weight loss, so I do not deserve a break. Besides, the very thought that I can take a break and eat what I want shows I have not fully integrated these choices as a way of life. Since this is true, I cannot choose to break my program. If these were my way of life, then the things I am not supposed to eat would no longer be as appealing.
- It is better to deal with the questions about why I can’t have ‘healthy’ things like juice, rice or fruit than to deal with the difficulty of turning my own mind, emotions and body back to good habits.
- The diet may have been easy, but this does not mean it will be easy going back on it. Besides, this thought itself shows I have not fully integrated these choices as a lifestyle. If I break it now, I am starting over and it will take even longer to ingrain these habits in my life.
On the trip, I stayed as close as possible to permissible things. Believe me, when you go out and chicken fried steak is available (in a place you know makes a good one) it is hard to order grilled fish. It is also hard to scrape the rice off of that fish—since everything healthy in that restaurant included rice and the fish was laid over the top of a pile of rice.
I often went many hours without eating any real food or what I should. Right next to the bowls of candy there was a bowl of pistachios. I ate pistachios to curb my appetite and to try to keep my metabolism where it should be. I had more coffee than I should and tried to force myself to grab the occasional bottle of water—I did better some times than others.
In the hotel breakfast I stuck with scrambled eggs and sausage. I figured if I was going to splurge on sugar/carbs or on fat, it was better to have too much fat and not deal with carb cravings or with falling out of fat burn. I was burning fat, so it made since that it would just mean it was better to have more of what I wanted to burn than what I didn’t want to burn.
So, you might wonder how the trip went. When I got home, the first thing I did was check my urine with a Ketostix to see if I was still in fat burn. I was. This hadn’t changed even though I had just spent two days with very limited resources and making careful choices while traveling and sitting in meetings. This morning I weighed myself and between the day before the trip and the first weigh-in after the trip I had lost one pound. Better to lose just one in two days than to gain one. My energy level is fine. I was quickly able to get back to schedule and will continue on.
Dieting is hard. Keeping on plan takes effort and hard work at times. But it’s worth it. If you don’t think it is, then look at the pictures of me before I started and where I am right now. It is hard, but that change took me 3 and a half months. Am I glad I did the work? You had better believe it!