Once upon a time, I felt very worried about weight gain when I travelled. I used to tell fellow travellers that I was vegetarian to avoid sharing meals or justify not eating.
‘Vegetarian’ was my codeword for really being on an #anxiousaboutfood diet.
Yet I’d swing in two extremes. If I wasn’t sticking to salad and water, I was bingeing on 5 empanadas.
These days, I do try to strike a middle ground. I thought I’d share a few highlights from my recent trip to Spain and Portugal to explain how to balance(ish) the joy of travel with a ‘non-diet’ approach to health.
Does she eat 3 pastries a day?!
If you checked out my Instagram account before Christmas, it would seem like I only lived off churros and vino! But this is definitely not the full story, so here’s a look at some highlights and was happening behind the scenes.
Firstly, it IS true (as per Instagram) that I fell in love with Portuguese pastries…
Pasteis de nata are pure ecstasy! Better than French macaroons, Italian gelato, Belgium waffles or any dessert I’ve tried overseas.
Each morning in Portugal, Steve and I would wake up and explore the city we were staying in, before scouting out a bakery for espresso + nata. To our delight, we even found a cafe in Lisbon where you can watch the Chefs making them live:
Some mornings though, I could feel my body crying out for vitamins! Unlike my earlier days as a traveller, this wasn’t a ‘guilt’ thing but rather a genuine craving that Intuitive Eating allows me to be in tune with. So some days, breakfasts would look more like this ?(Or even just a piece of fruit from the markets – less glamorous.)
Dinners could be epic and wonderful at times as well. We found a restaurant in Portugal that served food that was NOT what it seemed! These ‘ferrero rocher’ were actually truffle infused pate with edible gold leaf:
On the other hand, whilst these patatas bravas look simple, they were one of the best dinners we had in Spain!
The thing about eating rich food like this mindfully, is that your appetite and natural food cravings do tend to adjust if you are listening to your body’s feedback. For example, this pizza and beer in Madrid felt fabulous at the time:
…Just not so good the next morning! This is not something to feel guilty about, rather something to listen and attend to. We walked a lot the next day and stuck to food that felt nourishing and a little lighter. Again, to reiterate here, this was not something I did out of guilt or compensation. It was an act of self-care that purely felt good after eating heavy food the night before.
The other thing that I don’t usually share ‘behind the scenes’ when we travel is how active we are. Steve and I walked an average of 14km each day – again, not because we felt we had to or were trying to exercise. For us, this is a natural product of being excited to see new cities and explore. We just love getting out and about!
Like this magic morning when we hiked along the coastline of Lagos:
Or explored these stunning grottos by boat:
Or enjoyed local ‘mato’ after hiking in Monsterrat:
This isn’t ‘exercise’. To me, it is simply living! Travelling with a sense of wonder.
Travelling with a ‘non-diet approach’ is an imperfect balancing act. On one hand, I do my best to enjoy new wonderful foods without guilt. On the other hand, I also try to stay in tune with my body and what feels good, so that I come home feeling vibrant and refreshed.
Here are some ideas you can try:
1) Make peace. Accept in advance that you will be outside your normal food routine when you travel. Feeling like you’ve got to ‘stick to a diet’ or ‘be totally healthy’ when you travel is a recipe for anxiety.
2) Listen to your hunger and fullness signals. The body is beautifully equipped to maintain your weight when you are listening to its messages. Eat without guilt when you are hungry and stop eating when that hunger’s gone, knowing you can come back and enjoy more any time that you feel hungry again.
3) Say no to FOMO. Don’t eat just so you don’t miss out! Choose to eat when you are truly ready and focus on maximum pleasure in that meal. You will get more satisfaction from the food you opt to eat that way.
4) Move (without being obsessive about it). Keep your body moving in a way that feels good for you. Mix it up and seek a little balance. Ate churros for lunch? No problem, perhaps a plant based dinner and a gentle stroll would feel really nourishing after that.
5) Know when your body needs a break. After two weeks of eating rich dinners, Steve and I rented accomodation for a few nights where we could cook a few meals ourselves. Simple, nutritious fare felt soooo good at that time and it is good for the budget too!
6) Eat by your body, not the clock. Our normal eating routine was totally out of sync whilst we were away…Because our eating and exercise routine was totally different! At home, I’m a 3 meals a day + regular snacks kinda girl. In Spain, we often only ate 2 meals a day – they were bigguns and our bodies didn’t feel like eating more without the higher intensity training to drive our appetites.
7) Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can be hard to do when you’re on the road (and many countries don’t value public toilets the way Australia does!) but dehydration can be confused with hunger.
8) Let go a little. Is worrying about your body image or a few kilo’s worth stealing enjoyment away from a holiday that you’ve worked all year to enjoy? Remember – for most of us, a few treats is not going to make a huge impact to your health. The habitual, routine stuff that you’re following at home is what really contributes to our wellness in the long run.
Food is a gateway to new culture and travel experiences. I hope these tips help you to enjoy your next trip and the amazing flavours that being in a new country can bring!
Yours in food and happiness,