Travel can seem like just another complication for those of us following a diet protocol due to complex health situations. Whether we’re choosing foods that are free of added sugars to reduce inflammation, trying a low-FODMAPs approach to IBS, or utilizing some other restorative protocol, it can be a challenge to follow the nutrition guidelines that promote healing – even when we’re on home terrain! Add in the uncertainties of travel and it can feel overwhelming to make the right choices. Finding a balance between adhering to our diet plans and being flexible on the go may seem impossible. For those who delight in sampling novel foods in foreign locales, it can even feel like a punishment to imagine forgoing that due to a diet restriction!
It may be tempting to give up on our food intentions, following the easier route of eating whatever is available, whether it’s sustaining or not. If we do so, we risk exacerbating difficult health conditions, setting ourselves back from reaching our goals for whole-body energy, and reinforcing detrimental behaviors. There are ways to find balance on the road, and arrive back home feeling good after traveling while on a restricted diet. Here’s how to enjoy the experience and still stay (mostly) on track with your plan.
Know where you’re going:
This includes the actual destination and the reason you are traveling. Needs and options will be different if you are traveling for a work conference, where you may be consigned to catered buffet luncheons with colleagues, vs. taking a family road trip, where you may have to make some road-side pit-stops to refuel the gang along with the car.
Plan ahead for your diet protocol:
Preparation is non-negotiable for maintaining a healthy balance between your diet protocol and the demands of travel.
- Research your options in advance and be proactive about seeking out safe ones. Consider calling the hotel to request a gluten- or oxalate-free menu, for example. Be prepared to give very specific ideas of what will work for you, and be gracious and appreciative of their extra efforts. Look for accommodations that offer small kitchenettes, so you can prepare simple, nutritious meals during your stay with ingredients from a local store.
- Investigate grocery or convenience stores along your way – you may be able to find a banana and a package of nuts at a c-store, for instance, or grab the fixin’s for a real-food meal at an area market.
- Continue advance planning once you arrive at your destination. Review menus online for restaurants you are considering, and don’t be afraid to make special requests. Hospitality staff want to provide safe and satisfying meals to their patrons. When they succeed at doing so for you, consider sending a note of appreciation to employees (and supervisors) after the trip is over. Positive feedback makes an establishment more likely to go the extra distance for diners with special diets, and allows you to reflect on your journey with gratitude – a double win!
- The fun part of planning ahead is identifying local options that may be safe for you. There is a vast world of delicious ethnic options out there, many of them made with whole, real food ingredients you can be confident about including in your diet protocol.
- Consider consulting with your nutritionist before you leave, to game-plan best options and make any adjustments to your plan to help you meet the rigors of the road with grace and digestive ease.
Another pro-tip is to carry with you as much food as possible that meets your needs. When my vegan daughter and I were planning a trip to India, she was horrified to discover that many of the plant-based curries would likely contain ghee (clarified butter). We stashed heaps of plain oatmeal packets, nuts, and dried fruit in our luggage – and even a few pieces of fresh produce that travel well, like apples and carrots. Sure, our bags were bigger and heavier at the start of the trip with all that food packed in, but we knew we would always have something on hand that we could feel good about eating, no matter what was available locally. And hey – we returned home several kilos lighter, after eating it all – at least, our luggage was lighter!
Choose your priorities:
You may follow some dietary restrictions at home that could be flexed while on the road without it turning into a total diet meltdown. There are some aspects of your diet protocol that are absolute musts – such as gluten-free for a person with celiac, or avoiding added sugars for someone struggling with food addiction. Other food preferences may offer more wiggle room – for instance, if you prefer to use only whole-grain flours at home, you may be able to bend on that and eat more refined white flour products while traveling. On the other hand, maybe you’ll get lucky and find a whole-wheat croissant in Paris!
Frame your diet protocol as a positive:
This can all feel like drudge work, or it can be a fun and challenging game to find ways to stay radiantly healthy while savoring what the trip has to offer. Frame your situation in the positive – “I am choosing to eat this way” and “I get to eat such and such” are much more energizing and compelling than “I have to eat this way” or “I can’t eat any of those”. Your diet protocol is helping you heal and maximize your vibrant energy and wellbeing! Pump up your motivation by reminding yourself how satisfied you’ll feel after each meal, and when you arrive home, by making better-for-you choices on your journey.
Practice imperfection and compassion:
The wonder of travel lies partly in how it pushes us out of our comfort zones. With the familiarity of our food routine disrupted, accepting that we are unlikely to follow our diet protocol to perfection will allow us to experience more acceptance and lightness on the journey. Add in a good dollop of self-compassion for any of the ways we fall short on our highest intentions, and we’re on our way to an easeful, mostly-healthy, and satisfying trip – no matter where we travel!