Thursday, October 14, 2010

Eating Well on the Road

What I'll be seeing in a day and a half...
I talk with people all the time about how much they want to change their diet to make it healthier.  "I'm so ready," they say.  "I really want to feel better and lose this weight - I feel awful!  Oh, wait.  I'm going on vacation, so I need to put this off until I get back.".... 

At that point I either deduce from their obvious lack of commitment that they are not really up to the task of eating better OR that like most Americans, they don't know that there's an alternative to gaining 10 pounds and feeling like crap on every trip they take.

I don't know when or why as an entire culture we just accepted the idea that where there is travel, gluttony and guilt must follow.  Just because you're not at home doesn't mean you just throw all self control and reason aside - we are better than that.  It takes some preparation and know-how, but it is possible to eat healthily on the road.  In fact, I'm preparing for a 10 day rock climbing trip to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky right now, which is why this is on my mind.  I don't eat factory farmed meat or non-organic produce, so basically all of the food that we will find on our drive through Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky is off-limits.  I don't eat grains, dairy, refined sugar, or potatoes, among other things, so you would imagine that eating anywhere besides in my home, which is carefully situated 2 blocks from Whole Foods, would be next to impossible.  And yet I eat well while I travel.  The moral of the story is that if I can do it with such a limited diet, you can do it, too.  Here's how.

1.  Prepare.  

Part of the reason people overeat or eat things they know they "shouldn't" while they're on a trip is because you're sight-seeing, going to the airport, driving, gambling, whatever - and you forget to eat.  So you get to the point when you're STARVING, and forget all of your reservations about McDonald's and just go for it.  Or you happen to walk by an ice cream shop and make a triple scoop hot fudge sundae your dinner.  Well, your first dinner.  Instead of this, you could have just brought some snacks with you and stored them in a small backpack or your girlfriend's purse.  Bring Lara or Odwalla bars, fruit, nuts, snack sized almond butter packets, beef jerky or hard boiled eggs on the days when you know you'll be busy all day with friends or family.  You don't ever want to let your blood sugar get so low that you're willing to eat anything - it causes everything from migraines to family fights.

2. Prepare more.

We leave on our road trip tonight.  We're going to drive for 19 hours total, making a stop in Salina, KS to camp for the night.  Last night we baked 2 pounds of chicken breasts and some sweet potatoes, cooked up some tapioca crepes, chopped up some salad greens and put them in a bag, bought a bunch of easy to eat fruit and avocados, hard boiled a dozen eggs, made some cauliflower mashers (like mashed potatoes, but with cauliflower instead), put some coconut milk in a jar for easy access (to pour over some fruit or sweet potato for a snack), and made some delicious honey-glazed cashews.  We are now set for the drive - we won't stop once for food, which means we will not eat anything that compromises our health goals or ethics.  This might look different for someone who eats differently than we do, but it's the same concept.  You get a cooler and a container for bulk/canned/boxed foods, fill them with easy-to-access, glass containers or bags filled with prepared foods or easy to assemble ingredients, and you have yourself a portable kitchen.  Don't forget the silverware and a couple of bowls.  We also have a refillable jug of water in the car.  Depending on the size of your cooler and food bin, you could prepare enough food for a week, as long as you have a reliable source of ice.

If you're flying, it changes the situation.  I always bring my own meal for the plane - you are allowed to bring food on the plane, as long as it's not liquid.  Bring some leftovers in a Pyrex container, a homemade sandwich, some hearty pasta, a burger with salad, etc.  And don't forget a snack or two - we're always in airports and planes for longer than we ever think we will be.  In your checked luggage you can bring whatever you want.  What I always end up bringing is stuff like coconut oil, almond butter, organic fruit, gluten free bread (when I ate grains), dates, and other things that my host or host's grocery store might not have.  I have gone so far as to bring nitrate free sandwich meat in my luggage.  It's cold in the luggage compartment of the plane!  

3. Ask for what you need.           

So, you're at your destination and you've been properly chastised by your family or friends for bringing the contents of your refrigerator and pantry with you across the country.  It's OK - at least you will be well fed.  Now you're all going to a restaurant not of your choice and you know that most of what you will be eating at said restaurant will be of the factory farmed, non-organic, high trans-fat, high calorie, high sugar, low nutrient persuasion.  You have 2 options.  Well, I guess 3 if you count the first one.

The first option is to go to the restaurant and have a feeding frenzy - throw hazard to the wind (is that how the saying goes?).  You order too much food, then order some more and then feel like crap - usually this involves constipation/diarrhea, headache, lethargy, the feeling that you actually need a drink, etc.     

The second option is to ask for what you need.  Suggest other restaurants in town that might fit your more refined palette.  This falls under the "prepare" category, as you'll have researched these restaurants beforehand for just this occasion.  You're looking for fresh ingredients, humanely raised animal products, and smaller portion sizes than, say, Denny's.  If you are avoiding gluten, call some restaurants and ask if they have a gluten free menu (many do now) or look at their menu online.  Go to an Asian or Latin/Mexican restaurant where you're guaranteed rice as your main starch option.  Sushi restaurants are a good bet for high quality, simple ingredients (although one of the sushi places around here sells an "Orgasm Roll," which I've heard has about 2,000 calories in it...).

The third option is to go to the restaurant your host suggests and just be prepared to order a factory farmed chicken salad with an oil and vinegar dressing, or something along those lines.  Or baked chicken, veggies and rice.  Or a baked sweet potato, salad and steak.  Most restaurants have these simple ingredients - by asking for them, you just might elicit some questioning looks and comments from the waitstaff and your friends.  It's OK.  At least you'll be well fed.

My boyfriend eating in style on the road.
Literally, he was on the road while he was eating.

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