When I was studying abroad, I remember hearing from someone who wasn’t American that their impression was that half of Americans eat greasy, unhealthy food all the time and the other half is obsessed with fitness and dieting. I mean…not completely inaccurate?
While I have been out of commission with a broken foot for the past few months, prior to that I was working out a lot more often than I used to, and I was really happy with the results I was seeing. More recently, my housemates and I have been attempting a “house diet.” This mostly means a lot of healthy smoothies with the occasional binging of sugary food and alcohol. Although our diet isn’t as structured as it probably should be, it means we have healthier snacks in the house—instead of an abundance of cookies and ice cream like before—and when I’m hungry in between meals, I try to grab fruit or carrot sticks instead of junk food. I have also stopped eating meat other than fish (for the most part; dairy is still fair game, and I cheated on my vegetarianism when my housemate made hamburger helper last week). I was surprised to find I’ve dropped a couple pounds over the last two months—the healthier snack choices are paying off.
I was also relieved because I’m finally losing the last of the weight I put on during my study abroad program last spring. I tried a lot of great foods while I was traveling around Europe, but that definitely had its consequences. And even though Europe is known for fewer chemicals/preservatives and smaller portions, I still tend to eat more when I travel than when I’m at home.
Long-term travel (multiple weeks, in which eating habits are formed) is different from a trip of a few days to a week (a blip on your weight/metabolism scale). If I studied abroad again, what would I do differently? Here are my top recommendations for maintaining a healthy diet during longer periods of travel.
Avoid fast food
It’s so easy to stop at McDonald’s or KFC or another fast food restaurant with high-calorie offerings. I was surprised at how many calories some of the foods I found in Europe had.
If you can cook in your hostel, that’s probably a healthier (and cheaper!) option—try pasta with precooked chicken, soup, or homemade sandwiches. Another option is looking into programs like Meal Sharing and Eat With, which allow you to cook dinner with a local family.
If you don’t have access to a kitchen, choose foods that are high in protein or vegetables when you eat out, and avoid ones with tons of carbs (I’m looking at you, adult mac and cheese).
This was my biggest problem when I was abroad because I wanted to try everything! On top of portions at individual meals, portion control means having the self control to limit yourself to one ice cream per day and to not get dessert or alcohol with every meal. I promise, chocolate cake tastes the same in Europe as it does back home.
In general, you will probably get a smaller amount of food when you eat out in Europe than you would in America. But there are a few exceptions, such as pizza—they will serve you an entire pizza for the price of a normal meal. If this happens, and you get more food than you know you should eat, either share it with a friend or save some for tomorrow. European servers might give you a weird look if you ask for a to-go box, but they will wrap up the food for you somehow.
The more I eat, the more I want to eat, especially when it comes to sugar. Limit yourself to healthy amounts from the start, and it will be easier to ignore treats that cross your path later on in the day.
Snack on fruits and vegetables
Apples, carrots, oranges, celery, sliced cucumber, and dried fruit are all easily portable and are a good go-to instead of sugary biscuits (I had a particular weakness for Walkers shortbread). Nuts or popcorn, as long as they don’t have too much salt, are also healthier snack options.
Make your meals count
If you eat a lot of empty calories and junk food, you won’t feel full, and you will be tempted to keep eating. Choose foods that have a lot of protein to keep you full. Some of the foods I eat all the time at home are cottage cheese, eggs, Greek yogurt, chia seeds, carrots, and strawberries. Chicken is pretty high in protein; some other foods that are relatively low-calorie but still have a lot of protein are beans and peas, corn, asparagus, oats, potatoes and sweet potatoes, almonds, spinach, fish, broccoli, and avocado. Look for these foods on the menu when you go out.
Schedule your meals
I tend to have weird sleep and meal schedules when I travel, but the more you can regulate your eating, the better it is for your body. Try to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at similar times each day (it doesn’t have to be exact), and it’s okay to snack a bit in between.
Don’t feel guilty about treats
There’s nothing wrong with buying delicious desserts now and then; after all, you want to enjoy your trip and experience local foods. The biggest thing I’ve learned on my journey towards healthier eating is that consistency matters. If you generally eat healthy, then a few biscuits here and a gelato there are not going to hurt. Remember to control the amounts (don’t eat the entire box of biscuits, tub of peanut butter, or chocolate bar in one sitting; I did all of those things when I was abroad) and keep them as treats, not regular purchases. Try to buy individually sized snacks instead of shareable ones if you’re traveling alone.
What have you learned about food and meals during your travel experiences?
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