Peanut M&Ms. Or, as I refer to them, Mine-oh-Mines. What is it about these colorful melt-in-your-mouth, not-in-your-hand candies that has them spark to life—like in the commercials—when I travel?
At home, a guilt-free KIND bar is enough to satisfy my sweet cravings, but as soon as I enter an airport, a rainbow runway of these candies leads me to the departure gate.
Do you have different cravings when you travel?
If so, you’re not alone. Many of my clients tell me about their healthy living veering off course when they travel, but why? And how do you avoid the usual self-chastising when you return home? What can you do to make sure your homecoming doesn’t feel like a crash landing?
These are some of the questions I considered during my recent trip with my husband Carlos to the West Coast. A deeper craving for nature, a more relaxed pace, and a certain feeling of expansion fueled this trip. I love Philly, but sometimes these packed row homes, alleyways, and narrow streets feel like they’re closing in on me. The trip to Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon was filled with hikes, catching up with old friends and making new ones, and delicious coffee. I returned to Philly with a well-fed soul.
I mention this craving for expansion because I find that it underlies much of our rebellion against tightly wound food rules that are a product of our even more tightly wound lives. For many, overeating on vacation—or in “real life”—acts as a surrogate for this expanded feeling, a rewarding exhale after a demand filled day.
Then comes vacation…
Since we manage to keep it together so well in “real” life, time away becomes an unconscious permission slip to “blow off some steam.” Rationalization kicks into high gear: But there’s no healthy options at the airport! Just one more dessert. Another glass of wine? Sure, there’s no work in the morning!
Of course there’s nothing wrong with taking it easy on vacation. But what I’ve found is that these choices are often more triggered by a need to release the pressure that builds within us like a teakettle throughout our days. Not monitoring our food choices, coupled with the physical relaxation that comes from sugar, salt, and fat, silences that inner whistle before it becomes a fire alarm.
In Truce with Food, we work to unravel these deep (often unconscious) crevices that make us feel so tightly wound around food and in our lives. Targeting these areas makes consistent healthy eating so much easier—and probable.
When I was in the throws of my own constant food monitoring and weight frustrations, I’d convince myself that I was actually going to be healthier when traveling since I was more likely to find myself in a bikini and around strangers (who I assumed would judge me).
Although it didn’t feel funny at the time.
Once my inevitable vacation overeating would surge, I’d strike a deal with Future Ali: Once I return home, I’m committing to no sugar. No carbs. Lots of veggies. Lean protein. Doubling up on the workouts. Instead of relieving this internal pressure during vacation, having this dreaded strict plan in the future only increased my anxiety.
Knowing deprivation waited for me at home, I ate like it was my last meal…for the entire vacation. And of course, this led to more guilt that didn’t allow me to fully enjoy myself.
Of course, there’s a better way.
Okay, okay, on this latest trip, I did indulge in the previously mentioned M&Ms (and thoroughly enjoyed them) but overall my eating didn’t veer much from the usual. Rather than dreading a return to the East Coast I returned with optimism—even with jet lag—and not feeling like I was “starting over” with my healthy lifestyle.
So, try this next time you are traveling for work or pleasure.
1. Stop bargaining with your future self. Enjoy the present. Give yourself permission to not have to eat extremely clean when you return from vacation. This will decrease the pressure you feel emanating from a future “perfect” you.
2. Taper your blood sugar down gradually when you return. Whether from time zone changes or indulging more, be mindful of the connection between your blood sugar and emotions. If your blood sugar drops dramatically, you’ll be left with more cravings (and frustration) and you’ll feel more depressive and anxious. I tapered down from the delicious Portland coffee to black tea. In my usual routine I drink green tea, but going back to green tea immediately after coffee would have made me exponentially tired and reaching for sugar (likely more M&Ms) as a energy crutch.
3. Sleep, sleep, and sleep. Want a detox? Sleep! Your body detoxes itself when you’re sleeping. I made sure I got 9-10 hours of sleep and that my work load would be light during the week of my return. Also, never underestimate the effectiveness of a power nap.
4. Get back to lots of veggies and/or green smoothies right away. These smoothies never fail to make me feel cleaner after the inevitable string of eating out while away. When my digestion and stomach feel clean, I naturally want to make healthier choices.
5. Set a date to get back to your exercise routine. Make sure it’s a date that accounts for the possibility of getting slammed by “real” life upon your return. Along with the pile of mail, a return home usually comes with facing some of the stuff you needed a break from. For me that included the time and energy intensive process of selling a condo, a full inbox, and some work that had piled up. The idea of exercising in the heat of a 90-minute Bikram yoga class felt more stressful than restorative. Rather than putting that pressure on myself, I set a date on my calendar that would allow me enough space to regroup (and get me excited about working out again).
6. Step away from the M&Ms. That is, have a healthy dessert for the first couple days back. If I wouldn’t have had something healthier on hand (sea salt dark chocolate with almonds), my cravings would have been more intense and, most likely, I would have had to surrender to them the next day. Instead, I allowed myself the dark chocolate for a couple of days and then once my blood sugar was back to normal, I didn’t have any cravings.
Our bodies and minds don’t like extremes. Yet our culture and nutrition climate tell us that if we aren’t “gearing up” for a detox, nutrition plan, or workout routine, then we aren’t doing it right. Yet the reality is quite the opposite.
I want to end by encouraging you to bring some freedom and lightness to your post-vacation routine. Who knows, it may just make you feel more open to other ways food and your weight can be more relaxing than you previously imagined.
Until we meet again, safe (and healthy) travels to you…