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The Traveler's Diet: How to Slim Down on the Road

by Joe Henley Aug 26, 2009
Think budget travel means you have to forgo all the good stuff? Well, it might just help you lose those unwanted pounds.

IT SHOULD GO without saying that travel is for everyone, not just the svelte and the toned. Nevertheless, airlines such as Southwest, United and Continental, among others, are beginning to charge larger passengers.

Or, in their terms, those who can’t fit into 17-inch economy seats with the armrests down and their seatbelts buckled must pay for a second seat or upgrade to a larger, considerably more expensive one.

Struggling with one’s weight is never easy, even without the apparent discrimination that many of us either subconsciously or, in the case of certain airlines, overtly expose our larger brothers and sisters to.

But in spite of the apparent onset of restrictions facing the third-trip-to-the-buffet crowd and those who are just plain genetically predisposed to packing on pounds, budget travel can actually be a good way to lose weight.

Change Your Mindset

If money is no object, of course it’s possible, and even probable, that you’ll gain weight while traveling. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even if you have some extra cash to play around with, travel as though you have to consider every dollar.

Most budget travelers I know would much rather cut a few dollars here and there from their food fund than cut a trip short and indulge their culinary fantasies. By no means is this statement meant to advocate self-starvation, but for people who are chronic overeaters and compulsive snackers at home, being far away from the familiar cookie jar can be a good way to cut down on between-meal indulgences.

And remember, the less you snack, the longer you’ll be able to stretch your travel dollars.

Take Advantage of Smaller Portions

In many places, especially Asia, food portions are in general, visibly smaller than they are in the West. This means travelers there will likely be less liable to overeat. Over-drink, perhaps, but overeat? Only after over-drinking.

What’s more, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating less can, over time, actually reduce the capacity of the stomach by up to 36 percent, meaning you’ll feel fuller sooner, and eat less.

Be Conscious of Cultural Differences

In places where being overweight is the norm, such as the newly-crowned monarch of the rotund new millennium, Australia, being “drought and famine resistant,” as Homer Simpson once famously described having a spare Michelin around one’s midsection, will not likely draw any untoward comments or unwelcome stares.

However, there are places, and even whole continents, such as Asia once again, where it is far more common to see stick-thin men and women than it is to see overlapping underbellies and thighs-a-chaffing. This means the larger among us may, unfortunately, be met with the occasional seemingly socially awkward comment while abroad.

A Case Study

“My god, you’ve gotten fat.” My former roommate, a once very slender and fit Kiwi who had indeed put on a pound or two, but was by no means “fat” in the Western sense, was visibly taken aback.

In Taiwan such remarks are not seen as malicious, but more of a sign of concern for one’s health.

After all, this was the opening remark of a woman with whom he had arranged to meet for a date in a crowded Taipei night market after they had met a few weeks previously.

But this woman was Taiwanese, and in Taiwan such remarks are not seen as malicious, but more of a sign of concern for one’s health.

Travel as a Tool of Physical Reinvention

So what does this have to do with the rest of the chunky jet set?

Simply this: If you are self-conscious about your weight, use travel as an opportunity to do something about it. Invent a healthier, slimmer new you. Explore new cities, or even your own city, on foot or by bike. You’ll save money on transport, discover muscles you never knew you had, and extend your potential travel time all at once.

If you prefer biking to walking, but don’t want to haul your bike overseas, take advantage of the fact that more and more cities, such as Taipei, Milan, Montreal and Paris, just to name a few, are implementing free or low-cost bike share programs.

For a fat-melting one-two punch, research the top health food joints in cities you plan to visit ahead of time, type in their addresses on Google Maps, and when you arrive in said cities, make walking or biking to the restaurants from your hostel a part of your daily routine.

And if you, like my ex-roommate, find yourself in a situation similar to the one he faced, try to take it in stride and remember that it’s likely a cultural difference, not a bumptious attempt at public belittlement.

Many better men than I have pointed out how good travel can be for the mind and the spirit. Make it good for your physical well-being too.

What do you think of the traveler’s diet? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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