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A Year of Well-Being: Food as a Source of Energy

I’m writing this article as I sit in a hotel, with a mini-fridge, no kitchenette and the prospect of another three days of not-so-clean eating. In our house, my husband and I meal prep and pre-plan our dinners, made-at-home, mostly from scratch. We moderate our sugar intake, our salt intake, etc. We’re pretty mindful of what we eat, even if it’s not always clean – balance after all is what creates joy.

I know how important it is to eat healthy. I know that when I’ve had food that is too heavy or fatty I’m exhausted and unenergetic. When I don’t have enough to eat or drink I get a headache and am pretty non-functional. To thrive, to be the best me I can be, I need to eat and hydrate on time, healthy, and consistently.

When you don’t have enough to eat or eat something unhealthy – how do you feel?

Despite our beliefs to the contrary, eating while moving is not new. As long as people have left their homes to explore the beyond, they have packed foods to go with them. That might be hardtack in Europe, jerkies and hard cheese in Mongolia, or Lembas in Middle Earth – humans have cured and dried vegetables, meats, fruits, and yes even milk to travel to parts unknown.

We, the descendants of such explorers, have access to granola bars (of immense variety), pre-packaged cookies, chips, dried fruit, nuts and more. Not only that, when we travel via plane, train, or boat, we can even get hot food in a tray. So, how come in all this abundance of choice I always feel a little lost when trying to navigate food on trips?

Many of us already know that we should pack fruit and nuts to go. We also know that we should be mindful when we eat, focusing on savoring and acknowledging our food for energy/fulfillment, so that we don’t overeat. But doing all that is hard! We have a lot of priorities and are asked to do a lot – naturally, we push back things like eating on time or what’s good for us or perhaps even paying attention to what we eat.

Especially when traveling, we may not have the words to ask for something we want like

fruit. In addition, we may be challenged with timezone changes, finding information on what is or isn’t healthy, and navigating our options. In much more exciting news, you can also find new on-the-go snacks that might be healthier than those you have previously encountered. I know while traveling in Vietnam I learned about sesame candy snacks. My mom makes something similar and also makes cereal namkeen – both of which can be filling and relatively healthy snacks. I think that these “hardier” snacks often help as I transition when fruit isn’t going to make the long flights 😊

How can we eat healthy as we move and transition?

1. Adapt to the new timezone: Like sleep, our bodies can become confused when changing time zones and trying to eat on time can help it adjust more quickly. It can also help us ensure that we aren’t overeating or challenging our body in adapting by eating at midnight. This can be hard when transitioning across multiple timezones or arriving late at night and excited about a certain food at your destination. Taking the time to evaluate when you are flying out, what time it will be at your destination and what times you want to eat in transit can help you maximize your body’s adaptation. This might be more challenging on a flight – but often long-haul flights will have snacks that have more than enough calories to make up for a meal.

2. Diversify your snacks. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found my way to something “tastier” than what I have packed because I didn’t want what I packed. By giving myself multiple options – sweet, salty, mixed, loose, and packed – I often find myself with limited excuses to seek out alternatives. I also tend to prioritize saving money especially in transit locations where the upcharge can be steep. I’ve also found a few different fruits like grapes, oranges, and bananas can help me feel less locked in to one food even if they are all of the same type.

3. Hydrate. Prioritizing your water intake can help you stay ahead of the curve. This is both in the case of travel in say a plane where you are likely to dehydrate by virtue of the air pressure and when you arrive in a new location. I know that as I lose or have to find new access to water either through a filter or new tap I often forget to drink as much water. Keeping a water bottle with you and maintaining a goal of how many bottles you want to drink in a day can help mitigate this. I also ask for water when eating out – I know this isn’t as fun as a new drink – but keeping hydrated is the difference between exhaustion and thriving in a new place.

Last tip on hydration – for those who drink enough to lose electrolytes or are going into pretty hot areas (both dry and humid) I like electrolyte add ins. I personally use Nuun, but there are tons of companies out there, including Gatorade. These usually come in dissolvable tabs or powder that you can carry and drop into water. I use them before I know I’ll be doing something strenuous or being out in the heat for several hours – they’ve significantly shifted my capacity to do these things, which would otherwise wipe me out, no matter how much water I drank.

4. Prioritize food. For many of you I’m probably finally speaking your language. If Instagram is any indication, food is a priority for many of us! Especially in the midst of the pandemic many of us have found cooking experimental, comfort, and necessary. While cooking while we travel can be challenging, depending on the circumstance, prioritizing what we eat and how and where can help us bring some of the mindfulness into our eating that can help us control what we eat and how we savor it. I know many folks plan for food tours and have a list of the places they want to eat or food they want to try in a new location and especially when coming home. By having the list and a plan to tackle that we can eat in moderation and savor each morsel making ourselves more aware of the food we partake in and how it works within the system to provide us with more energy.

5. Take a few staples with you. I know this sounds crazy. As I mentioned earlier, we cook a lot in our house. I have found that if I am moving and pack about a cup of rice and a cup of lentils along with some basic spices (basic for my cooking, each person has their own style). I can usually make myself something comforting for the first week or so in a new destination. This has proven time and again to help me settle in, feel comfortable (or at least in control of one thing), and given me the time and space to navigate a new place. Finding your staples and requirements quickly upon arriving can feel overwhelming, having this as a backup can help you establish at least a baseline initially and that can feel like welcome space in a new environment.

What tips do you have?

What snacks do you pack that have worked time and again – what about them is so versatile? What do you pack to help yourself settle into a new place?

What do you know you will miss and how do you accommodate that?

How do you stay hydrated?

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