How to Stay on a Diet While Traveling

Jeremy Michael Cohen

I’m an adherent of the slow-carb diet advocated by Tim Ferriss. I’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to it for a year straight. In the past, I’ve been on it for long chunks of months, too. The diet is pretty straightforward. I can eat vegetables, meat, beans/lentils, and I get one “cheat day” per week to eat whatever I like.

But sticking to it while traveling can be tough.

Traveling presents some serious obstacles to staying on a diet. Strange places have strange foods that might not lend themselves to a particular diet. Breaking your normal routine seems to make it easier to break your diet. And, something about travel is indulgent. We feel like we should indulge ourselves with food when we do travel.

Read on for some suggestions how to maintain your diet (which can be any diet you so choose) while you’re on the road.

Set Clear and Simple Rules

Make the rules of your diet abundantly clear and as simple as possible. A vague, hard to keep diet would be “eat less than I normally do every day” or “eat healthier.”

What’s normal? What happens if you binge at lunch? What should you be consuming and avoiding? What if your meal is horribly unhealthy but the portions are small?

Those vague diets sound promising, but those are the plans at which nearly every dieter fails. The more concrete the rules of your diet are, the easier it’ll be to follow. Even a draconian diet will be easier to adhere to on the road if the guidelines are clear.

Clear, firm rules like “eat five servings of whole grains per day” or “don’t eat potatoes” can be kept on the road.

If your doctor has prescribed a diet or if you’ve found a diet book you love, write out a list of the rules of the diet. Make the rules unbreakable and try to sum up the diet in less than ten bullet points. This is the most important tip. Keep referring back to your list of rules.

Don’t Cheat

Stick to the rules of your diet… no matter what. Falling off the bandwagon back home makes it too easy to abandon a diet. Falling off the bandwagon on the road nearly guarantees failure.

Cheat (Day)

Observe a cheat day on your diet. I cheat every Saturday and eat whatever I want. It’s much better to watch what you eat six days a week than eat like garbage every day because you can’t faithfully stick to a diet every single day.

Make your cheat day one of the rules of your diet. Then savor the hell out of it.

Cook For Yourself

Traveling doesn’t mean you need to eat every meal out. Buy ingredients at a local grocery store and cook for yourself. Use local alternatives that you buy to give yourself a taste of your destination.

Do Your Research

Research the food and traditions of your destination before you arrive. I love eating nice meals when I travel. In fact, it’s a major reason I travel in the first place. Sadly, going out to eat might be the easiest way to break a diet.

Do your homework before you leave. If you’re not permitted sugar on your diet, research whether the favorite dishes of your destination are made with sugar. If they are, don’t eat those dishes or save them for your cheat day. And if you find a new food on the road that you’re dying to try, spend ten minutes at an internet cafe researching it.

Don’t let ignorance ruin your diet.

Make it Public

Tell your traveling partner(s) and/or new friends that you’re on a diet. Don’t be shy about it because they’re not going to care about your eating habits.

Many people will go out of their way to help you observe your diet if you clearly explain its requirements to them.

Remember: It’s Your Diet

Don’t try to force your diet on anyone. If you’re willing to devote yourself to a diet, you’ve got to be pretty convinced that it’s great.

But that doesn’t mean that anyone else has to be on it. If the people around you don’t feel threatened by your diet, they’ll appreciate your effort a lot more.

Prep for Transit Time

Buy diet-safe food for your plane, train, and bus rides.

I’ve personally found that airports are the hardest place in the universe in which to find healthy meals. Likewise, long commutes of any type lend themselves to binging on junk food because it’s oftentimes the only thing that’s available.

Stick some food that’s diet-safe in your backpack before you leave your house or hostel for the next leg of your trip.

Seeing is Believing

Eat food that’s made in front of your eyes. You’ll be able to tell what’s going into it and whether you can eat it.

Focus on Other Aspects of Your Trip

Embrace that your trip is not all about food. Make this a conscious decision before you leave. I do this when I’m on a super-tight budget and know that I’ll be eating less than stellar food on the road, and I do it when I’m on a diet, too.

Make the decision that your trip is about seeing new places, experiencing new things, and meeting new people but that new food won’t be important to you. It works.

It’s easy to remember that cheeseburgers and pastries don’t make us happy when we feel like crap after we eat them. Remember that crappy feeling and how much it pales in comparison to new experiences.

Ask for Advice

Seek out people that are on your diet and ask them how they’ve successfully managed trips in the past. The internet is full of amazing forums. Or, post your question on Quora.

Giant doughnut

The Alternative

I have an alternative to offer. It’ll assure that you’ll never break your diet or feel guilty.

Forget your diet altogether while you travel.

Make sure that the trip you’re about to take is special enough that it deserves priority over your diet. You’re not just leaving home, but you’re traveling in every sense of the word. Promise yourself that you’ll eat like a local. Don’t just enjoy every bite; truly love it.

Friends always ask me, “What would it take for you to drop your diet?” And I always respond, “If I were going to Tuscany for three months, I’d forget the diet altogether and eat to my heart’s content.”

This alternative is perfect for those who save up to take one great trip a year. For those who know that they may be visiting a destination for the first and last time. For those who let travel transform them.

And when you get back home, get back on your diet. It’ll be much easier to adhere to your diet knowing that the food you savored while traveling will always taste better than what’s at home.


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