Having just spent the last few months travelling through Europe I feel like I’m pretty well qualified by now to provide some healthy eating tips if you’re planning a holiday and worried about gaining weight.
Think of Europe and what do you picture?
Probably crusty, delicious baguettes, amazing patisseries, incredible pizza, rich creamy casseroles, succulent fatty meat dishes (pork belly anyone?) and amazing melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. Not to mention the pedigree wines and boutique beers!
If this is what you imagine, then you’re pretty on the money. It’s all this and more – a veritable culinary smorgasbord of tempting delights. Europe is a health eater’s nightmare, particularly a healthy eater who has gotten this way through sheer force of will, not just their natural character.
If you’re anything like me, it’s a daily battle to keep my carb cravings in check, and being face-to-face with so much temptation, and out of your normal routine ups the pressure considerably.
It would be a pretty sad state of affairs if you were to travel in Europe without sampling any of the local cuisine. Not only are you missing out on really experiencing the culture, you’d be boring to travel with and there’s no better way to bring on a food binge than to be overly restrictive with yourself.
After travelling through most of Eastern Europe and having previously spent time in France, here are some healthy eating tips I’ve come up with for how not to make a complete pig of yourself (and undo the progress you’ve made on changing your relationship with food).
Healthy eating tips
- Go easy on the buffet breakfasts.
- Book accommodation where you can self-cater. Air BnB is great if you want an apartment with a kitchen so you can find the local market and source healthy ingredients. Eating out every meal can be hard and is bound to take some sort of toll on your waistline over time.
- Avoid convenience stores and supermarkets (except when you legitimately need to stock-up). I know it can be so much fun to wander aisles in ‘foreign’ supermarkets and convenience stores and I’ll confess I’ve spent too many hours doing just that, marvelling at all the new stuff, noting familiar and unfamiliar brands, giggling at some of the English descriptions.But it’s also then too easy to grab a bit of this and that, just to try it, and the next thing you know you’re headed back to your hotel loaded up with bags of chips and ‘interesting looking’ chocolate biscuits to watch the entire Season 3 of Orange is the New Black (erm…example may or may not be based on actual experience). Not only is this sabotaging, it’s not a ‘real’ cultural experience. You can get chips and chocolate biscuits anywhere.
- Set yourself a simple rule. For example, “today I’m not eating wheat”. This gives you range to try anything else that’s new and/or culturally unique, within some parameters. Or, today is a no-sugar today. So you can enjoy the savoury breads but nothing sweet. When I started writing this post I was on day 6 of Operation No Icecream, after realising I had had one icecream a day for the past few weeks (cut me some slack – there was a heat wave on in the Balkans).
- We eat with our eyes. So while it can be fun to gaze into the display cabinet of a bakery and “ooh” and “ahh” about how amazing everything looks, some days you’re better off crossing the street or waiting outside while your travel buddy goes in. Don’t wander in, “just for a look” unless you’re giving yourself advance permission to try something.
- When you’re making a choice of what to have, go for the least damaging option. This may sound obvious but that knowledge can fall away when you’re face-to-face with so much choice, all equally delicious, and the next thing you know you’re face-first in a mixed berry Danish, rather than a small square of locally made dark chocolate. I recall feeling very virtuous ordering a baked cinnamon apple rather than a slice of cake for dessert at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. And it was delicious! Was I depriving myself? Not on your life.
- Don’t buy food-based presents for other people intending to send them home. Depending on your particular food issues, it’s too risky that by 10pm that night you’ll be opening that box of gourmet cookies up and deciding never to ever tell anyone.
- Set some time scales around when to indulge. For example there might one day a week – like ‘fuck-it Friday’ when you go all out and don’t worry about the calories. Or, you allow one small treat a day, ensuring that your treat is actually some local delicacy, rather than just a generic chocolate bar that can you find in any convenience store around the world. Alternatively, when you move into a new country, have one slap-up meal where you try everything new and yummy that’s on offer, and the rest of the time try to eat as close to how you would eat at home as you can.
If you find none of the above strategies work for you, then you’d better surrender your passport and just not travel. I’m joking of course. IF you find these strategies don’t work, then don’t worry, just enjoy the holiday and know that when you’re home and back into routine, you’ll find the will to work your butt off and lose that excess holiday flab in no time at all.
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PPS. All images sourced from Bigstock.com.