When you travel for work or for play, it could seem impossible to keep up with your desired eating habits. I have two simple tricks for you. First, I’ve found that by focusing more on my macro goals and cravings, and less on the philosophical “goodness” of an item, I can get by by assembling creative food piles. Then second, I believe in being sensible about my approach to my eating goals and honoring my intentions.
Let’s tackle the first one. My macros are 5% carbs, 10% protein, and 85% healthy fats. But if I cannot find healthy fats then I just eat whatever fats I see, knowing I can go back to “good” fats when I’m home. It’s better than lapsing back to bad carbs.
By focusing on fats and keeping carbs down, I can stay full and happy enough to stay keto which has the important benefit of “not hungry” and “no cravings.” When I’m on a trip, I focus first on picking the lowest carb items, usually a straight up protein, and then i look to smother it in something creamy like guacamole, hollandaise, or non-sweet dressing. Common examples would be salads, entrees with substitutions, or appetizer small plates. Some common business traveler options I like are Cobb salad, Taco and Taco salad, Wedge salad with bacon, or a Caesar salad with grilled chicken or fish, extra parmesan and extra dressing on the side. This is especially useful since some restaurants have dry chicken (hello mediocre restaurant, meet sous vide). Remember to ask them to omit the more carb-laden toppings like croutons, dried fruits, and tortilla strips. Here are the modifications I make for salads, entrees and small plates:
- Cobb salad – add protein, choose non-sweet dressing
- Tacos/Taco Salad – eat fillings ignoring shell, ask for no beans no rice
- Wedge salad – usually requires no modifications except extra blue cheese or ranch depending on your preference
- Caesar salad – no croutons, extra cheese, extra dressing on side
- Buffalo wings – evaluate sauce (teriyaki bad, Frank’s good)
- Spinach and artichoke dip – sneak keto chips from your bag, or request veggies on side instead of chips, look at other menu items to see what veggies they are likely to have on hand like celery, broccoli, cucumber, radish, or green bell pepper in moderation
- Breaded fried items – larger items like zucchini wheels, calamari, and fried chicken can be slipped out of their bready jackets and eaten with “good enough” dips like ranch, blue cheese and creamy feta.
Conferences could be another potential pitfall, and working in high tech trust me when I say that I have been to a gazillion conference venues. However, I have found that almost every conference buffet line is thematically always either Italian (pasta bar), Mexican/Latin (taco burrito bar), Make Your Own (salad or sandwich bar) or a meat and cheese Charcuterie-style spread. Here are ways to find keto treats by type:
- Italian – fill half of plate with lettuces from salad bowl, add meatballs or sausages avoiding sauce (but without being THAT person who’s taking all the good stuff, alfredo or pesto sauce, grilled veggies, pile of parmesan, butter pat (let melt onto warmer foods)
- Mexican/Latin – start with pile of low carb veggies from salad part of line like shredded cabbage (my fave) or lettuces, add meat, cheese, avocado, sour cream, guacamole, bottled hot sauces, shredded cheese, olives, and if it looks good, queso (which is medium carb so avoid until you are out of induction phase)
- Make Your Own – Basically make your own cheese and meat board on your plate, or eat just the insides of pre-made sandwiches. In addition to meats and cheese, I have found items like whole nuts, grilled veggies, chilled shellfish, eggplant dips, tapenades, artichoke dip and other spreads not made from beans or lentils.
Now let’s tackle the second piece of advice – being sensible and honoring my intentions. Being sensible means I think through what I see in my travel environment, and choose to be okay with tradeoffs I make. In my example above, meatballs usually have bread crumbs in them. But if that is all I see on the buffet, it’s better than giving in and eating just anything. Or, in some towns, I’ve chosen to eat a ganky cheeseburger with no bun even though in real life I’d rather have grass-fed or pastured small farm meats. In other towns, I’ve chosen the crazy good vegan food that’s high in carbs over the ganky cheeseburger because high quality trumps carb avoidance.
Most of all, cancer survivor gal says “don’t forget to live!” If I’m traveling in a foreign country, I want to experience all that I can with that culture, especially eating local treats. That is part of life. And in the same breath, I will commit to myself to keep making my best choices while here, and go back to my normal when I’m home. With promises like that, it’s important to honor that by following through. This allows me to stay in my place of strength with food, and my subconscious will accept it as true the more I do so.
For example, even though it’s important to me to NOT eat regular noodles, when I was in Thailand, I ate a lot of Pad Thai. Is traditional Pad Thai keto? Of course not! My thought was, how often do I get to be here in Thailand, eating the most authentic version of a favorite dish? I was there a week, and upon returning home I immediately went straight to eating keto because that was the deal I made with myself. By honoring my goals, with the discipline to actually do it, I could eat the noodles while abroad and NOT feel bad about it.
Are you thinking to yourself “I could never do that” or “not me, I’d stay off the wagon.” That is a noble truth. Of course there is a part of you that doesn’t want to stick with keto or paleo or whatever you chosen plan is. It’s our inner child, and we love that inner child. Now I’m talking to your adult self: Is that really who you want to be? Do you love your inner adult also? Enough to do the job of adulting? Please do. Applaud every small victory, and try using language with yourself that casts you in your very best light. It doesn’t serve you to believe you can’t do it. It serves you best to fully believe you can, and to take baby steps each day to move towards your noblest truth.