With summer officially upon us in the continent and those coastal UK and Europe escapes kicking off, the word bikini makes many of us shudder and for those watching their weight the stress of eating in an unknown environment can be overwhelming. I'm certainly not one to skimp food-wise when travelling and for that reason I was careful in the title using the word 'Healthier' rather than 'Healthy'.
Whilst I appreciate better than anyone the role food plays in the cultural experience, I also know that overdoing it can leave a bitter taste of the holiday in ones mouth. On the back of a two year 'food pilgrimage' of the UK and 17 European countries, I've put together my top tips to ensure you remember this summer break for the relaxation, the golden tan, cultural experiences and comfortable indulgence... rather than the excess kilograms you returned home with (and I'm not talking about the shopping).
Beware of the buffet. Before you remove that booking website filter "breakfast included" consider if you can do the following. Opt for the muesli, the natural yoghurt, the boiled or poached eggs with whole grain toast, or let's cut a deal with just one plate or bowl of food rather than buffet revisits that leave you feeling very sorry for yourself and returning to bed rather than venturing to the beach. As a general rule the pastry selection on offer in most European buffets will rack up the calories but leave you craving something substantial in only a few hours time which defeats the purpose of the most important meal of the day.
Cancel the cab. How often do we jump into a taxi to reach a destination in a foreign country only to find that it would have been easier (and cheaper) to walk. Obviously there are times and places where public transport is the most sensible and safe option, but perhaps brush up on those map-reading skills and make your first question from now on "is it walkable?". That 20 minute walk four times in one day could burn off that Nutella crepe you couldn't resist earlier on. Additionally, on the topic of exercise, make the most of that beautiful ocean or pool at your doorstep and engage in one of best forms of exercise for your heart, swimming.
H2O in hand. When away from home it can be a pain to buy a bottle of water five times a day I know, but in the warm temperatures not only is it important to keep hydrated to replace losses, it will also assist with your hunger cues. Too often we confuse hunger with thirst and end up over eating as a result, or with dry mouths head straight to the soft serve vans along the British piers or the gelato stalls along La Ramblas.
Sharing is caring (for your waistline). This is my tip for ensuring you get to sample the often high calorie 'must-eats' for your destination without resenting the dish once you realise you've inhaled it in the blink of an eye. The Europeans can often be very generous in their portions, therefore use this in your favour by sharing. Trust me the first half of the paella or pizza tastes the same as the second half and if you share one of these and a salad, you won't be left tasting it for hours afterwards if you know what I mean. This way you also get to try more than one dish in a sitting which by my books is winning.
Caution with the cocktails. You knew it was coming. Alcohol for many goes hand in hand with holidaying, but if in excess can easily lead to weight gain. As noted in previous blogs the creamy and high volume cocktails are the ones to watch out for, but to be honest you're better off with a light spirit and low calorie mixer. Beer and cider drinkers you don't get off lightly either! Two 330 ml Efes beers are the equivalent to a standard sized croissant.
Careful of the complimentary calories. On the first day of your holiday in the South of France you order your Nicoise salad for lunch. But then it arrives, that delicious basket of fresh white bread. You don't think you can wait for your meal so two thick slices and two tablespoons of olive oil later you've consumed more than 50% of the calories of your meal. By no means am I anti-bread but there does come a point when you begin to resent this offering with every meal for making you feel like you're carrying an extra suitcase home with you around the waist.
And a quick shout-out to some of the Brits' most visited summer destinations:
Spain- Olives, vegetable-based tapas, fresh fruit and seafood dishes won't hurt you as much as the chorizo and patatas bravas will. The sharing style of tapas if done right can lead you to consume less.
Italy- Pasta can be your friend, but not every day and night, and not with a mountain of extra cheese added. The Mediterranean is also famous for its salads so be sure to make the most of these.
Croatia- If you're struggling to go past the greasy lure of burek, just remind yourself the restaurants that follow the Adriatic coastline serve some of the best grilled seafood you'll ever have. Plus, on a 30 degree summer's night grilled calamari with vegetables often goes down better than pastry and meat.
Greece- Gyros is (sadly) not an everyday food. Salads and grilled meats in the form of souvlaki are smarter options on the menu however.
Cornwall UK- Ah the Cornish pasty. It'd be un-English of you to not indulge in this whilst in the very home of this comforting parcel, but once you've had one let's be honest how many more do you need? And if fish and chips by the seaside are calling try opt for a grilled option and don't go crazy on the condiments! Two sachets each of ketchup and tartare sauce equal a palm sized piece of grilled cod. I know which I'd prefer.
So good luck, but most of all enjoy and embrace the wonderful contribution food can make to your trip if you have a healthy relationship with it. And for all those who accompanied me in my travels over the years and waited patiently for me to Instagram your meals, I thank you and hope you can eat your food hot from now on.
Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Wellness Institute, suggests keeping your own goodies at work to make it easier to resist overdoing it. Stock up on oatmeal packets and low-fat yogurt for a quick breakfast, low-fat hot chocolate packets for a chocolate craving, 100-calorie bags of popcorn for a salty fix, and string cheese or unsweetened applesauce for an afternoon snack.
When food is free and readily available, like at office luncheons, we tend to overeat, Blatner says. Avoid eating foods you just "like," and save the calories for the treat you absolutely "love" — and split a piece with a coworker.
Blatner recommends choosing low-calorie drinks, such as light beer and wine spritzers (half wine and half club soda), or a nonalcoholic seltzer with a twist of lemon, lime, or orange. And mind the munchies: Alcohol may cause us to eat more — about 200 calories more!
Christina Stark, RD, a nutritionist at Cornell University, says that when it comes to friends who tempt, the key lies in compromise. So try to get your friends to go for a healthy snack and conversation. If they insist on going somewhere tempting, keep your energies focused on the conversation instead of the environment. Holding a cup of coffee or tea can help.
Allow yourself the occasional mini serving, Stark says. Order the smallest possible amount (for example, a doughnut hole or kiddie cone), or share a serving with a friend.
Ask your friends to join you for exercise. Regular exercise can increase commitment to a healthy lifestyle and help ward off moments of temptation, Stark says.
Dina Aronson, RD, a nutrition consultant in Montclair, New Jersey, says the key to sticking to a healthy diet and lifestyle at home — where temptations often run high — is to plan ahead. Spend a few minutes each day preparing healthy snacks such as sliced fruits and vegetables, portion-sized leftovers and salads. Keep them front-and-center in the fridge and within easy reach.
Create lighter versions of favorite home-style meals so your family is willing to go along with your new plan. We've got a vast array of delicious and nutritious healthified recipes at Live Better America to help inspire you.
Ask younger children to tear up lettuce for the salad and older children or your spouse to make a healthy side dish. Having all family members involved may help make them interested in the healthier fare, Aronson says.
Get enough sleep every night. Recent studies suggest that sleep deprivation disrupts the regulation of hormones that control hunger, triggering some people to overeat.
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