That was quite an absence I had there, geology fieldwork does that to a person. I finally got round to writing and then at that exact moment I opened WordPress, the internet kicked it so I had no choice but to sit and play that dinosaur game on the ‘no internet’ Google Chrome screen for like 20 minutes, even though the internet had reconnected in that time.
Anyway I’m back now and I’m going to jump straight into a request I had a while back to shed some light on what to do when you have to go away from home but want to stick to your food and fitness plan.
Now what this post is not, is making you feel guilty for going away on say, a holiday, and not sticking to your food plan. If this is you then stop reading this blog and go get a taco and a margarita and enjoy your damn holiday.
This topic is actually pretty apt since I had full intentions of sticking to my plan whilst on my fieldwork in Northern Ireland last month and made preparations as such. As you can probably tell by my style of writing, it didn’t go exactly to plan and that’s because I didn’t take note of #2 in this list of required things to succeed whilst away from home. However, I’ve learnt from my mistakes and I’m sharing that with you guys to hopefully help you out the next time you go away.
Without further ado here are all the things you’re going to have to consider when you’re away from home and how to combat them to maximize the ease of sticking to your plan:
So I don’t know where you’re going. It could be backpacking round Thailand, it could be a conference with Uni, it could be a 3 day training course with work, a family visit, I could go on. The point is you’re going away and for a small period of time you’re going to predominantly have the contents of a suitcase or smaller to manage your belongings. If you’re still reading this I assume you’re on a food plan and as such are well acquainted with the tupplife.
Note: For those who are just reading this because I fooled or forced you into doing so (which I suspect is a good 75% of my audience), tupplife is when you meal prep all your food and as such you end up eating mostly out of Tupperware boxes and carry boxes of food round with you everywhere.
Those who live the tupplife know it’s a bulky life and thus, not symbiotic with the suitcase life, there are ways around this however. The two options if you’re going away are to either make all your meals beforehand or to plan to make them when you get there. Obviously that’s at your own discretion and depends on your circumstances so I’ll try and cover both bases in these packing tips:
- First of all, don’t plan to make anything that requires the use of utensils you aren’t sure you’re going to have access to. Same goes for ingredients. So don’t be thinking of cooking pasta if you won’t have a colander or a pan big enough, or spiralizing veg without a spiralizer.
Debra here clearly didn’t plan her meals around her available utensils.
- Prioritise your ‘weird’ ingredients. You know the ones, the ones that aren’t standard issue in supermarkets and also coincidentally usually cost a bomb. I’m thinking flax, chia seeds, protein powder etc. These are easily bagged and take up barely any space. That way when you get to your destination you don’t have to go hunting for a place that sells them.
- Try and find out what foods and ingredients will be there and fit your meal plan around that. Not always easy but if you’re staying with friends or near a supermarket it should be doable.
- If you’re going abroad, obviously, don’t put liquids in hand luggage (I accidentally put some Flavdrops in a pockets of my rucksack – they didn’t notice but you might not be so lucky and no one can be dealing with that farcical affair). Also, even though I’ve done it several times with few problems, just be careful with protein powder as it can look a bit suspicious (see the title of this post). For the sake of ease at customs just put it in hold luggage if you can.
- Take your own tupperware. Just get five containers that all stack and slot them in your luggage. You don’t know if there’ll be enough wherever you’re going and they come in handy anyway (trapping spiders).
- Take garlic powder, mixed herbs, paprika and black pepper. Sounds weird but if you’re going somewhere where it’ll be hard to get fresh herbs and spices or you won’t have time to faff about mincing garlic (and who does) these 4 will have you covered for a bit of flavour in your meals
- Take a protein shaker if you’ll be working out. Sounds obvious but don’t forget it or you’ll be mixing protein powder in a glass with a fork (yes I did). If it’s compartmentalised you can also store extra portions of protein in there too
- If you’ll be making all your meals before you go then you might want to invest in one of those meal carrying bags. They can be quite pricey but if you’re a regular traveler these are pretty useful, even just for taking to work. Here’s a popular brand I know of, here’s the one I’m lusting after and here is a cheap and cheerful version to tide us all over until we become rich.
- For the love of god make sure your food is securely fastened and contained. You don’t want to be smelling kerala green fish curry on the 3 hour train to Limerick because that means there’s been a container breach and there’s nothing you can do about it til you turn up in the hotel lobby asking if you can check you and your fishy holdall into your room please.
- Make snacking whilst you’re away easy and healthy by planning it before you go. Low carb protein bars, nuts and rice cakes can all be transported easily and without much bulk.
- If you take supplements, count out how many of each you’ll need and dump them in one freezer bag, this is assuming you know what they all look like of course. No point taking several bottles and powders when you can take one bag.
Prepping to go away and still stick to your workout regime and food plan can be a massive pain in the arse. It’s twice the hassle of regular prep and let me tell you there is nothing more likely to make you angry at yourself than going to all the effort of making sure you have what you need to succeed and then promptly buying a ‘sharing’ (lol) bar of Dairy Milk as soon as you get on the ferry to Belfast (a hypothetical situation of course..).
Seriously though you have to want to do this. I’m not usually about the military-style, bossy and demanding ‘fitspiration’ but I say this only to save you time and energy. The fact that you’re even considering sticking to your regime whilst away from home and your usual environment is a great start but you have to make a promise to yourself that you will stick to it, or it wasn’t worth the time you put in prepping before you went. And that’s not to be passive aggressive, sometimes it is honestly just easier to say, ‘Look, I won’t be on plan this week and I’ll just work twice as hard when I come back’. That’s what I do on holidays for example and there’s nothing wrong with that. You just have to accept that (devastatingly) you can’t not put in max effort and get max results. It’s about knowing yourself whether it’s possible and whether you want to and will be able to and if you tick yes to all of those then fully commit to sticking to your plan even when times get tough.
I didn’t do that though, I half arsed it and fell at the first hurdle which compromised my results. Nothing I can’t get back but y’know what could I be doing with these two weeks I’m now playing catch-up with if I’d just stuck to my guns during those two weeks I messed up (we’re talking a ‘sharing’ bar of Dairy Milk a day – fieldwork can be emotionally and physically challenging ok, rocks are harder than you would think).
At home you can basically prep how you want, kitchen cupboards open, full use of the surfaces, wash up when you want and use whatever equipment you need. When you’re away from home that isn’t always the case. In my case, I was in a very small hostel with about 30 other people who mostly ate around the same time and there was a grand total of 3 saucepans. Considering I usually use about 2000 saucepans in an average prep session this was alarming, not to mention the inexplicable volume of colanders (about 6?!) that looked a lot like pans from a distance but then mocked you when you got up close with their stupid holes.
I digress. To combat this you’re going to want to limit your actual on-site cooking to a minimum and when you must cook, make it one pan meals. It also helps if you make meals that use similar ingredients, that way you aren’t buying and storing loads (if fridge/storage space is an issue). Here’s a couple of ideas to get the ball rolling:
- Smoothies are probably out, odds are you aren’t gonna have a blender and if you’re eating clean, odds are you won’t be eating cereal. However, if you have a small saucepan, oatmeal is your friend. Before I left for Northern Ireland I put oats, flaxseed, protein powder, cinnamon and dessicated coconut into 7 freezer bags. Each morning all I had to do was dump it in a small saucepan (or even just a bowl in the microwave) add almond milk and heat. Ready in 3 minutes, no measuring, no weighing, no effort. Add berries and crap on top.
- Greek yoghurt with nuts, chia seeds, berries and a no-calorie syrup like Walden Farms or MyProtein make a great, satisfying and nutritious breakfast that requires no prep.
- Avocado. Cherry tomato. Black pepper. Put it on toast. Boom. (Try and use the other half of the avo for lunch cause you know what they’re like with their browning – way too demanding for a fruit in my opinion, I don’t know why I tolerate such behaviour considering the price).
Lunches and Dinners
- Like I said, one pan meals so I’m thinking omelettes, veggie stir-fry, bean chili etc. Don’t be put off by omelettes thinking they aren’t filling, you can really bulk those bad-boys up with veggies, seriously throw anything in there. Broccoli is a great bulker, as are mushrooms. Throw mozzarella in there too, go nuts. Plus eggs are hella good for your protein intake.
- If you want to include meat in your meals, obviously this is going to increase time in the kitchen and probably washing up but if you do it smart it won’t matter. The trick, as always, is batch cooking. Cook the meat, portion it out, bag it up and freeze if possible. That way you can get it out to defrost and add it to your one pan meals as you cook, so you’re only spending one longer session in the kitchen.
- Wraps. Wholemeal wrap (a chia one if you’ve got that money stuff) with some greenery, some peppers, tomatoes and pre-cooked deli meat or falafel. Bit of sweet chili if you’re feeling naughty or any other dressing of your choice.
- Tinned tomatoes and tinned mixed beans are your friend for one-pots. Instant bulk and substance, just add veg and spices. Just make sure that tinned things like these don’t have added sugar, some brands hide it in the ingredients but there should just be the one ingredient and sometimes a stabiliser.
So this is a tricky one. It all depends on where you’re going, how understanding they are of your ‘requirements’ and how well they know you. For example, I went to a conference across the other side of the country when I lived in Ireland. I prepped all my food before I went, every single meal. I was in a hotel room by myself and wasn’t going to be interfering with anyone elses plans, or vice versa. All I had to do was ring ahead and ask if the hotel would mind if I stored some food in their fridge and thankfully, they were very accommodating. However, if you’re going to say….your mother-in-law’s house for a couple of weeks and you have a regime and food plan you really want to stick to, it’s not so easy to decline all of her cooking and the family meals and to take up half of their fridge with your food and spend time cooking your own meals. (I’d just like to note I don’t speak from experience here, I don’t even have a mother-in-law but I’ve been regaled with many an exasperated story).
It’s a tough one. On the one hand you don’t want to compromise your results just because you’re away from home but also you can’t expect people to change their plans or to expect them to accommodate you if it inconveniences them and you especially don’t want to offend anyone. The best advice is to exercise discretion and compromise. So if you are visiting someone who is having you as a guest, of course, accept a meal that is cooked for you, it really isn’t the end of the world. The important thing is to not subsequently think ‘I have slipped up and now there is no point in trying’ and then proceed to consume the entirety of the village shop’s supply of Galaxy chocolate (again a hypothetical situation I promise).
If you can and you feel comfortable doing so, let your hosts know beforehand that you’re on a specific plan. Phrase it how you have to, even if it means using the usually-banned word ‘diet’, just make them at least aware of it and ask if it would be at all possible to use a little fridge space or cook your own meals from time to time. Most people will be perfectly fine with this. I know when it’s family it can be hard and you may open yourself up to interrogation about ‘this new diet you’re on’ but if it get’s you a few meals off your food plan in then just roll with it.
If for example you’re away with work at a conference or training course you might be more exposed to ‘peer pressure’ (I feel like my high school PSE teacher here – you know for all they rambled on about peer pressure not once was I even offered a cigarette in school, let alone Class A drugs. Chocolate on the other hand I was offered every day and I am now a self-confessed junkie). As I said before, have a bit of fun, it’s ok to have a couple of drinks or a couple of biscuits at tea break but the point is that you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to.
Even if people are making snide comments or not-so-funny jokes about our ‘obsession’ (this word will get thrown around sometimes, people seem to confuse it with ‘dedication’ and ‘commitment’) just do you, if you want to eat your own food then you do just that. If everyone is ordering chinese takeaway but you really want to stick to your plan then don’t order one, regardless of the crap you get for it. If on the other hand you do want a crispy chilli beef with special fried rice then you order just that and have a couple of prawn crackers for good measure. Just make sure you do what YOU want and that you don’t fall off your plan because of food-guilt. Account for your treats and tell yourself you earned them, make sure you did earn them and then carry on as normal.
Again this is going to be highly dependent on the nature of your travels. If you’re going to have access to a gym, great, go do your squats. If you’re not then things become a little more tricky. The friend of all gymgoers in the absence of equipment is body weight HIIT. There are literally thousands of these videos on Youtube but just in case you’re not going to have access to the internet wherever you’re off to, here is a no-equipment HIIT workout you can do in your own room without disturbing anyone else and it’s over in 20 minutes. I’m no personal trainer but this at max effort will have you working up a good sweat and it’s way better than nothing so have at it:
- Tricep Dips (using bed or chair or park bench) – max reps for 60 seconds
- Push Ups (use a wall or chair to do inclined if you can’t do full) – max reps 60 seconds
- Squats – max reps for 60 seconds
- V-Ups (switching to wide leg sit-ups if unable to continue V-Ups) – max reps for 60 seconds
- Walking Lunges (Curtsey Lunges if limited on space) – max reps 60 seconds
- Rest for 60 seconds
- Repeat for a total of 3 rounds
Note that there is no rest in between each exercise, only after you’ve completed the full 5 minutes of exercises is there a 60 second rest.
What’s missing from this as a HIIT session is the explosive or plyometric movements, the exercises that really get the heart rate going (which is the point of HIIT). If you have a little more freedom with making noise and having space then substitute any of those exercises for running on the spot, squat jumps, plank jacks and burpees.
If you have any questions about any of the exercises I mentioned just drop me a comment!
The take home points of this post:
- Know what you will be eating whilst you’re away and make life easy for yourself by planning quick, nutritious meals that use similar ingredients.
- Find out as much as you can about the facilities and equipment you’ll have access to
- Prep as much as you possibly can before you leave. Nut pots, oatmeal bags etc.
- Explain to any hosts ahead of time that you’re eating a certain way.
- Call up to any hotels/hostels and ask if there is fridge access/a gym.
- Have a back-up no-equipment workout in case there’s no gym.
The thing is, as I alluded to earlier, it’s not any of this that’s the hardest part. The hardest part is sticking to it once you’re there. Being away from home and your usual surroundings for whatever reason can be tiring and stressful, especially if travelling or you aren’t away from home by choice, and that’s when emotional eating can kick in. Like I said, if you truly want to eat something then you should have it but as I learnt, there is a difference between truly wanting a King Size Twix bar when I felt tired and stressed and just eating it because it’s there, convenient and it tastes nice, even though dinner is in 20 minutes. Just remember to listen to your body and know when it’s acting out trying to make you eat things for the hell of it. Don’t inhale the entire pack of Hobnobs because it was a tough day okay, you got this.
Good luck to anyone going away soon and I hope you continue to smash your goals! I’m thinking of doing a similar post on eating right and exercising during exams for students as I am in that situation very soon but we’ll see how I get on myself first hey before I go dishing out advice!
Have a good week, train hard and smile at people,
P.S. In the middle of writing this I went to make myself a smoothie like the health goddess I am and I managed to smash an entire bottle of Walden Farms Zero Calorie Caramel Sauce and honestly I’m devastated. Please send your love in this difficult time.