It is hard enough to keep your health on track with access to a kitchen at home and a well stocked refrigerator. What happens when one has to travel outside for work? While you do not have to worry about the hassle of preparing food, you face other constraints – You are pretty much limited to whatever food is provided. The food is provided at fixed timings which limits your ability to eat based on your hunger levels. You also need to be mentally sharp and can’t afford to let hunger distract you.
Here are some ideas to make healthy choices while operating within those constraints.
Breakfast at the hotel
Consider this – There is usually just one hotel employee managing the breakfast counter. She/he is already busy getting the coffee ready, refreshing all items, cleaning counters, etc. They are quite overworked. Yet, the hotel has to to give the appearance of plenty of food choices to eat. A hotel breakfast is thus a combination of healthy (time consuming) and junk (packaged) dishes. If you avoid being distracted by the unhealthy and focus on choosing healthy options, you are off to a good start to the day.
Choose fresh food like hot oatmeal. It is very encouraging to see most Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn serve steel cut oatmeal regularly. You can sweeten it to your preference and top it with chopped fruits and nuts to your taste.
If you eat eggs, hard-boiled eggs are a great protein option to get your day started. Top it with yogurt and cut melon/fruit slices and you have yourselves a healthy and filling breakfast. Other choices like omelettes with toast, cheese, refried beans, fresh salsa, if available, are all great options too.
Forget the muffins and iced sugar pastries that last many days in the hotel pantry.
a) They were baked long ago and are really not that tasty.
b) Remember, there are 2 more meals left for the day. Keep any excess calorie lee-ways for lunch or dinner when you are hungrier and when a more tempting tastier dessert is presented to you.
Avoid juices from the juice fountain. Given that they are stored in plastic bags inside the machine, any natural Vitamin C from the original orange is long gone and the sugar rush from the juice will lead to a mid-morning crash.
Do not take the Hampton to-go breakfast bag option filled with granola bars or cookies. These options are concentrated with calories to make it portable. Take time to eat a hot meal instead.
I have always noticed that the breakfast bar is free early in the morning. But by the time it is 8:00 a.m, it is so crowded that you are tempted to just grab a coffee and a to-go bag. Wake up early, take time to select a good, healthy breakfast. If you wish to eat it later, bring it up to your room and eat after you shower and get ready.
After 4 hours of listening, talking or taking notes, lunch is a welcome break. Most conferences have boxed lunches or meals divided into pre-determined courses. There is very little wiggle room with lunch. You pretty much have to eat what has been already planned by the company.
If there is a salad option, definitely try to fill your plate with a lot of salad. That will provide you with fiber and water, a missing element in other side-dish calorie bombs like chips, soda and dessert.
If you have a choice of a wrap vs sandwich for the main dish, choose a wrap and see my link on the reasons why.
Manage your sides
If you can steer clear of the bag of chips and dessert (not easy, I hear ya!!) you are doing very well. Let us compare the numbers to build a more compelling case, shall we?
For e.g., One footlong veggie Subway sub with cheese = 630 calories. This seems like a good lunch right? Okay, keep the 630 calories in mind.
Now let us look at the calorie count of sides served typically with a business meal:
Bag of chips : 152 calories
20 oz bottle of coke: 240 calories
Large cookie: 210 calories
Slice of chocolate cake: 352 calories
Slice of apple pie: 277 calories
In a typical lunch meal, say you pick a bag of chips, a dessert and a coke – That will cost you between 602 – 744 calories just for the sides (the range is based on your dessert choice).
Thus, Calorie for 1 main dish ~= Calories for drink +dessert+ chips
Think about this – calorie to calorie, you can eat 2 footlong sandwiches or have 1 sandwich and 3 sides instead – exact same thing!! The side dishes will not make you full, in fact, it will “feel light”. That is very deceptive since, it packs in exact same calories as eating a second sandwich, which by the way, will make you suffocatingly full.
Therefore, choose your sides with care. Love a crunch with your meal, choose chips, but just with water. Have a sweet tooth – forget the chips, choose the pie you have set your heart on. I have my issues with soda, but if you are a soda fan, try to avoid other sides and just have your main meal with the soda.
Dinner is probably more of a calorie minefield than lunch. You hang out with your work buddies order greasy appetizers, drinks and meal. Ouch!!
Here’s a great idea from my husband. He usually does not eat dinner during his work meetings. Most times, he has a few bites of appetizers while hanging out with his colleagues and then calls it a night.
Before he checks back into his hotel, he swings by a local grocery store and gets freshly cut fruit bowl. He whips out the fruit bowl in his room and munches it as he finishes catching up on emails from work that he missed during the day.
Since you are not at home, there are no chores. But, on the other hand, you are mentally burnt out from all the networking. Still, if you can shell out half an hour to move your body, given all the sitting throughout the day, your body will thank you. There are 3 options to exercise at the hotel.
You can use the treadmill in the common exercise room for 30 minutes of walking (~150 calories burnt) or jogging (~300 calories burnt). If you are lucky, you will get access to the TV remote and if you are double lucky, it will be right on time when Stephen Colbert is on:).
Second option, if you came prepared enough with a swimsuit, go swim a few laps at the hotel pool. Swimming half hour will burn about 350 calories, while also providing a great way to relax and calm you down.
Finally, there is no need to get out of your room if you don’t feel like it. Lay out an extra blanket on the floor and fire up your yoga routine from memory, or play workout routines from Grokker.com or PopSugar Fitness. Just, be sure you are not doing too many jumping jacks if you are not on the first floor. You might get complaints from the people below (speaking from experience :))
Most of these are just common sense ideas. But, this is my mantra – Be prepared. By “not caring” about food or “let’s just deal with it” attitude, you are leaving too many factors outside your control. In my observation, people who strive to be healthy try their best to plan ahead and avoid pitfalls as much as possible.
It is not that you should avoid chips, dessert etc., it is just that you indulge with awareness and enjoy it without guilt eating away at you later. Because, in my humble opinion, food-guilt feeling is the worst.
Disclaimer – I am not a nutritionist or a doctor or a certified health professional. I am just a health loving geek who loves the idea of continuous improvement in our lives.