Staying trim while travelling

I returned home this week from overseas, having spent a wonderful couple of weeks in Spain reuniting with some of my oldest and dearest friends who all live in different parts of the globe. We spent lots of time wandering the cobblestone streets, eating, looking at historical landmarks, eating, drinking, watching flamenco, eating, shopping, eating, attempting to speak Spanish, eating, gossiping, eating… well, you get the picture. This sort of travel is certainly good for the soul, and while it broadens the mind it also, sadly, broadens the waistline.

Admiring the Alhambra in Granada

Overlooking the Alhambra in Granada

“Oh well!” I say to myself, “That’s what happens when you travel in Europe. Now that I’m back home in Australia everything will get back to normal.”

But then I realise that my 3 weeks in Broken Hill had a similar, if smaller, effect on the scales, and that in fact I’ve been gradually but steadily going up ever since I started my travel adventures eight weeks ago. Given that I already have a further six trips  planned between now and August, if the trend continues, I could have a real problem on my hands. Better to prevent it from becoming an issue then trying to undo the damage later!

The concept of weight gain while travelling is not a new one, and many people would have been familiar with it. My challenge is to work out my particular areas of weakness so I can hopefully limit the consequences. Here is my recent list of excuses:

  • You’re only in Spain once! It’s obligatory to eat all the delicious local food. All day. Every day. Mmmm… jamon, churros, chocolate caliente, chorizo, tapas, queso, bacalao, paella, montaditos…






  • I’m on my feet, walking around all day, surely that’s justification for stopping for a snack every couple of hours?
  • Although I’m usually not a big drinker, when on holiday it would be unsociable NOT to match my companions drink for drink at the local cerveceria. Another vino tinto, señor!
  • Although I’m usually not a big drinker, when I’m in a new town for a locum job, it would be unsociable NOT to have a few drinks with my new work colleagues, right?
  • All the restaurants in this country town just serve massive steaks with a huge pile of chips, and I couldn’t possibly leave anything uneaten on my plate – it’s too wasteful.
  • All the restaurants in Spain serve tapas and I’ve got no willpower to stop eating it even when my friends have all finished and I’m no longer hungry. (Same goes for finger food at parties)
  • I can’t cook healthy meals because I’m staying in a hotel and don’t have a kitchen.
  • I can’t cook healthy meals because I’m in a house that does have a kitchen but it doesn’t have a pantry full of staples so I’ll have to buy easy to cook packaged foods instead.
  • I’m in a new place by myself and I’m lonely and I DESERVE to eat nutella for breakfast to make me feel better.
  • I can’t exercise because I’m jetlagged.
  • I can’t exercise because it’s too cold / hot / rainy / snowy / sunny
  • I can’t exercise because the streets are too cobblestoned / the footpaths are no good / it’s too hilly / it’s too dark / it’s an unfamiliar neighbourhood
  • The local gym doesn’t have the class I like at a time that suits me
  • I’m only back home in Perth for a week so I’d better have as many coffees / lunches / dinners with friends and family as I can before I go away again.
  • I’m only back home in Perth for a week so I have a million things to do and no time to exercise.
  • I’ll totally exercise today, but later this afternoon. Oh… oops it’s now bedtime and I didn’t quite get around to it. 

Any of these sound familiar??

So what’s the solution? I think for a lot of these things there is no one easy answer. A lot of it is just discipline. I had an interesting discussion with one of my friends during the trip about the concept of certain foods being “NWTC” ie not worth the calories, and other things being “TWTC” or totally worth the calories. My NWTC list includes fruit juice, white chocolate, most biscuits, fried rice & soft drinks. Whereas things like ice cream, macarons, tiramisu, good quality dark chocolate and cafe latte are TWTC, but not for every day. It’s helpful for me to be aware of what is and isn’t improving my quality of life enough to justify it’s calorie content, and hopefully that’ll help me better avoid the things that are bad for me that I don’t even like that much. Must remember that it IS ok eat “normal” food while travelling and that every meal does not have to be a noteworthy culinary experience. Stocking up on healthy snacks like fruit, veg, nuts etc is probably helpful too, to avoid the impulsive eating of bad things while starving, tired and cranky.

Seville inspired choc-orange macarons. TWTC!

Seville inspired choc-orange macarons. TWTC!

I also really like being active while on holidays so I just need to stop making excuses and do more of it. I’ve always enjoyed “outdoorsy” travel activities like hiking, white water rafting, horseriding, swimming, snowboarding etc but even just good old running can be great too. It’s actually a pretty good way to see more of a city in a shorter amount of time than if you were just walking for the purposes of sightseeing. The trick here for me is to get enough sleep to wake up early enough to go in the morning before the motivation wears off. Definitely something to work on!

Worth getting up at 6:30am to have Old Barcelona to myself.

Worth getting up at 6:30am to have Old Barcelona to myself.

If someone has a cure for a complete lack of will power to stop eating everything on the table even after the hunger has long past, please tell me! I’m drawing a bit of a blank on this one. Maybe one day I’ll grow out of it!

With no more than 3 or 4 weeks at a time in any one place this year, I’m not ever going be able to establish a normal routine. Hopefully with time I’ll get better at settling in quickly to new places so I can eat well and stay fit enough to enjoy my travels.  Still, it’s important to be relaxed enough about these things to be able to enjoy your holidays, and I’m certainly intending to enjoy my share of pasta and gelato in Italy later in the year. Oh and I’m definitely going to be much better about exercising regularly… starting next week. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Staying trim while travelling

  1. Really getting into obesity from both a population health, primary care (although hopefully not personal) viewpoint recently Penny, so sorry for the long reply!

    Some VERY familiar experiences for me in all of that. Even on long holidays, I always had the opinion, ‘Screw it, I’ll lose the weight when I’m back in the real world’, but it’s never been completely successful 😉
    This can be explained by an OzDoc article I recently read on NAFLD, ( which basically states that once you’re fat, it’s permanently more difficult to maintain a healthy weight! Or, in the proper words:-

    ‘When weight is gained, a new homeostatic set point is achieved based on the new level of adiposity. With weight loss, homeostatic mechanisms adapt to prevent excessive weight loss and a plateau in weight loss is hit. Further weight loss requires more effort to achieve and the effort must be maintained indefinitely as the homeostatic steady state does not reset to the lower weight. So an obese person who has lost weight and is now 75kg will have to work harder to stay at that weight
    than a 75kg person who has never been obese.’

    So I try hard not to overindulge, and if I do, I try hard not to string too many of those days together! Just like it is with our own patients, it’s a matter of knowing what is ideal, and finding the right balance within your own personal worldview.

    Easy, right? Ha! The ease with which an individual can achieve this is becoming increasingly more difficult as our society forces people to live in an obesogenic environment…

    No answers, just food for thought! Enjoyed the read 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Dave.
      I agree that I’m finding obesity and lifestyle an increasingly important and difficult issue in my clinical practice. It is absolutely heartbreaking how widespread the obesity problem is and the damage it does to peoples lives and I feel frustrated at being able to make so little impact on it. Constantly trying to think of practical ways to educate that will actually help people make change for good. Really I think the structure of society has a lot to do with it and without major overhaul of attitudes, education, availability, affordability and convenience we are really just nibbling at the edges.

  2. I has a long travel period last year, Bali, 10 days home then Dubrovnik for a week, Orlando then Houston, 1 day home then Adelaide all living in hotels. About 8weeks all up.

    When I got back my weight wasn’t that much different than when I left but I then put on weight over the next 5 weeks once I got home.

    So travelling per se is not to blame.

  3. The old travel advice of a skipping rope has helped me. Light, easy to pack, high impact in short time, and as long as you have enough inside space, no too cold / too dark excuses! Collapsible hula hoop ditto – more fun, but bigger and less easy to convince ppl of its worth!

  4. I seem to put on 2 kilos as soon as I step on a plane.

    I recently jumped on and bought myself some travel scales (500 grams and 10 x 5 cm).

    Hard to perch on but once you find your balance the greatest motivation for maintaining weight is the feedback from that pesky little read-out at the end of every day.

    Nothing heads off a cooked breakfast faster than brutal, empirical evidence of weight gain, I find.

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