If you follow my blog (or if you’ve ever been out to dinner with me), you probably know that I like to eat healthy. That’s not to say I never indulge in a greasy, bloody burger with fries, but the times that I go crazy are few and far between.
However, although I value healthy eating, I also value authentic travel. When I’m abroad, it’s important to me to try the cuisine of the local people, whether they’re into pavlova (looking at you, Kiwis) or moules-frites (the French).
Eating a slice of pav on my birthday last year in New Zealand
Noming on moules-frites in Paris with John
Now, Mexican food is delicious, but it’s also not the healthiest ethnic food. It CAN be – there’s nothing unhealthy about fresh vegetables, meats and local fruits – but many dishes are slathered in cheese, wrapped in refined carbs, or fried.
If my goal is to freelance and travel full-time, it’s going to be important that I balance trying new foods with staying healthy. Luckily, I have quite a bit of experience doing this. I’ve spent the past two or so years moving all over the place, living abroad, traveling to five different countries and three different US cities, and I’ve somehow managed not to negatively impact my health or gain any weight (until I moved back to Twin Lakes, ironically). I don’t have all the answers by any means, but here’s what I try to do in order to stay healthy while traveling.
1. I walk – a lot.
It’d be an understatement to say I walk more than most people. I’m fundamentally anti-car, partly because of the impact of car-dependency on communities and the environment (whole other post topic right there), but also because I know how much it benefits human beings to spend their lives on foot, rather than in sedentary lifestyles. When I lived in Chicago, I often walked in order to commute between my office downtown and my apartment in Wicker Park – about a 2-mile walk each way.
When I’m traveling, I avoid taking cabs at all costs. I’m a solo female traveler, so if I go out at night, obviously I’m going to catch an Uber home. But as long as I know I’m staying within a safe, populated area, I’m walking wherever I need to go.
Walking around El Centro
For the past four days, I’ve been getting the touristy sites of Mexico City checked off my list. This means commuting to el centro, which is approximately 1.6 miles from the neighborhood in which I’m currently residing. I walk there, I spend hours walking around, and I walk back. I’d be surprised if I haven’t walked at least 6 miles a day each day for the past four days.
Walking is really good for you. It builds your muscles, burns calories, allows you to see the scenery, and keeps you from sitting. I always remember a little fact that my health professor mentioned in my first year of college: walking 2 miles and running 2 miles burns the same amount of calories (it just works different muscles and impacts the organs a bit differently). So since I don’t have access to a gym while I’m traveling, walking is a great substitute for my usual elliptical workout.
2. I indulge in moderation and with appreciation
I’m in Mexico City, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to have a few tacos al pastor. What I don’t need to do is eat them at every meal, or get them from tourist traps like museums or art galleries. I save my cultural indulgences for authentic establishments. In Mexico City’s case, this means street vendors and locally loved restaurants in my residential neighborhood. I also eat these beloved cuisines with the knowledge that that’s my indulgence for the day.
I always try to order the healthiest local favorite I can find. For example, Mexico has really great, seasonal fresh fruit, so when I’m out for breakfast I’m often ordering a fruit plate with yogurt and granola, rather than huevoes fritos con frijoles refritos.
3. I do yoga
You guys already know that I’m a dedicated yogini. I will admit, sticking to a regular yoga routine has been a challenge on this trip. When I was living in New Zealand, I had my yoga mat with me, which allowed me to practice whenever I felt the calling. I didn’t want to weigh myself down with a mat on this trip, so I’ve been having to do yoga in pretty cramped quarters on a hard floor. It’s not particularly comfortable. (As a side note, if anyone has any recommendations for good travel-friendly yoga mats, please let me know in the comments!)
Now, this isn’t yoga, but in addition to my practice, I’ve really been enjoying this lower-body workout that Sarah’s Day, one of my favorite nutrition and fitness vloggers, shared a few weeks ago. This is an EXTREMELY difficult workout – even I have been needing to work up to it – but if you’re looking for a new leg and butt workout, I highly recommend it.
4. I follow the meat-or-carb rule
Even when I’m not traveling, I have a meat-or-carb rule that I apply to my daily eating choices. You’ll probably remember that I tried the Whole30 to support my friend Alyssa last month. While I totally recommend this diet because it’s full of healthy, whole foods and it can really teach you about healthy eating, I don’t personally like to “diet” in order to stay healthy – it’s simply not a sustainable way to approach nutrition.
So in order to make sure my diet is healthy and balanced with all the whole grains and nutritious fats I need to stay looking and feeling great, I try to have either a carb (and by carb, I mean grain or starch) or a meat at each meal.
This means if I’m having a sandwich, I’m having a vegetarian sandwich. I order it on whole grain bread whenever I have the option. If I’m eating meat, I’m not eating breads or potatoes. I’m usually getting steak, fish or chicken with fresh vegetables as my side.
Breakfasts are easy – I rotate between eggs and fresh fruit.
I have found that this approach works really, really well for keeping your diet healthy, sustainable and moderate. In fact, maybe I’ll do an entire post about why I believe in this idea. To be continued later …
5. When I drink, I choose wine
I’m not going to pretend I haven’t had one or two cervezas since I’ve been here, but I almost always choose wine when I’m out with friends for the evening. Beer is not good for you, you guys. And I love beer, so this is difficult for me to say.
Beer is literally made with fermented grains, which aren’t bad for you in moderation, but let’s be real – most of us aren’t drinking just one beer when we go out. You could easily, EASILY, drink the equivalent of 5 slices of bread in just two beers, which is why so many people end up with beer guts.
Wine is nice. Wine is delicious. Wine has calories, but it’s made from fermented fruits instead of grains. Go with wine.
I hope you’ll find my tips helpful, even if you don’t travel often! Learning how to practice moderation in eating is super hard, especially when you’re traveling. Many of us turn to diets or strict rules in order to help us lose weight, which can be really helpful at first – but a lifetime of being healthy involves learning how to have life-changing experiences (such as international trips) without sacrificing our health.