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How to Keep Your Diet As You Travel

man in exercise suit on treadmill, illus., image
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Travel doesn't mean you have to take a vacation from healthy eating habits.

When it comes to eating on vacation, most travelers have the same philosophy: no limits. Californians Elizabeth and Joel Leu didn't miss a meal or happy hour on a recent trip to Hawaii. "We never said no to anything. Isn't that what vacation is about?" says Elizabeth.

Well, yes and no. It's important to enjoy yourself, but a week of french fries and minibar snacks can be devastating to both your motivation and your shape. The more you look at healthy eating as something you take with you everywhere, the better off you'll be. Here's how.

Pack it up—Figure out what motivates you to stay in shape, and do your best to make it part of your vacation. Is it that morning jog? Bring your running shoes. An hour on the stationary bike? Try to find a hotel with a gym. Yoga? Throw in a mat. For some people, weighing themselves is essential. We wouldn't suggest you check your scale on a plane, but you could always bring it along on a road trip.

Get the special meal—The average airline meal packs more than 1,000 calories. If you call 24 hours ahead, you can request the low-fat or low-calorie option. Another alternative: Bring a sandwich or a carton of yogurt. Save the calories for something that actually tastes good when you get where you're going.

Minibars: Just say no—If your hotel has a minibar stocked with candy, chips, and Baileys Irish Cream, you can always refuse the key. And if you ask in advance, some hotels, including Four Seasons properties, will empty the minibar or stock it with pretzels, fresh fruit, and rice cakes. Omni Hotels offer Get Fit Guest Rooms for an additional $14.99 per day, which includes an in-room treadmill and weights, plus relatively healthy snacks like trail mix.

Avoid bad breakfasts—If you're accustomed to starting your day with a bowl of Grape Nuts, breakfast on the road could be your dietary downfall. A quick maple scone at Starbucks comes to 570 calories; add a Frappuccino and that's 975. A lower-calorie (if not entirely healthful) option: a Krispy Kreme glazed cake donut (220 calories). Surprisingly, many fast-food chain breakfast sandwiches, like the Breakfast Jack and the Egg McMuffin, aren't too fattening. Perhaps the best choice of all: a little box of cereal from the motel buffet, skim milk, and a piece of fruit.

Drive well—Charles Platkin, weight loss expert and author of Breaking the Pattern, advises travelers to bring a cooler on car trips. Gas stations will have ice; load the cooler with low-calorie snacks of your choice—fruit, carrots, mozzarella cheese sticks, yogurt. A small meal every few hours will keep you from overeating down the road, and you'll steer clear of those dangerous fast-food chains. (See chart below.)

Pick and choose—This is your vacation. If you want wine with dinner, order it. But then pass on the bread. Get dessert—but split it with a companion. Make every meal an occasion. Seek out foods you really love and skip those you don't. You'll be pleasantly surprised when you get home.

* Skinny Choice—Egg McMuffin, 300 calories*
* Diet Disaster—Super size fried, 610 calories
* Surprise—Breakfast burrito, 290 calories


* Skinny Choice—Roast chicken sandwich, hold the sauce, 270 calories
* Diet Disaster—Chicken potpie, 770 calories
* Surprise—Mashed potatoes with gravy, 120 calories

Taco Bell

* Skinny Choice—Soft chicken taco, 190 calories
* Diet Disaster—Nachos Bell Grande, 810 calories
* Surprise—Taco salad with salsa and shell, 830 calories


* Skinny Choice—Oatmeal and fixings, 460 calories
* Diet Disaster—Double-decker burger, 1,377 calories
* Surprise—Big Texas chicken fajita skillet, 1,217 calories

Dairy Queen

* Skinny Choice—Grilled chicken fillet, 310 calories
* Diet Disaster—Medium cookie dough Blizzard, 950 calories
* Surprise—Chicken strip basket, 1,000 calories

Jack in the Box

* Skinny Choice—Chicken fajita pita, 330 calories
* Diet Disaster—Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger, 1,120 calories
* Surprise—Breakfast Jack, 310 calories

*All calorie counts supplied by restaurants

Illustration by Melinda Beck

This article was first published in January 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.