Destination Thailand: A Healthy Honeymoon? (Part 2)

Best Green Curry Ever: I Made It!

Best Green Curry Ever: I Made It!
And a Snazzy Apron to Boot.

I’ve been back from Thailand for almost two weeks now (time flies, sheesh!).  Here’s the second installation of my lessons learned from staying healthy when traveling to the other side of the world.  This post focuses on tips to stay healthy and happy while enjoying your vacation destination:

Indulge in local treats rather than “usual” ones

Thailand had many of the usual indulgences available, from ice cream to Oreos.  But unlike the U.S., Thailand had some awesomely flavorful tropical fruits, so I chose to indulge in those instead (coconuts, mango shakes, rambutan, mangosteen, pineapple, guava, bananas [much better than what I get in NJ], etc.).  In contrast, when I was in Italy, I did have gelato just about every day.  Moderation was key: one scoop, which is actually one small scoop in Italy (vs. two heaping scoops for the “small” in most U.S. ice cream parlors).  If you want to indulge, seek out foods or desserts that you can’t get anywhere else (or not as good anywhere else).

Try new things (or old things in a new place)

When going to Thailand I knew there would be a number of foods that I never had before and I made it a point to try them: fruits (mangosteen, rambutan, fresh guava), veggies (baby eggplants, fresh(!) baby corn) and even raw peanuts!  I just never brought myself to trying the insects (though I’ve heard they are very good, per an 8 year old Thai boy).  When traveling, check out what’s new, different and possibly tasty.  Who knows, you may have a new favorite food to look for when you get back home (it’s amazing what’s actually available when you’re looking for it).

Of course I also had to try all of the usual dishes I have at my local Thai restaurants: papaya salad, pad thai, green curry, panang curry and more.  I can tell you one thing: it’s spicier in Thailand; and in many cases, much more flavorful.  The coconut milk and curry flavors were fantastic and better than most that I’ve had stateside.  At the same time, I decided to try some dishes that I’ve never been a fan of in the U.S. Many of the noodle dishes in Thailand (pad see ew, pad thai, etc.) were less greasy than I’m used to dealing with, which is a welcomed change.  In fact, some of the best dishes I ate were the ones Becca and I made ourselves in a cooking class in Chiang Mai.  When in doubt, make it yourself!

*Note: When traveling to other countries, if you’re trying some new foods be aware that your digestive system may not always be adapted yet.  Also, be aware how safe the water system is (we only drank bottled water in Thailand just in case, but we brushed our teeth with the tap water without issue).  A few days of GI upset can happen in any radically new eating environment and honestly it’s not the worst thing in the world compared to the experiences we got for it.  Worse comes to worse you can always go to a pharmacy (or bring with you from home).  Thailand is very hospitable in helping you find solutions to any GI problems.

Look for alternative ways to stay active

None of our hotels had gyms, so my usual workouts were out of the question.  But you always have your body, so running/jogging/walking, pushups, squats, pullups, lunges are always fair game.  I actually brought along a Pinky ball, mini band and super band for some extra options (under one pound in the baggage).  In addition we did a number of activities that are not in my usual routine such as paddle ball, kayaking, rock climbing, jungle hiking, snorkeling and walking everywhere.  Here’s some tips:

  • Take a look at your surroundings to see how you can be active (any unique opportunities to go sightseeing and be active?)
  • Remember you always have your body weight
  • Consider bringing some light workout equipment like mini-bands, Therabands, super bands, etc.  Even a TRX can work well.
  • Walk everywhere.

Stay in touch with your body’s hunger signals

Often we’re so busy and rushed in our daily lives that we lose touch with when we’re actually hungry and full.  As a result we’re usually alternating between ravenously hungry and totally stuffed.  Use your vacation as an opportunity to listen to, and get back in touch with your body’s satiety signals.  Your body usually takes at least 15 to 20 minutes to know when it’s full, so take your time when eating meals on vacation.  Eat slowly and savor the local foods (where else do you have to be?!?).  Stop when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.  Unless you’re hiking the Sahara, odds are there will be lots of food available everywhere you go.  When you’re hungry, have a small snack (choose a local flavor) to tide you over until meal time.  At meals, don’t feel compelled to buy a three-course meal every time.  Get what looks good and unique; split dishes with others when possible.  If you have a big day of sightseeing or evening out, you may even want to focus on eating “light” so you don’t run into a sluggish period when you’re trying to be your most energetic.  Taking the time to get back in touch with your hunger and satiety signals during vacation can help recalibrate your system for when you return if you make it a point to eat slower and listen to when your body is actually hungry upon your return.

I decided to weigh myself on the last night of my vacation (mainly because it was the only hotel room that had a scale) just to see if my weight changed since my eating and physical activity habits were very different than my usual habits.  Turns out my weight was exactly the same.  What I noticed was I ate when I was hungry but did not force dessert or extra foods on myself when I was full.  I just waited until I was hungry again (at the next snack/meal) to have them.  I think I only felt “stuffed” once during the entire 14 days (I ordered a whole fish one night to try it and Becca’s a vegetarian…and the fish was really good!).

Stay hydrated

Thailand was hot and muggy.  I think I had water bottles in my hand most of the day.  And the days I didn’t drink enough water, I started to get a headache by the end of the afternoon.  So I would pound back some H2O and was right as rain.

Many of us fail to stay hydrated even in day-to-day life, let alone when on vacation.  There are many opportunities to become even more dehydrated on vacation, from lengthy flights to long days sightseeing/sunbathing in hot weather.  Regardless of the health effects, becoming dehydrated can be a huge drag on our vacation because it can make us feel lethargic, headache-y, irritable and even hungry (when we’re actually thirsty).

Start hydrating as soon as you get to the airport and drink throughout the flight.  Either bring your own big water bottle on board or just keep getting up for more water (makes for a good stretch too).  If you’re brazen like me, you can even ask a flight attendant for a whole bottle of water.  Once at your destination, aim to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day.  I’m 170 pounds, so that’s 85 oz. of water, or about 5 regular Poland Spring bottles of water. Add in more if you’re spending a lot of time out in the sun.  If you ever start to feel tired or a headache during a busy day, make water and shade a go-to first intervention.

Hope you found some of these tips helpful for the next time you travel (if you do, tell me which!).  And as they say in Thailand, lah gorn kop! (see you later).

Balanced Eating on Vacation – Part 2

One of my previous posts described how to indulge wisely when on vacation.  The two articles I have linked today focus on using a little bit of planning to go a long way in preventing yourself from eating less healthy options on vacation that you did not even want in the first place.

Imagine eating an hour before leaving for the airport, then taking 30 minutes to get there, 60 minutes in line for tickets/security and now a 90 minute wait before a 4 hour plane ride.  That means you will have to wait at least 8 hours between your last meal at home and your first meal at your destination.  Most people do not want to wait to eat for that long (nor should you!) so they typically get something quick at the airport or buy some less-than-ideal food on the airplane that probably doesn’t taste the best to begin with.  Did you really want to indulge in that food, or would you have rather saved the indulgence for when you are at your destination?  Two ways to combat this issue is to either:

1) Bring your own healthy snack(s) from home.  Bring one for the wait at the airport and one for the airplane.

2) Scope out the list of vendors at the airport for healthier options (i.e. places that sell grilled food rather than fried, salads, etc.) and buy a substantial, balanced meal for the trip.  Have half at the airport and the other half on the plane so you can stay satisfied for the entire trip and reduce your cravings for buying/eating unwanted snacks.

Planning can also go a long way during those long, fun vacation days people spend sightseeing or going to amusement parks.  When traveling, try stopping at a supermarket when you first arrive to stock up on healthy snacks and breakfast foods for your hotel room.  If you have a mini-fridge you can even buy perishable items like low-fat milk for cereal, yogurt for mid-day snacks between sites/rides, hummus to dip veggies in, etc.  Just remember to take some snacks with you each morning before you leave for the day!

Check out my articles on Healthy Vacationing Tips: Getting to Your Destination and Planning Long, Fun and Healthful Days for even more ideas.  Happy and healthy traveling!

Going on Vacation? Indulge Wisely

The kids are getting out of school, work slows down and the weather is warm; summer must be around the corner!  Summer is a time of relaxation and vacation for many people and families.  We like to use vacations as a “break” from our normal routines, which sometimes means eating out more and “cheating” from an otherwise healthy lifestyle.  I completely agree that vacations are a time to indulge and experience new flavors and foods that cannot otherwise be experienced at home.  However, does “vacation” mean we should go to McDonald’s in Rome, Kentucky Fried Chicken in China or Starbucks in Spain?  Or does being on “vacation” give us license to have high calorie, low-nutrient foods all day, every day while we are away?

I believe in the 80/20 rule of healthy eating no matter where we are; try to make healthy food choices when you can (80% of the time), because you know there will always be times that you can’t or won’t (20% of the time).  For example, if you are hustling between different events or sightseeing during the day, choose a salad or lighter sandwich for lunch instead of greasy fast food.  You are likely more focused on getting to your next destination rather than the food you are eating.  And eating lighter food will help prevent that mid-afternoon crash!  In contrast, when dinner time comes around, you can go to a nice restaurant and appreciate a more flavorful, indulgent meal.

For many more tips, check out my article on Indulging Wisely Without Guilt on Vacation.  This article is part of my Vacation Tips for Eating Healthy series, a group of 3 articles describing how to enjoy vacations while still living by the 80/20 rule.  Next on tap: Healthy eating tips while getting to your vacation destination!

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