Can You Diet While You Travel?

Posted in At the Terminal, In the Air, On the Ground

On Saturday, I told you about my plan to eat well in the New Year and so far it’s going extremely well. Lots of vegetables, a good amount of protein, and no added sugar or white flour. I’ve been eating delicious meals of Chinese chicken salads, roasted vegetables, vegetarian chili, and so much more. It makes me wonder why I’ve been so quick to take the easy way out and eat pizza and burgers so much. Oh, right, they taste amazing and require much less work. That work, though, is worth it in my opinion. The act of preparing meals for yourself is time well spent and can be used as time to enjoy the silence away from the business of your everyday life. So what are you supposed to do when you’re traveling and can’t cook? Are diets impossible while you travel?

The answer, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, is absolutely not. Eating well is perfectly doable on the road and it doesn’t mean you need to carry a hot plate with you in your carry-on. The key is being mindful. Sure, it’s easy to call room service and order that big plate of pasta after a long day of flying, but you’re much better off with a salad and almost every room service menu I’ve ever seen offers at least one salad option. It may not be sexy, but it’s better for you than the ravioli.

Salads certainly aren’t the only options out there for weary travelers. While we’ve become conditioned to expect a bread or starch on every entree, it’s to your advantage to forget they exist. That steak with vegetables and mashed potatoes? Sub the potatoes for more vegetables and you’re in business. If red meat isn’t your thing, grab a chicken breast and some soup. Room service menus aren’t bibles (those are in the bedside table at your hotel). If the kitchen has the ingredients, don’t feel bad asking for a custom order. Pick and choose from what they have on the menu to create your own low-calorie dish that has a good amount of protein to fill you up and whatever side dishes fall under your personal rubric of health.

What about road trips? The same advice applies. Fast food and chain restaurants dot highways around the world, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat there. It’s worth it to spend a little time ahead of your trip finding a great local restaurant close to your route that will give you natural, non-processed ingredients and you’ll be supporting the local economy at the same time. That’s a win-win in my book. On a trip to Israel a few years back, my group stopped along the way at small falafel shops for this very reason and they were the highlight of the entire trip for me. Historic ruins in Caesarea? Eh. Fluffy pita? Memories for life.

Flying presents a similar problem since the options are usually as limited as a wedding. Unless you’re flying first class, you’re probably dealing with a limited menu on your flight. The options you do have are often-times optimized more for flavor than health, so even when you’re eating well in the air, it’s at the expense of your waistline. Some airlines like American are offering options that work out fairly well (hummus, beef jerky, almonds), but it’s not perfect for everyone.

My advice for healthy flying is to bring your own snacks with you. Cut up carrots and zucchini and bring it through security. You can even bring your own dips if you keep it under 3oz. Alternately, you can try eating in the terminal, but those outlets are also catering more towards flavor than calorie count. Chili’s Too, McDonald’s and Macaroni Grill are all, sadly, more familiar sights these days than salad shops.

That’s not to say there aren’t good healthy options out there. Most airports offer grab-and-go salads and wraps that are better options than a Big Mac and fries any day. At LAX, I was shocked to see a mini-outpost of Real Food Daily, a local restaurant that serves organic vegan cuisine. This may be an outlier now, but it’s part of a larger trend. Farmers markets are coming to airports. Real, actual produce is available for purchase, as are more healthful artisanal foods. You can find this at BOS at the Berkshire Farms Market and at SFO inside the Napa Farms Market (both operated by Tastes on the Fly). LAX recently launched a miniature version of The Original Farmers Market in Terminal 6. Going even further, there are full-on grocery stores operating in airports in Amsterdam and Helsinki. Fresh food is on the way to stale terminals all over the world, so there’s no more excuse for settling for a bagel if you’re trying to eat healthy.

This is all to say that eating with health in mind while you’re traveling is far from impossible. It may take a little extra planning ahead of time, but in the long run, you’ll wind up with extra years of your life to travel even more. Seems worth it to me…


(Photo: The Original Farmers Market at LAX; credit: Dustin Downing)



  1. Thanks for the article and good luck with your plans to eat healthy. Glad you’ve found enjoyable and tasty ways to stay on track.

    Agreed its a nightmare to find a salad that isn’t soggy and not just go for the Chilis Too entree. Here are maps that travelers can use to stay healthy on the road and know exactly where the healthy spots are.

    I also like your tip about snacks. Crucial to stay full and satisfied rather than crash and find the quickest, first thing you see.


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