Following a much-needed sabbatical from work travel throughout the chaos of holiday season, I returned to my life on the road and spent the last two weeks in Knoxville and Chattanooga. I was quite apprehensive about what this would mean for the dietary changes and strict workout schedule I’ve worked hard to implement over the last few months. Historically, traveling for work is when I tend to fall off the wagon and sends me on a weeks or sometimes months-long spiral of over-indulging and under-moving my body. While I wasn’t 100% perfect (and I don’t think anyone can be), I’m rather pleased with my conduct during this time. It turns out, with a little planning and self-discipline, travel doesn’t have to set you back in your self-improvement.
My biggest concern prior to leaving was my food. In addition to tracking my macros and measuring my portion sizes, I now have to navigate this restrictive diet and only eat single ingredient foods. That has already proven difficult even in my own kitchen, let alone trusting a stranger in a restaurant to properly prepare it. It’s impossible to prep meals in advance and bring them with me; not only would I have to fill a cooler and haul it in and out of hotels, as well as have my car equipped with a smaller cooler to eat throughout the day, it’s also part of my job to host business dinners and happy hours with our clients.
So the first thing I had to do was accept that this would be mitigating circumstances and let go of the idea of perfection; I would just have to do the best I could with what I had. Instead of eating 6 perfectly timed 200-300 calorie meals during the day, I cut it down to breakfast/lunch/dinner knowing that my calories per meal would be higher than I would prepare at home. I then prioritized where I would eat, examining their menus ahead of time to ensure there were things I could modify to fit my dietary needs. As someone who worked in the service industry for years, I HATE the idea of being known in the kitchen as some “gluten free Karen” with a thousand mods and food allergies. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked away from a high maintenance customer and muttered to myself “if you have such a particular diet, maybe you should just eat at home.” I now understand that is not always an option and luckily it was way easier to order than I expected.
Instead of hitting up a fast food biscuit for breakfast, I had Uber-Eats deliver to my hotel from Ruby Sunshine or First Watch while I was getting ready. I ordered their basic breakfast plate of 2 eggs scrambled, subbed their chicken/turkey sausage in place of pork, and swapped the potatoes for a fruit cup, only eating melon and discarding the high sugar grapes. For lunch and dinner the easiest thing to order was some type of salad, removing any non-vegetable toppings and asking for olive oil and vinegar on the side in place of the dressing, then adding a protein like chicken, shrimp or steak. No one batted an eye when I requested the meats be grilled with minimal oil and no butter, and I was still able to enjoy dinner with my colleagues.
I also made sure to keep my workouts prioritized. I packed workout clothes for each day and continued to get up and hit the hotel gym just as I would at home. Most hotel gyms have everything I need in terms of free weights and cardio equipment, so there is no excuse to skip a session.
The most difficult aspect I had to navigate ended up being alcohol. I work for a whiskey distillery, so it is literally my job to buy people drinks and spend my evening barhopping, especially when visiting markets outside of Nashville where my time is limited. I don’t typically drink when I’m home outside of the occasional glass of wine in the evening, and even those have been eliminated while I’m trying to get my health on track. It’s painful to admit, but alcohol and health are not and never will be compatible. When you’re eating very clean even 1-2 cocktails will make you feel sluggish and brain-foggy the next day. Alcohol also has the unique ability to taste better and better with every glass, making it very easy to go from “1 drink and I’m leaving” to “8am with a blaring headache wondering where my wallet is.” While I still made it to bed at reasonable hours, there were definitely a few nights where I should have avoided alcohol altogether, especially in Chattanooga where I tend to have more temptation simply because I love the town and atmosphere. Moving forward I will just stick to club soda and lime and save my drinks for celebrations. When you have a job like mine and are living out of hotels, it’s hard to differentiate from work-mode and vacation-mode, so self-discipline is of the utmost importance.
If you’re trying to be healthier in 2024 and are worried that an upcoming vacation or business trip is going to derail your progress, just know it doesn’t have to end that way. Be strict with yourself and plan ahead, but also let go of the idea of perfection. Nothing is irreparable and a week or two out of the groove doesn’t negate the weeks of hard work you’ve put in. The “all or nothing” mentality is more dangerous than a night of over-indulging, so just get back on track as soon as you can and keep it moving. With a full year of market work ahead of me, I’ll be fighting the good fight right beside you!