Q I lost 40 pounds over the last year by watching what I eat, and walking and I feel great. I still have a way to go to be at a healthy weight. We are headed to a family reunion for a week and I am scared to death that I am going to blow it all. What advice do you have? By the way I was surprised to see you weigh yourself at the gym. JK, Greenville
A Congratulations on your success. And a Happy Fourth of July to everyone. I am just back from a work-related trip to the United Arab Emirates. Several universities there are building world-class nutrition programs to address the health needs of the region.
Every time I return home from travel outside the U.S. I have a renewed sense of patriotism and pride about all the good Americans have done beyond our shores. Like you I will be celebrating the red, white and blue with family and friends this July 4.
You asked for advice about how to manage your time away from home and that’s why I mention my travel. When I travel, I enjoy the experience and I think everyone should as well. In my case, I knew I was going on a trip with opportunities to taste lots of different foods and beverages. I knew the hotel we would be staying in had an enormous international buffet — with predominantly Arabic and Indian foods. I was determined to try everything I didn’t recognize. I knew if I took just a small bite of every dish, I was guaranteed to exceed my calorie needs and gain a bit of weight.
So, I prepared for this trip like I do before family reunions and other travel. I cut back a bit on my food and increase my exercise before I go. Then I give myself the freedom, without angst, to enjoy the foods and beverages offered. I was told by our hosts that I must try Omi Ali (an Arabic bread pudding) that everyone loves. With the first bite I knew this could not be an “everyday food” for me — too sweet and too rich. It’s a dessert I think eastern North Carolinians would love. I did try it every I time it was offered since there were different recipes.
There is a legend that goes along with this bread pudding. Om Ali was the first wife of the sultan Ezz El Din Aybek. When the sultan died, his second wife had a dispute with Om Ali, resulting in the second wife’s death. To celebrate, Om Ali made this dessert and distributed it among the people of the land ... creating a dish the people “would die for.”
I waited until I got home to look up its nutritional value. The recipes I found on the web ranged from 615 to 935 calories per serving. That’s about half my calorie allowance for the day! I might have been more mindful of the portion size had I known.
We are lucky in the U.S. to have cues or calorie labeling on menus, menu boards, food packages to help us make healthy choices. Use them when you travel. There probably won’t be cues at your family reunion, though. So, my best advice is to take small tastes of everything you might enjoy, remembering that most family favorites are heavy with added fats and sugars. And when fried food is served, downsize your portion.
Also, be sure to take your daily walk. On my trip, we sat most of the day. I was both a bit jet lagged and pretty beat at the end of the day, but I pushed myself to get in a 30-minute swim. My colleagues teased me, just as your family might tease you for taking a walk. I just asked them to come along, and when they declined I just went anyway. Once home, I got on the scale and instead of feeling like I “blew it,” I made a plan to take off the weight I gained. So, yes, you will see me on the scale at the gym.
Some people weigh every day. I don’t. But I do weigh a couple of times a week. Monitoring weight is a proven way for some people to stay at a healthy weight. After a trip, I am pretty sure I know where the weight gain came from. I just get back into my routine of mostly eating healthy and being physically active and slowly return to my healthy weight.
When I gain weight without traveling and don’t think I have splurged, I will keep a food and beverage log and see where the extra calories snuck in. Again, tracking your intake is a proven strategy for maintaining a healthy weight. But for your tip. Relax. Have fun. And when you get home, return to the routine that has led to your success.