This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Atkins. The opinions and text are all mine along with input from Colette Heimowitz, VP of Nutrition at Atkins.
Do you struggle with traveling low carb, or staying on track away from home?
You’ll love today’s post with Colette, and our combined experience at creating a sustainable low carb lifestyle!
Colette Heimowitz, M.Sc. works directly with medical professionals, health influencers and consumers to educate them about a sustainable way of eating to promote health.
Heimowitz is a NY Times best-selling author and brings a wealth of nutritional knowledge and experience as the Vice President of Nutrition Communication & Education, at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.
She has 20-plus years of experience as a nutritionist, which includes the time she spent with Dr. Atkins as Director of Nutrition at The Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine in NYC.
Colette and I teamed up to share our best low carb travel tips to help you navigate all the options and decisions when you’re on the go, so you can easily maintain a low carb lifestyle and a healthy mindset in any situation.
As the VP of Nutrition for Atkins, she is often traveling and eating low carb on the go like I am with my own career. We both have years of experience making our low carb lifestyle sustainable long term, through a variety of situations.
You Asked and We’re Answering! 🙂
I recently put out a private survey about the biggest struggles or challenges you face while traveling, on vacation, in social situations – or sticking to your low carb lifestyle anytime you’re away from home.
Colette and I address those questions in today’s post…
There are two mindsets about eating low carb when it comes to traveling, vacations and special occasions.
Some choose to indulge or experience local dishes and off-plan foods without guilt, then get right back on track the next day or when they return. Others struggle with staying on track and feel guilt or remorse for any indulgences.
Colette has great advice about that:
There is no rule that applies to everyone, one size does not fit all.
If you are close to your weight goals and you have corrected your underlying condition, indulging on vacation or holidays and getting right back on plan the next day is a pretty safe approach.
However, if you are just starting out, still have a severe carbohydrate intolerance, and a lot of weight to lose, that approach could be a slippery slope.
A better approach would be to shoot for weight maintenance rather than weight loss during the holidays or vacations. If you must, pick your poison. Do you want a glass of wine or a slice of bread? A baked potato or ½ cup of rice?
Learn from your experience. Did it set off a trigger of cravings and being out of control, or were you able to stop at one indulgence? It can be part of a learning process and you can use that knowledge to help you continue to succeed.
However, never throw all reason to the wind and binge, no matter where you are on your weight loss journey.
I agree with Colette and will also add that ALL of your choices should be intentional.
Decide upfront what your plans are for any given situation.
Being in control of your food choices, and living your life according to your intentions, gives you a great sense of empowerment and freedom.
Things like binge eating, temptations, food guilt and remorse are a surefire way to RUIN any trip or special occasion. Especially if they result physical discomfort like bloating or feeling sick, on top of your mental struggles.
It’s far better to be in total control of your choices, and to be content with the plans you make for yourself. 😉
In the photo above I was enjoying low carb ice cream on the beach. You truly can make great low carb choices practically anywhere, and still ENJOY your trips and vacations.
It can be a bit harder if you’re with friends that are eating all the foods you’re NOT, which brings us to the next challenge many people face staying low carb on the go: temptations!
Second to mindset issues was temptation, as you’re often faced with situations or foods you don’t have at home when you’re traveling.
Watching other people eat certain foods could be a trigger for you, or things being brought to the table and put within your reach could present a tough challenge!
Colette says, “There will come a day when you look at that pasta or dessert and say to yourself, “I choose not to have it. I choose to be healthy and I don’t like how that makes me feel”. Then you are no longer the victim, you are empowered. If you say to yourself, “I Can’t have it”, you will feel deprived and look for a reward.”
I agree with Colette. Being in charge of your feelings and choices, and feeling GOOD about your decisions is the key.
I also remind myself how TERRIBLE it makes me feel if I eat a huge dessert. If my friends order dessert, I usually order coffee. I also keep a few sugar free candies with me, and find just one of those will satisfy a sweet craving in a pinch.
In the photo above I was at the beach with my friend Sheryl, and we were actually at a long table full of plates filled with high-carb meals.
I chose not to indulge in foods that would make me feel sluggish and bloated all afternoon, because: why ruin a beautiful day at the beach?! 😉
Instead, I focused on enjoying the company and conversation – and MY delicious meal.
It was fabulous, by the way. I ordered the crab dip and simply asked for lettuce and cucumbers in place of the pita bread or chips it was served with:
That made for some delicious beach-side dipping!
Beer, Wine & Fruity Cocktails
Colette advises, “Use light beer or one glass of wine which is only about 3 net carbs. Stay away from fruity cocktails.”
I agree, and while I rarely drink, I do enjoy a glass of wine with girlfriends or a few low carb beers if I go out with friends.
The important thing to note is that alcohol will affect you more and it will affect you faster when you’re eating very few carbs.
I’ve learned to simply sip on a glass of wine, knowing my tolerance level for alcohol has changed.
I also make it a point to eat before the social drinking begins, or if I’m eating after I’ll already have that meal planned out.
I like rum and a sugar free mixer now and then, myself.
There are sugar free fruity drinks of all flavors you can mix over ice with liquor too.
There are plenty of alcoholic beverages & drink combinations that are low carb or even zero carb, so do a little research and find something you ENJOY if that’s part of socializing and special occasions for you!
Living low carb is not about feeling deprived or doing without, but rather making healthy swaps so you can turn it into a sustainable lifestyle. 😉
Not getting to “experience” local/famous dishes in new locations.
Another challenge many people shared was that the local or famous dishes in certain locations was part of the appeal of the trip for them.
I get that! I love to experience delicious local foods when I travel too. 🙂
When I’m near the beach, I love seafood for example.
The meal above is a Crab Cobb Salad topped with grilled salmon at The Boathouse Restaurant overlooking White Rock Beach in Canada.
A perfect “local food experience” with great friends in a beautiful setting!
Colette has a GREAT blog post on making healthy swaps when traveling for various cuisines such as Chinese, Indian, Italian, French, Mexican restaurants and more at:
We have both found that you can always find a choice of protein, healthy fats and vegetables on any menu anywhere. I’m sure you’ve discovered the same. 😉
Colette made a great point on this too: “You can eat luxuriously in restaurants; rack of lamb, salmon, steak, duck, shrimp, etc.”
I agree that you can enjoy a beautiful variety of low carb foods while traveling that you may not have access to or cook at home.
“Food is part of the vacation for me.”
For some people, “making an exception” is not an option due to health reasons, or without serious health consequences.
There are consequences for pretty much anyone planning an intentional high carb meal though, even if it doesn’t result in binge eating or “food guilt” (emotional distress).
My best advice for anyone planning to indulge while traveling is this:
Pack clothes that will allow for an extra 5-10 pounds of weight on your trip. Between water weight and bloating that high-carb foods can cause, packing ONLY for your new lower weight can create some serious discomfort. 😉
And my TOP TIP for “travel cheats” is:
If I think I want something while I’m traveling, like fresh peaches (or peach desserts) while in Georgia, I save it for the LAST day of my trip.
It keeps me on track having something to look forward to, and if on that last day I do still want it – I’ll simply have it, as planned.
That also makes it easier NOT to binge or go totally off the rails the rest of your trip, and easily get right back on track the next day when you arrive home.
Colette says, “You can plan a cheat by cutting back for a few days before an event and then carefully choosing a few indulgences. Or go back to a previous level of the plan prior to a vacation or holiday to give you some leeway. However, remember what I said about it being a slippery slope for those just starting out and who haven’t corrected their underlying condition by controlling carbs over an extended period of time.”
I’ll add in too, that my entire life improved dramatically when I stopped making food the focus of everywhere I go and everything I do in my life, and started focusing on other things instead.
There’s more to life than food, and so many more FUN things in life to experience than just foods – especially when you’re traveling or socializing. 😉
I now look at food as simply the FUEL to power me through the FUN in life!
Using foods as a reward or comfort when away from home…
One of the great things about staying on track consistently is that it forces you to find other sources of comfort, and other ways to reward yourself.
That was one of the biggest hurdles for me personally in my own weight loss journey, and in learning how to turn my “diet” into a sustainable low carb lifestyle.
I had to find new ways to deal with grief, bad days, boredom, etc. I had to find new ways to celebrate, fun new things to do with friends instead of meeting for dinner, new ways to deal with stress even – that would WORK (because food never really did).
Those positive changes in my life turned out to be incredibly beneficial, and just as rewarding (if not more) than the weight loss I experienced as a result. 🙂
Colette’s advice: “There is always a low carb alternative to a high carb favorite. Just plan ahead and be prepared.”
Finding Low Carb Options at Restaurants
Colette and I both agree on the best advice when it comes to eating low carb at restaurants. You simply want to look for plain proteins and high fiber green vegetables.
You should also look up the nutrition facts online before you go, or at least before you order, to avoid what Atkins calls the “hidden sugar effect” – when carbohydrates convert to sugar when digested. You don’t see the sugar, but your body does.
I think I’ve proven in many of my posts here that you can eat low carb practically anywhere. Even the most challenging restaurant experience I had, which was a fun little local favorite, turned out to be a delicious and healthy low carb meal!
I made A LOT of mistakes in the beginning, or better said: I made a lot of wrong assumptions when ordering from restaurant and fast food menus.
Now I choose the restaurant in advance and look up the menu and nutrition facts online, and decide what I’m going to order before I get there.
Knowing exactly what you are going to have, and logging that in your meal tracker before you go, makes for smarter choices – and much more mindful eating. 😉
Low Carb Snack Ideas
While I rarely snack at home, I do find it’s helpful to take snacks with me when I travel. You might have a delayed flight or get caught in a traffic delay, for example.
Or you may find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, meaning: meal time with no healthy options in sight. 😉
It’s smart to always be prepared!
I make sure to pack favorite low carb staples that I might not be able to get on the way or at my destination too, because having something you ENJOY when you need a bite to eat makes it much easier to stay on track.
There are many low carb snacks you can pick up along the way, or pack and take with you on your trip.
On road trips I use a cooler which gives me a lot more options. I try to always get a hotel room with a refrigerator too. Even if they charge extra for that, it usually pays for itself in savings on restaurant meals.
Low carb snack ideas include your favorite cheeses, boiled eggs, sliced ham or chicken, nut butters, olives, avocado, macadamia nuts, pecans, chicken or tuna salad with celery, meat & cheese rollups, etc.
The options are endless if you have a cooler or refrigerator.
More often than not you’ll need low carb snacks and small meals you can take on the go that don’t require refrigeration, such as: nuts, string cheese, beef or turkey sticks, individual almond butter packets, or Atkins Peanut Butter Granola Bars (my favorite, with 16g of protein!).
Colette said nuts are her go-to finger food. “Couple that with unsweetened dried blueberries or strawberries and you have the perfect combo. I also like olives, Moon Cheese, and dried meats.”
I usually pack light if I know there will be plenty of low carb options at my destination, because it’s fun to experience new foods and new food combinations when I’m traveling.
Like this one for example – a beautiful combination of strawberries, blueberries, walnuts, cheese & cream cheese from my hotel breakfast bar on a beach trip:
As you can probably tell, I don’t skimp on food or ever feel deprived when I’m traveling low carb. There are beautiful low carb foods to enjoy anywhere you go!
I loved this tip from Colette too, on knowing your carb tolerance:
Carbohydrates are metabolic bullies and they will throw you out of fat burning.
When you are not burning fat you are storing fat.
Once you walk through the phases and find the level of carbohydrate intake that will bring the body into fat storage again, then you can stay beneath that level and never gain the weight back.
If you do the cheat day method, you will never learn your carb tolerance.
If your carb tolerance turns out to be 50 or 60 or even as high as 120 carbs daily, then it is easy to plan a cheat or a vacation and come back the same weight you left. Otherwise you are on the path of weight gain, carb creep, and having to diet again.
I really enjoyed working with Colette on these tips for you, and responding to your biggest questions & challenges while trying to make your best choices throughout your low carb lifestyle!
More Low Carb Travel Tips
I recently shared more great tips about what to consider on travel day, why you should drink more water when flying, how to get your low carb snacks and staples through airport security and more in this post:
… along with some easy low carb meal ideas from my trip.
Do you stick to your low carb lifestyle when you’re traveling?
Why or why not?
I would love to hear your experiences, and what you learned from those!
As for me, I find that if I take the mindset of “treating myself” or allowing myself to eat anything in sight while traveling or on special occasions… I have a VERY hard time getting back on track, and often undo entirely too much progress to make it worth it.
What about you?
I would love to hear YOUR top low carb travel tips and/or favorite low carb restaurant ideas too…
The more ideas we share, the better everyone can be prepared!
P.S. I often refer people to the Atkins site for the Acceptable Foods List. The phase one list is low carb friendly and is exactly what I used to get started eating low carb.
You can also check out their site to learn more about the “hidden sugar effect” – when carbohydrates convert to sugar when digested. You don’t see the sugar, but your body does. Make sure you’re avoiding foods that you may think are healthy, but aren’t actually as healthy as you think.
On Atkins, you eat the right foods, not less – which I love! You never have to go hungry on a low carb lifestyle. 😉 They have a lifestyle book out by that title: “Atkins: Eat Right, Not Less” too that I recently reviewed.
You’ll get to read more about MY getting started story at that link too. 😉