Nutritionist-Approved Advice on Staying on Top of Your Wellness on Vacation

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It’s always tough to stick a healthy lifestyle when you’re traveling. Whether you are going on a family vacation to a tropical island or you are spending your days at a conference for work, it’s not always easy to pick the right choices at restaurants or squeeze a workout into your day. To help you out, we sat down with double-certified personal trainer and nutritionist, Mary Jane Detroyer, and asked her what to do when you’re looking for a way to stay healthy between flights.

What made you want to become both a nutritionist and a personal trainer?

I had a lot of people in my aerobics class that I taught who were coming up to me and asking me what they should eat, what I ate, etc. and I was like “I don’t know what to tell you!” This is not uncommon – people ask their trainers all the time what they should eat, and trainers tell them but they probably shouldn’t do that because that’s not really up their alley. They are not certified to do that. So I felt at a loss with this, and then one day, I was teaching in a small gym and I had a woman who was a diabetic and she went into shock on me. She had taken her medication but she hadn’t eaten. It really scared me so I felt that I needed to be certified if I wanted to be in this field. So I went back to school, and I had guidance with a woman who was a dietitian, so that’s how I got into the field.

What does a typical appointment with a nutritionist look like? 

The basics would be the same, but what would be going on during the appointment would be different because it’s very individual. The first appointment is what I call an initial consultation and assessment, so I get to know the person, their history, their habits (exercise, food, stress, family), etc. and that gives me a better understanding of their goals. I would only make a few small suggestions at first based on what they had just told me and then have them change very broad things before the next appointment. The second appointment, for example, if someone was coming to me who wants to lose weight, I may create a meal plan based on the food groups. I would use a formula to determine the number of calories they should be having and then we would put the food groups into what food might look like for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s very different depending on who comes to me and what they are dealing with.

How can people make sure to stay active while traveling, and does the importance of squeezing in a workout depend at all on how often you travel?

The first thing, if you are traveling and want to stay active, you want to stay in a hotel that has a gym that provides you with machines for cardiovascular activities and maybe a few weights. It really depends on how often they travel, yes. If someone is traveling a week or two out of every month and they are trying to stay healthy for a specific reason, they are more likely to be proactive. For example, if they are running marathons or are in triathalons, they need to stay active on the road to keep themselves on track. They have to keep track of their schedule. If they know that they are going to be out to a restaurant every night with clients and they have to be up early to meet with people, then it may be too stressful for them to fit in exercise. Let’s say you’re someone who is going on vacation and you do it once or twice a year, I don’t think it’s necessary for you to exercise on your vacation if you don’t want to. There is good proof to show that when people take a rest and then come back to what they were doing, their bodies actually perform better. However, if someone is in this really fantastic place and they want to run, then by all means, get up and run and enjoy the environment as long as it doesn’t get in the way of you enjoying your vacation.

What do you recommend people eat when they are out at restaurants with limited options?

My basic philosophy is that you should not restrict your body to a certain diet, unless you have an allergy. If you are traveling two weeks out of the month, you have to look at eating on a menu as you would if you were home. So look for foods that you would eat at home and have that. In this day and age, it’s not hard to find those kinds of options. So for breakfast, you want to look for some yogurt, fruit, and granola or you’re going to look for eggs and toast or an English muffin. If you have to be on a diet that watches your cholesterol, you want to look for egg whites. You want to eat the same portions and the same types of foods. For lunch and dinners, you want to stick with grilled fish, grilled chicken. Try to have lots of vegetables on your plate, and don’t look at starches as a problem. You just have to watch how much you are eating. If you’re eating French fries with every meal, you are going to gain weight. So choosing things like a baked potato or a roasted potato instead can make a big difference. Desserts and alcohol are another component of this. If you are drinking three cocktails and a glass of wine every night and you’re traveling, chances are, you’re going to gain weight. So you have to watch your alcohol intake. I may suggest having one cocktail and maybe one glass of wine, or drinking a glass of water in between drinks. As far as desserts go, you should choose between the alcohol or dessert, or maybe only have it once on your trip. And of course, if you are full, don’t try to stuff yourself.

When people are packing for their trips, do you think that people should pack a certain way if they are trying to maintain that healthy lifestyle?

First thing that is most important is to have a good pair of shoes. You need to have a pair of shoes that you can walk in all day long. If someone wants to run, they need to bring good running shoes, some gear to run in, etc. If they know they are going to be in a place where they will be hiking, they want to make sure they have the right clothes for that. They should bring layers because of the changing temperatures. It really depends on where you are going to be. If you are going out into the wilderness and you know you are not going to be able to get food, you might want to bring some energy bars, trail mix, peanut butter packets, and other things like that. But again, it all depends on the kind of vacation. I think it gets a little obsessive if you are going on vacation and you are bringing your own food because you can always get healthy options like fruit and vegetables wherever you travel.

Are there any common health mistakes that people make while they are traveling that they should definitely try to avoid?

The first thing that pops into my mind is someone who has specific needs for medication, like someone who has diabetes and they need to bring their medicine along with them. You should always make sure that you have extra. If you are someone who suffers from celiac disease, you need to have a letter in the language of the country you are traveling too saying what your diet restrictions are. Aside from those more serious health mistakes, there are things like when people go out to dinner and are spending a lot of money on a big meal, so they decide to try to eat it all even though it’s huge. That’s one of the biggest mistakes that people make, and you always want to know when to stop and not feel the need to clean your plate.