How to Stop Over-Eating When You Travel

How to Stop Over-Eating When You Travel

When we lived on Waiheke Island in New Zealand the harbor was only 10 minutes from home, but as soon as we got on the ferry my son would ask:

“I’m hungry, what can I have to eat?”

It was ridiculous because I knew he wasn’t hungry. It made me realise that I’d trained him to eat on journeys and that I’d been trained to eat on journeys as a child too and was still at it.

Travelling isn’t the only time I eat when I’m not hungry or over-eat. The general triggers are boredom, stress or for a treat.

Unfortunately, much as I love it, travel ticks all those boxes. Long journeys are often boring and stressful. Plus I want to treat myself when travelling on business trips because I’m working so I deserve it and when going on vacation because I’m on holiday so – you guessed it – I deserve it. Any excuse really.

Over-eating when traveling used to be fine when I was a young filly with a metabolism like a race horse but as my metabolism slows down with age I’m more prone to weight gain so I’ve had to take steps to stop over-eating. I’m not perfect but here are some of the steps I’ve taken to stop over-eating when I travel.

1. Don’t rely on self-control

Now I’m aware I comfort eat when traveling I try to make sure I eat healthy food and  take my own snacks when I’m flying and on long car journeys.

I’ll pack nuts (almonds, hazels or brazils are my favourites)  in a ziploc bag in my hand luggage and more nuts in my check in bag for later journeys. That way I can only eat a reasonable portion each time I’m travelling.

I always read diet advice that says eat 12 almonds for a snack but I can never manage that if there’s a whole bag going. So this way I don’t have to rely on self-control because I’ll run out of nuts when they’ve all gone. Knowing the nuts are limited also makes me eat them more slowly and enjoy them more because I know there’s a limited supply.

2. Eat the unhealthy treats you crave

How to stop overeating when you travel with jolsI take some treats with me too. Tic Tacs are great because they’re tiny and low calorie and I love  Jols Sugar Free Pastilles. They’re both candies which keep my hands and mouth busy without making my bum bigger. They also come in tiny packets that are great for traveling and are easy to share with travel partners, companions or other passengers.

The other thing that’s good about tiny packets of candy like Jols and Tic Tacs or chocolate is that, since I may not be able to stop eating them after one or two, it doesn’t matter if I eat the whole box.

For cheap short haul flights with no food I treat myself to a bag of crisps. Salt and vinegar kettle chips will go down nicely or, if I’m being really naughty a bag of Cheezels, which are horrific yellow puffy junk food items stuffed with e-numbers and covered in powder that gets all over your fingers. I get away with it because I only eat crisps or Cheezels about once every two months.

3. Don’t be embarrassed to pack your own food

If I’m actually going to miss a meal when I travel I’ll take it with me if I can. Nothing flash, just my usual breakfast of fruit, nuts, yoghurt and muesli packed in a tupperware I can throw away. You can usually find a plastic spoon somewhere at the airport if you forget to pack one. For lunch a cheese and salad sandwich is easy.

I used to feel embarrassed about taking my own food with me but I’m over that now. It feels great to eat something healthy that I enjoy anywhere I please. Typically I’ll pick a spot at the airport that’s in a quiet corner but still offers good people watching opportunities and tuck in. I give myself bonus points if I remember to pick up a napkin somewhere first.

It’s often hard to take food on the way back so I treat myself at the airport but always to something reasonably healthy: sushi, stir-fry or a big salad are usually easy to find.

Fruit’s great for a healthy snacks but not when travelling. Apples are too crunchy to eat while you’re sitting next to a stranger, bananas go mushy and oranges are messy. Grapes work if they’re pre-washed and packed in a rigid container.

4. Cherry pick those airline meals

I love airline meals on long-haul flights. I really do, even though I’m a picky eater and consider myself a bit of a foodie too. I love the way they deliver it to your seat, all the tiny packages to be opened and the element of surprise because you never know what you’ll get.

I always order the vegetarian option because I’m 95% vegetarian. Sometimes my meal is much better than other people’s other times it’s worse. I never eat the bread roll because they always double up on carbs, I leave the juice untouched because it’s full of sugar and I never eat something I don’t like unless I’m really hungry or likely to get hungry before I can next eat.

I was trained to finish everything on my plate as a child but it’s only by breaking that rule that I’ve been able to stop over-eating, especially when traveling.

how to stop overeating when you travel airline meal

Just another huge airline meal

5. Give yourself a break

I’m sorry to say my kids are still trained to eat on journeys. I get desperate when I’m travelling with kids and will give them anything to keep them quiet. My (then) two year old daughter ate so many terrible sweets in Central America that she even started doing green and blue poos. I’m not proud of that.

But these days when we travel as a family I pack a range of food including healthy stuff for when we’re really hungry and to make sure we get our daily quota of fruit and veggies as well as treats so we don’t feel deprived.

It’s not healthy to comfort eat but if you’re going to do it a long plane or car ride is the best possible time. Still, I try not  to model eating constantly on a long boring journey, even though I’d like to.

how to stop overeating when you travel cake

Luke eating a neighbor’s birthday cake at our holiday home in Bocas del Toro, Panama

stop over eating when you travel melon

Sharing a watermelon on our deck over the Rio Dulce in Guatemala

Have you got an tips on how to stop over-eating when you travel? I hope it’s not just me who uses a long journey as an excuse to pig out…

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  1. Koren June 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    I have exactly the same problem, Annabel, in that the minute I start to travel anywhere I want to eat everything in sight – and usually the sweeter the better!

    I’m vegetarian, too, so sometimes finding healthy food options on the go is particularly difficult. And I admit that sometimes I use that as an excuse to chow down on the bad stuff. So like you, I’ve gradually become a fan of packing nuts and seeds or even full meals.

    I also like to take my own homemade muesli slice in a little box or wrapped in brown paper to much on because it’s packed full of dried fruit so I get a more healthy sugar hit. Popcorn packed into a snap-lock bag is also a good one – freshly popped kernels with a little cajun seasoning and nutritional yeast tastes so delicious and gives that all-important protein kick. Green beans are surprisingly good, too, because they travel well and are quick and easy to throw into a little bag or container.

    I’ve also found if I eat a good meal before I leave I’m less likely to be tempted. And I always try to have a water bottle on hand, too, because sometimes I’m actually just eating because I’m thirsty.

    Still, it’s a constant battle!


    • Annabel Candy June 4, 2013 at 9:19 pm - Reply

      Hi Koren,

      I love your ideas, especially the green beans. Once when I was travelling from Australia to Canada with a stopover in LA a friend came to hang out with me and brought fresh veggies and hummus. Such a treat after all that packaged food. You’ve made me think about packing more veggies especially those green beans as well as cauliflower which is indestructible and tiny tomatoes which (like grapes) are a sweet healthy treat :) Thank you.

  2. Raphael Santiago June 8, 2013 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    You can lose weight, still enjoy the food you eat, and even go out to restaurants while you do it. Obviously, you won’t be able to eat everything you’re eating now, because if you could, you’d already be thin. But, it’ll be a sacrifice worth making. The best thing you’ve ever done.

  3. John June 9, 2013 at 10:54 am - Reply

    i’m glad you point this out..i may not be the one eating too much on my trips, but my girlfriend does..i think she got to read this

  4. Seana June 17, 2013 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Live this balanced advice. When we drove down the coast on Friday I treated myself to a bag of Twisties, for old times’ sake. I’d hate to never ever eat junky food but little and not often is the trick. I love the idea of the wee boxes of travel sweets.

    Just recently I released myself from the trap of always eating everything on the plate/tray incl on planes. Hate food to be wasted and sometimes I take it off the plane with me. But on the other hand it’s really good not to eat lots of that stuff, particularly when not moving.

  5. Spencer June 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    Yes this is my problem! I love to eat when I travel so am constantly in a fight to try and keep the weight off.

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