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Business Travel Health

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Eating Right on the Road.
-- By Frank Gillingham, MD

Business travel is often an exercise in self-control (think of Anthony Hopkins' character in "The Remains of the Day"). Business travelers get up early, go to bed late and work hard - while tolerating flight delays and surly taxi drivers.

So when do many business travelers relax? Often when they're eating - and that's the trouble. While traveling many of us increase our fat and sugar intake at the expense of fruits, vegetables and grains. And we often eat more than we want, thereby gaining weight or making it harder to shed those few extra pounds.

Part of the challenge comes from eating in restaurants all the time. Generally cooks are paid for serving good tasting food, but not necessarily for preparing stuff that your doctor would recommend. So to eat better on the road you have to learn to work a menu and a waiter the way you would work a client.

Here's my advice:

  • Define your goals. Because you will be presented with many more food options then you typically have at home, you must be clear about which foods you want to eat and which foods you want to avoid. Think about it in advance. At home you might not eat a tall stack of pancakes every day because you can't be bothered to cook - and clean up. On the road you have to decide in advance: "No pancakes - I'll eat a dry bagel and fruit instead." "One cup of coffee - if they refill my cup, I'll leave it." Much eating is reflexive - we eat what's put in front of us without much thought. So plan ahead.
  • Bring your own. Fresh fruit in an airport is rarer than an on-time departure. Bring your own instead of going without. Apples travel well, as does dried fruit - though avoid the kind with a lot of added sugar (here's a test: give some of the dried cranberries or mango you buy to your kids. If they ask for more, there's a lot of added sugar). Pretzels are preferable to cocktail peanuts and also travel fairly well. More importantly, they taste just as good broken.
  • Exercise instead of eating. Sometimes we eat merely because we're tired of working. We need a diversion and eating lunch or dinner provides one. Next trip, try something different. Pack some sneakers and go for a walk. Hustle to the gym for a quick work out. The bonus benefit is that exercise will often reduce, not increase, your appetite.
  • Ignore the menu. Don't be shy in restaurants. If you want just a plain piece of fish or chicken, broiled, ask for it. If you're afraid of offending the chef, ask that his delicious, 4000 calorie sauce be put on the side. If you don't see any fruit on the menu - ask. You'll be amazed what restaurants keep in their kitchens.
  • Go shopping - for food. If you're going to be in your destination for any more than a few days, consider staying in a suite hotel with a refrigerator and, if possible, a small kitchenette. Drop by a supermarket and shop for the things that keep you going at home: Wheaties, apples, bagels and yogurt.
  • Be Strong at Diet-Busting Client Dinners. Let's face it, no one wants to order something special in front of a lot of important or prospective clients. Nor do we want it thought that we're dieting or worried about our appearance. On the contrary, at dinners like this we want to exude confidence and control. What to do? Order an appetizer if you must - but go for the mixed greens and ask for the dressing on the side. A more adventuresome alternative, which is also healthy, might be the sushi grade tuna. Ask for the main course sauce on the side as well if it appears high in fat or calories. If the entree is too large - leave half of it. Most people will assume that you didn't care for it - or that the portion was too large. You must forget what your mother taught you about eating everything on your plate!
  • Avoid Alcoholic Beverages. Avoid Alcoholic Beverages. It is always a good idea to avoid drinking, or to drink very modestly, while traveling. At the very least, remember how many calories these beverages have.