Sometimes it’s a special vacation to some exotic destination. Other times its a last-minute business trip across the country to meet with an new customer or boss. Or sometimes its just a trip to visit your relatives for the holidays. (maybe with the added stress of dealing with in-laws…?!)
No matter what, one thing is for certain: travel is tough on “diets”. Any diet, really.
We get thrown off our normal routines, we don’t have access to all our same food choices, and we’re often tired, stressed, and just overall “disrupted”. Not to mention the constant temptation to try the local delicacies! It’s so easy to get off track and pack on weight.
And if you’re following the Ketogenic Diet, it’s usually even tougher. All the convenient travel food choices seem to be filled with carbs, and we can’t just pull out our own frying pan to whip up a quick batch of bacon if we’re hungry.
But if you’re prepared and have the right mindset, staying on the Ketogenic Diet while traveling is TOTALLY doable.
I should know.
Since starting a full-time Ketogenic Diet in 2013, I’ve flown well over 1 million miles, all while losing over 200 pounds. (210 as of writing this.)
I’m rarely in any one city for more than a week, and even when I am, I usually don’t cook my own meals simply because I don’t have time.
Many people have told me, “hey, you’re just like George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air”. I certainly feel that way sometimes, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
I’ve been living this way, for better or worse, since starting my career in 2004; first as a Product Design Engineer at Apple, then later as a startup CEO and head of Operations for a global semiconductor company. Not to mention maintaining a long-distance relationship with my now wife for the past 5 years.
All this travel since 2004 adds up to well over 2 million miles (maybe 3?), covering all continents except Antarctica, with San Francisco, Denver, Xiamen, China, and soon to be Copenhagen, Denmark all places I’ve called “home”.
Early on, travel was a major contributor to how I got to be over 400 pounds, as it is for many. I was constantly surrounded by food, often of low quality, and junk-food was my easy way out. Greasy airport food, fast food, business dinners (and the drinking that came afterwards), and lots of exciting local dishes that I “just HAD to try.”
And on top of that, I was (and still somewhat am) an emotional eater. When I get stressed, I tend to eat. And all that travel really added to my stress.
When I made the commitment to go Keto, the travel was still tough. There were many times when I would fall off the wagon and would struggle to get back on. But over the years, I’ve figured out some practices to help me stay on track, and I’ll share them with you now.
Mark’s 13 Tips to Stay on Keto While Traveling
1. Pack snacks. Lots of them. And some low-carb “sweets” are OK.
This one is obvious, but oh-so-important, and for many reasons.
When I travel, I carry a pretty big backpack everywhere I go, and literally more than half of it is filled with keto-friendly foods.
But besides the obvious benefit of having good options when nothing else is available, bringing my own food with me helps me mentally as well. I almost never decide to eat just because “I don’t know when I’ll eat next” — something I always used to do. I know that no matter where I am, if I’m hungry, I’ll have options. This often postpones when I decide to eat.
And I pack some “exciting” snacks as well — things like Keto Kookies, Quest Bars, and other “gray area” Keto foods — because they are safer options when I’m otherwise tempted to stray off course, and they’re easy to pack.
In a meeting with a big plate of normal cookies? Tempting, but no thanks — I have my Keto Kookies instead.
2. Pack your walking shoes and exercise clothes… and use them.
I am a big believer in exercise combined with the Ketogenic Diet. I think they work amazingly well together for many reasons, and its a lot more than just “burning calories”. And I think this is even more important while traveling.
It serves as a reminder of your goals, and it keeps you focused. It brings a bit of normalcy to your otherwise crazy travel schedule. It helps you feel good, and feel better about yourself. And when you feel good, you eat better.
Sure, you may not be able to go to your normal gym, you may not have all your exercise equipment with you, but that shouldn’t matter. Just going for a 30-60 minute walk outside is perfect. Its a nice way to experience your destination as well.
Have a long layover somewhere? Do some laps around the airport. Or throw a towel down on the hotel room floor and do a body-weight exercise routine. I have one that I always do, and I’ll post about it later.
When you exercise during your trip you’ll feel motivated, you’ll feel good about your body, and you’ll have a much better chance of following your eating plan.
3. Get a hotel room with a kitchen.
A few months ago my wife and I traveled to Kyoto, Japan. I didn’t seek out a place with a kitchen, but ended up finding a great boutique hotel in a great location, and it just happened to have one. Winner winner chicken dinner! (Kobe beef, actually)
We still went out and explored the famous local food scene, but on the days we were tired, rather than grabbing some low-quality fast-food (if that’s even possible in Kyoto), we stopped by the local supermarket, picked up some things, and make some simple and healthy meals of our own.
It was so much easier to stay on track that way. And honestly, going grocery shopping with the locals was a unique experience in and of itself. I try to do that anywhere I travel.
You don’t have to go crazy — but just having the ability to whip up a quick steak and some veggies without guessing if there are hidden carbs is a big advantage.
With the rise of sites like AirBnB, VRBO, and private home rentals on Booking.com, finding a place with a kitchen is much easier now than it ever was.
4. Set a realistic short term goal for the end of your trip.
I’m a huge believer that we must have BOTH short and long-term goals with our weight-loss. The long term goals are the big lofty ones, but they are often too abstract and intangible to drive immediate progress. Short term goals are the opposite. They can drive more immediate action.
What’s my goal when I go on a one-week trip for example?
To put on zero pounds.
That’s right… very simple and not crazy — I just don’t want to gain any weight. Of course I would be happy to lose weight, but if I return from the trip without going backwards, I consider that a success.
Bonus pro-tip: Don’t weigh yourself until the day AFTER you get back from your trip… travel does all sorts of weird things to our bodies, including making us bloated, dehydrated, or sometimes retain water. Wait a day to step back on the scale.
5. Stay connected to your support network.
When we stay connected to our support network, we immediately feel more accountable. It serves as a reminder of our own goals, and we feel less “off track”. It keeps our Keto journey at the top of our minds.
Do you follow certain Keto-related Facebook pages or Instagram feeds? (I’ll selfishly suggest the KetoJam Facebook Page or KetoJam Instagram Feed, both of which I update daily.) Continue to follow them while you’re on the trip.
Do you have a friend you’re using as an accountability partner, doing Keto together? Check in with them. Its a small thing that will make a big difference.
6. Bring concrete reminders of your motivation.
One of the things I did to remind myself of my motivation (and still do) was to put signs all over my house with a list of the things I hated about being fat, and the motivations I had to lose weight.
To keep this going while traveling so much, I took one of these signs, folded it up, and put it in my travel wallet right next to my passport and pile of expense report receipts. I wouldn’t see it all the time, but when I did, it was a small reminder of my goals.
I also took a picture from a certain past event that reminded me of my desire to lose weight and set that as the wallpaper on my phone. Whenever I pulled out my phone, I saw that picture and it kept my motivation top of mind.
I suggest you do something similar.
7. Tell people you’re traveling with about your eating restrictions, as early as possible.
Sometimes we fear telling people we’re traveling with about our “strange” dietary behaviors. In the US and most other Western countries, not eating carbs is becoming more and more mainstream, but sometimes we still think we don’t want to offend people by not eating things they serve or order for us. This is especially the case with me, as I often travel to Asia, and telling people you don’t eat rice is often met with many strange looks…
But based on my experience, its much easier to tell people upfront, as early as possible. Sure, they may think its strange the first time, but when you do tell them, its often met with a “oh, I know someone who’s trying that” or “I’ve wanted to try that myself”. Then they just accept it, and they usually go out of their way to help accommodate you.
By telling people up front, you’ll save yourself the agony of trying to refuse carbs after they’re already served to you, and who knows, maybe you’ll get a chance to spread the news about Keto.
(But please don’t be one of those Keto Crazies who goes around “preaching” about Keto… just saying you don’t eat carbs is fine…)
8. Remember what it’s like to fall off the wagon.
We’ve all been there before — going strong with Keto, then somehow giving in to temptation and slipping up by eating some carbs.
Remember all that guilt and pain that brought you? Remember how agonizing it was to get back on the wagon and get back to your original weight?
Remember that feeling. Keep it top of mind. Harness it. Write it down and slip it in your suitcase or something.
A little negative motivation can be very powerful.
9. Know where to get Keto foods and snacks.
We’ve been through that you should pack your own snacks form home, but you should also know where to get them so you can save your own stash for when you really need it.
Thankfully, just about anywhere in the world you can find keto-friendly snacks in convenient places.
Convenience stores, airport shops, just about any supermarket, and sometimes even in your hotel minibar! (No, not that can of Heineken… I’m talking about that $10 bag of mixed nuts.)
The easiest foods to find are things like mixed nuts, cheese sticks, pre-packaged salads, various meat sticks, and even pre-cooked hard-boiled eggs. And of course you can walk into most western restaurants and order a burger without a bun or a nice Cobb Salad.
I’ve been able to find Keto snacks just about everywhere I travel — from the middle of bustling Tokyo to small rural villages in China, and even remote parts of Africa. They’re everywhere, you just need to look a bit!
10. Have a plan, and visualize it in advance.
This may sound a little “new age” for some. But I’m serious about it, and it works for me.
Usually you know what your trip will look like, and you know what temptations there will be to cave in to carbs.
Do you know you have a big dinner meeting with a client? Visualize yourself passing on the free bread and prepare yourself for it. Do you know you’ll be sitting on the beach when everyone else is drinking fruity margaritas? Visualize yourself ordering a vodka soda instead (or a Diet Coke, like me).
Think about it on your flight out, and have a plan. When you get there, you’ll feel like you’ve been there before, and you’ll be ready.
11. Eat what everyone else eats — just skip the carbs.
Oh, thanks Captain Obvious. I know, this seems like it doesn’t need to be said… but, it does.
Newbies to Keto sometimes think they’re going to starve out there… but that’s not true at all.
Whether following a Ketogenic Diet or not, travel is often when people overeat. Special dinners, local delicacies, all-you-can-eat buffets, etc. Food is plentiful.
If you’re following Keto, you can have the same thing everyone else is having… but just skip the carbs! While everyone else is stuffing their face on a 2000 calorie steak dinner, you can just skip the mashed potatoes and dessert, still have the good steak, and be just fine only consuming 1000 calories.
Are you really going to be hungry? No. You just won’t be uncomfortably full like everyone else, and you’ll still have your self respect.
12. Stop any slides immediately. Don’t let a one-minute cheat turn into a one week cheat.
At some point you may slip. You may have a bite of your spouses ice cream when visiting Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, or try some hand-made chocolates while in Paris.
Don’t get into that “diet starts tomorrow” type thinking.
Did you cheat on your Keto diet? Fine. It’s done. Move on. The “diet” starts again right now.
The next thing you put in your mouth will be Keto friendly. Go for a walk to burn off the glucose you just had, and consider yourself lucky that you just dodged a bullet. Make a promise to not cheat for the rest of the day.
Once you’re back into your Keto groove, you’ll be less likely to slip again so soon.
13. Choose your restaurants wisely.
Think ahead about where you can eat. It’s not always your choice if you’re traveling for work, but do what you can.
Some good Keto-friendly choices include: steakhouses, anything with the word “grill” in the name, buffets, breakfast places, and seafood places, among others.
Think ahead about what you might order so thing are less tempting when you get there.
Long story short? Try to keep your travel as close to “normal life” as you can. You’ll be SO proud of yourself at the end, and you’ll save yourself a ton of frustration and agony when you get back home and step on that scale.
If you do fall off the Keto wagon, well, dust yourself off and stop the slide as quickly as possible. You may find my post about that helpful… (Fall off the Keto Wagon? 8 Steps to Get Back On)
But remember, traveling on Keto doesn’t have to be that hard. Don’t psych yourself out.
It is a 100% mental challenge, and if you’re prepared, you can easily make it through. After you make it through a trip once, the next one will be easy.
Perhaps our paths will cross in our travels someday… I’ll be the one sitting in the boarding area eating some almonds and wearing a KetoJam hat. Stop over and say “Hi”. I’d love to meet you.
Keto on, my friend.
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