Guide to Traveling Low-Carb

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Heading off to parts known or unknown, a much-needed vacation or visit with friends and family? How can you stick to your low-carb diet on the road or in airports? While it can be challenging, maintaining your diet while on vacation is doable—you just need a plan.

Staying Low-Carb on Vacation

Adhering to a low-carb diet is about more than your choice of food. Eating a low-carb diet helps your body change how it uses and responds to what you eat, as well as regulating your appetite. Over time, your commitment to making small changes adds up to big results.

If your vacation includes a vacation from low-carb eating, it could reverse some of the hard work you’ve put in. You may even experience symptoms of “carb crash” that could disrupt your diet and plans for relaxation, such as:

  • Food cravings
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Brain fog or feeling “off”
  • Feeling jittery or on edge
  • Irritability and crankiness

Plan Your Strategy

While you don’t want to permanently return to high-carb snacks and meals, that doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from your diet at all. If you approach these occasions with a plan, you’ll be able to keep high-carb treats in moderation.

Adjusting Carb Intake

Some plans even encourage you to occasionally raise your daily carb intake to a level where you don’t lose weight but don’t gain either. Atkins refers to this as your “carbohydrate equilibrium.”

On other plans, you may move into a temporary maintenance phase. During this period, you might add one or two servings of carbohydrate per day to your diet. For example, you might add one medium ear of corn on the cob, a small serving of potato salad, or a sliver of blueberry pie.

Check in With Yourself

Be sure to frequently assess how you're feeling, both physically and emotionally. Are you craving carbs—or more food in general?

One sign you may be overdoing it with carbs is feeling the need to eat when you aren’t hungry—a sign it might be time to cut back.

When you’re away from home or on a special vacation, you may feel you know yourself well enough that you could confidently have a meal or treat that may fall outside of your regular carb goals.

Conscious Choices

Maybe you’ve been sticking to your regular diet but have the chance to try new food on your trip. You can so with enthusiasm, enjoyment, and no guilt.

As long as you’re eating according to your low-carb plan most of the time and paying attention to serving sizes when you do deviate from your diet, you aren’t likely to jeopardize your goals.

Eat Mindfully

However, making a conscious decision to have a high-carb meal or snack on vacation doesn’t mean giving yourself permission to eat as much as you want of whatever you want.

You should still be eating mindfully, which means eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied.

This will help you stay on track, keep you aware of portions, and be connected to how these choices affect how you feel physically and emotionally.

Dining Out

Eating out can be both a treat and a necessity when you’re on the road, so brush up on your skills for low-carb eating at restaurants. Pick dishes that will let you load up on non-starchy vegetables and protein, like grilled chicken.

Family and Friends

If you're traveling with or visiting others, meals will often double as social occasions. If you're worried about explaining dining choices to friends and family or don't know how to politely turn down their well-intentioned offers of food or advice, think about how you'll respond before you get there.

Bring Your Own Food

If you’re going on a car trip, it’s easy to bring along plenty of your favorite low-carb foods in a cooler, such as:

If you’re flying, bringing along low-carb staples can be especially helpful, since in-flight food (as well as restaurants in terminals) is often high in carb, high in salt, and limited in choice.

Even if some airport food choices are low-carb friendly, they can be expensive—save money and carbs bringing your own!

If you're flying, purchase an inexpensive cooler once you arrive at your destination (soft-sided, 12-pack drink cooler easily fits into a carry-on bag). Head to the grocery to stock up on low-carb essentials.

Low-Carb Emergency Kit

Even the best-laid travel plans are vulnerable to delays and unexpected detours. When away from home, always have some low-carb snacks on hand. It doesn’t have to be much—even a simple bag of nuts in your purse will do in a pinch.

Your kit should have a few nonperishable low-carb foods such as:

  • Protein bars (without added or hidden sugar like maltitol and check carb counts)
  • Nuts, seeds, or low-carb trail mix
  • Healthy jerky
  • Tuna in foil packs or small cans
  • Soy nuts
  • Sturdy vegetables like celery can survive a day of travel without refrigeration
  • Small wax-coated cheeses such as "Mini-Bel"
  • Flaxseed meal to sprinkle on yogurt or cottage cheese. Add hot water and a pinch of salt or sweetener to make cereal at the hotel’s continental breakfast. For protein, try adding a serving of nut butter.

Having a strategy you can stick to, as well as some “plan B” options for when things don’t go according to plan, will help you stay on your low-carb diet while you're traveling. Still, remember that vacation is a time to relax and explore, so try not to focus so much on food instead of the trip.

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