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 eating plan on the road or in airports? While it may seem challenging, it is possible to stick to your goals while on vacation. Sometimes you may choose to go off your eating plan and indulge a bit, and that is okay, too.

Why Stay Low-Carb on Vacation?

When compared to a low-fat diet, following a lower-carbohydrate eating plan can change how your body uses energy, and may help to promote satiety and reduce cravings. Over time, your commitment to making small changes adds up to big results.

If you make drastic changes in your eating while on vacation, you may feel it physically. For example, going from a low- to modified carbohydrate diet to consuming large amounts of carbohydrate-heavy foods can lead to physiological symptoms such as:

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

If you want to veer off your eating plan and indulge a bit, aim to do so mindfully. Choose your favorite foods, have small portions, and enjoy every bite. You deserve to eat the foods you love while you are traveling.

Tips to Stay Low Carb When Traveling

While you may not want to permanently return to high-carb snacks and meals, that doesn’t mean you can’t include some of these foods in your diet once in a while. If you approach these occasions with a plan, you’ll be able to eat high-carb treats in moderation.

Adjust Your 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.

Make Conscious Choices

Maybe you’ve been sticking to your regular diet but have the chance to try new food on your trip. You can do 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

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.

Dine Out Carefully

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.

Plan Ahead

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:

  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Calorie-free drinks
  • Fresh low-carb fruit
  • Hard-boiled or deviled eggs
  • Kale chips
  • Low-fat meat and cheese
  • Raw vegetables and low-carb dip
  • Salad ingredients, such as lettuce, olives, cucumbers, nuts and seeds
  • Tuna in foil packets or cans

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 carbs, high in salt, and limited in choice. Bring an inexpensive cooler (a soft-sided, 12-pack drink cooler easily fits into a carry-on bag). Head to the grocery to stock up on low-carb essentials.

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

Pack an 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:

  • 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.
  • Healthy jerky
  • Nuts, seeds, or low-carb trail mix
  • Protein bars (without added or hidden sugar like maltitol; try RX, Health Warrior, or Primal bars)
  • Small wax-coated cheeses such as Babybels
  • Soy nuts
  • Sturdy vegetables, like celery, that can survive a day of travel without refrigeration

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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  1. Hu T, Yao L, Reynolds K, et al. The effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite: A randomized controlled trial. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2016;26(6):476-488. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2015.11.011