Happy Tummy, Happy Holiday
TRAVELLING WELL - HOW DO WE KEEP OUR TUMMYS HAPPY AND MAKE THE MOST OF OUR HOLIDAYS?
Summer is here! Horay! For lots of lucky people, thoughts of holidays and summer travel are now not such a distant future. Warmer months have finally arrived and many of us will be off on our summer vacations. Exciting this may be, however a lot of us will still find travelling stressful. Whether going away for TLC and some much needed self-care time, whether you’re off on an action-filled adventure, or a jam-packed family holiday, travelling abroad will bring physical stresses upon your body, with different foods, water, environments, sleep, and unfamiliar routines. It’s far easier to take care of your gut in an environment that you can keep under control at home than an unfamiliar environment when you’re abroad.
We’ve all been there - desperate for a holiday and then when the day finally arrives and you’ve stepped onto that plane you have the dreaded holiday bloat and tummy problems. And no one wants or needs any tummy issues to ruin your much needed holiday time! I want to explore how to prepare for this. From staying on track, to eating healthily and avoiding temptations that really won’t be doing your body any favours. I’m not saying to stop enjoying yourself, but a little awareness to hydration, those extra pesky sugars in cocktails, and even changing air pressure on airplanes are all little things that can help!
Why is your gut more vulnerable during travels? There are a number of adverse conditions that can affect our Gut Health while travelling, as our inner microbiome are exposed to alien substances. Feeding your gut foods that they aren’t used to can cause gastric discomfort, while exposing your gut to foreign bacteria will also force your body into stresses as it works out how to deal with the unfamiliar. Your microbiome in your gut are also impacted by jet-leg. Unsurprisingly, as we travel across time zones our circadian rhythm (internal human clock) is affected and so too is our gut.
So how can we plan our food ahead for Healthy Travels? It’s helpful to have some foresight and look up where you’ll be able to source your food. From restaurants that will be accommodating on your dietary requests, to shops and markets, where you’ll be able to stock up on whole foods that you can eat on the go or keep in your hotel room for snacking on. Are you on a special diet? You will need to address this if so. Find out what foods are located in the area and whether you’ll be able to adapt. Will you need appliances of your own in your accommodation, and will this then have an impact on where you choose to stay? Do investigate facilities in your accommodation in advance if you’ll be needing to cook any of your own food or store food in a fridge. Maybe you will you be staying with family or friends instead? If this is the case, then check in with them about their meal plans and where they buy their food. Maybe suggest to do some of the cooking yourself, or offer to go to a local market where you can purchase fresh food!
Stock up on food supplies while you’re on the road and make a traveller’s pantry! I’m all for some great traveller’s food staples that you can fall back on when in need. Almond milk, granola, nut butters, coconut oil, frozen fruits and veggies that you can defrost in your fridge, fresh lemons, limas, Himalayan pink salt and organic apple cider vinegar are all key ingredients for keeping your tummy happy. It’s not always advisable to fill your suitcase up and worry about having liquids confiscated at the airport so why not order ahead to your hotel? Or make sure there is a big supermarket in a good distance to you or that you can stop at one on your way to the place that you are staying?
But what do you do if you’re spontaneous? If you can’t plan this far ahead and are travelling from one destination to another then make the best of your situation by locating the healthiest places to eat with the freshest ingredients. How best to do this? Ask locals, ask taxi drivers, ask the hotel staff who will have more of an idea of where to shop for fresh produce. You may even discover new foods grown locally in the region that you have never tried before!
It’s also a good idea to set up a ‘Kitchen-On-The-Go’ so that you have quick access to nuts, seeds, and, if you can, some fruit and veggies loaded with high fibre, protein and healthy fats, as soon as you arrive at a destination. A good way to stay safe from tummy upset is through choosing fruits that you can peel such as papayas. They are high in fibre and contain naturally occurring protease enzyme (papain) which breaks down proteins, helps digestion, and relieves constipation.
I would also recommend pre-planning a ‘Travel-Tummy-Kit’ along side this so that you have some go-to supplies which will aid your digestion; supplies that you know in-advance are likely to work for you. I recently discovered some research that looked into ‘decision fatigue’ - something that I feel is relatable here. Essentially, the more stressful decisions you are having to make (which can happen in new environments on holiday), the more your willpower gets worn down. Why risk decision fatigue over your food-choices and working out how to keep your gut happy when you can plan in advance. My top recommendation would be magnesium supplements in some form, which help calm the nervous system and in turn reduce any stress causing the pipes to clog and hold on to poop. As a muscle relaxant, magnesium helps relax intestinal muscles and so makes it easier for poop to move through your intestines.
It’s also important to try to eat a mix of probiotic snacks (beneficial bacteria) and prebiotic snacks (indigestible fibres that feed them) throughout your day. For prebiotic foods, to throw in a bag on-the-go, look to broccoli trees, carrot sticks, dark chocolate, sauerkraut/kimchi, kiwis, kefir. A personal favourite is apple slices and bananas with almond butter! An alternative would be food-bars containing all natural ingredients, with natural sugar, high-fibre, nuts, seeds, and dates that can serve as a quick nutrient rich pick-me-up. And as an extra, take some sachets of good quality food-based prebiotic powder that can easily dissolve in your food/drink. Personally, I tend to take small packets of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, coconut oil, coconut water, nut butters, brown rice cakes, energy balls, protein powder sachets/packs that require no refrigeration, because they are easy to pack in a suitcase and are easy to then carry around in a day-bag too.
If you’re worried about your digestion and suffer from constipation in a new environment, be sure to bring along some helpful soothers. I tend to take my spices of ginger, fennel seed, peppermint/camomile tea, and digestive seed mixes which really help. Meanwhile, you should also keep on eye on regulating your blood sugar, so it’s a good idea to take a small spice-jar of ground cinnamon for a hit of extra sweetness if you need it - you can take either a teaspoon after a meal, or sprinkle some on your morning fruit or porridge.
Mentally prepare for a successful trip! Before travelling, it’s essential that you set up your body and your mind for success, but this requires a serious level of motivation from within. Anxiety, stress, and feelings of being overwhelmed, are all culprits that throw off our digestion and are bad for our microbiome. So once you have prepared for your holiday, everything is booked and packed, do take time to switch off and relax. Then, once you’re on your way, find a portable way of mitigating your stress, so that you can stay mindful even when you are on the go. Maybe these will be gentle forms of movement like yoga chair, affirmation cards, or meditation recordings. It is crucial to take time out and find a couple of minutes here and there to take deep, mindful, breaths, wherever you may be travelling. Your gut will naturally respond to this, because after all:
Calm Mind = Calm Digestion.
How about exercise? Healthy Digestion is closely linked to moving your body, so when you are travelling be sure to get your circulation moving, by exercising, and moving your body. For example, as soon as you get off a plane after a flight, be it short or long-haul, you should find a way to wake up your digestion, gain energy, and get your circulation moving. Now, if you’re someone who doesn’t mind making a bit of a fool of yourself, try walking-lunges or jumping-jacks. Even if you have to get others to join in with you! If you’re feeling a bit more reserved, however, just make sure you do some exercises when you get to your destination. If you’ve arrived early enough, the best thing to do is to get out and about exploring as soon as you can, or go swimming or cycling to get your body moving. Then, throughout the duration of your holiday it’s important to keep your digestive system activated through a form of exercise that you enjoy. For me, Yin Yoga is my favourite, so I will always take my yoga mat to stretch, squeeze, twist and open my body digestive system. My favourite postures to promote healthy, regular poops are called the snail, shoelace, and the seal – all postures which nourish and improve the health of our digestive and elimination organs; the spleen, stomach and intestines.
Allow yourself treats but do try and limit your indulgence if you have a sensitive stomach. I’m definitely guilty of overeating when I’m in ‘holiday mode’, but try not to go overboard and limit yourself to 1 indulgence per day, which will help you make better choices and not make your system work too hard.
Eat regularly. Eating 3 meals a day helps maintain a healthy gut, because it stimulates more movement through your gut. Otherwise, if you’re not eating regularly, food will sit in your gut for longer, and will then create more gas. So, if you have an early flight, I would recommend eating a small bite at the airport, even if it is at 5am, so that you can stimulate your gut movement and not bring any blockages upon yourself.
Try practising deep breathing before meals. This will trigger part of your body’s nervous system that is responsible for “rest and digest”. As a result, your body will be far more receptive to absorbing nutrients, digesting, and generally helping you to feel better.
During meal times, make sure you are fully present. Enjoy the experience at the table, while socialising and eating slowly. Best ways to do this? Try resting your fork between bites and chewing thoroughly, because eating at a slower pace will give your stomach the time it needs to signal to your brain that it is full.
It’s so important to keep hydrated when travelling. As well as water, my top tip would be coconut water. If you don’t like the flavour, find an alternative that contains those essential electrolytes.
Make time for siestas and catching up on sleep! Holidays are a time to slow down and make the most of some time out.
And smile! If you’re feeling a little panicky on your travels, it’s comforting to have a keepsake with you that is guaranteed to make you smile. Be it a picture, or a list of things that you are grateful for, smiling can actually reduce stress, and just makes the day feel a little better.
Plan ahead for healthy travels
Stock up while on the road
Create a TRAVEL TUMMY KIT
Prepare your body & mind for success
Move your body to keep digestion healthy
Get enough fibre
Snack healthily and wisely
Slow down & enjoy the sunsets
*1. Vohs, K. D., Baumeister, R. F., Schmeichel, B. J., Twenge, J. M., Nelson, N. M., & Tice, D. M. (2014). Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: A limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative. Motivation Science, 1(S). doi: 10.1037/2333-8113.1.S.19
*2. Kraft, T.L., Pressman, S. D. (2012). Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Psychological Science 23(11). doi: 10.1177/0956797612445312