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This blog is purely informational and not meant to take the place of individual medical nutrition therapy (MNT). For serious medical conditions, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. 

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Q: How do I "stay on track" while on vacation?

Drinking on a beach

A: Vacation is about escape. A break from the every day. A time to explore a new landscape, authentic foods, or different cultures. Traveling is the perfect opportunity to engage in mindful eating—a practice that exemplifies the notion of savoring the moment.

Recently, I embarked on a birthday getaway—a 10-day trip to a few of America’s top travel destinations. It started with a kiss goodbye to my family, three one-way plane tickets, a train reservation, and an utter disregard for the cost of it all. I dubbed it my midlife crisis tour.

Midlifing started with a girls’ weekend in Portland. Some “me time” in Seattle. Then a family weekend in New Orleans.

I sipped wine in the Willamette Valley, tasted tacos and dumplings in the award-winning Alberta district of Portland, and savored fresh seafood in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I indulged in a Biscuit Bitch breakfast sandwich—how could I not?—and sunk my teeth into a beignet—or three—in the French Quarter.

All this because, after all, life is meant to be lived. Lived well. And lived mindfully.

What is mindful eating?

In its truest form, mindful eating is characterized by a slow, savoring, submersion into a dining experience. It incorporates all of the senses—the scene around you, the appearance of the food, the aromas and the textures, the sensations of your salivary glands and your taste buds. It involves your mind, as you envision the origins, preparation, and the components of the food; as well as your emotions-- as you appreciate the moment, either with yourself or with your companions.

How does mindful eating help to reduce calories?

In practice, true mindful eating is exaggeratingly slow, and can appear hokey to some. But the concept of savoring the moment can be applied even without super slow-mo mode. The very act of eating slowly has the physiological advantage of allowing your brain to receive the signal that your stomach is becoming full. This signal comes in the form of leptin, a hormone that increases while you eat, designed to tell you when to stop eating. Eat too fast and you are likely to overstuff your belly before the signal reaches your brain, taking in more calories than your body needs.

Three keys to staying mindful while traveling.

Travel warrants mindfulness on a grand scale. It is an experience worth savoring. For many, it is a rare and indulgent escape. Memories should be made, relished and cherished. Here are three keys to staying mindful while traveling.

  1. Recognize each moment. From the quiet of your hotel room to the bustle of the city streets, take note of how different each moment compares to your typical day at home. Note how you feel about the difference. Is it what you were longing for? Imagining? Or are you feeling a new appreciation for home?

  2. Savor each bite. While you may feel inclined to rush each tasty bite, slow down. Notice the textures, spices and aromas of each meal. Choose foods that may not be available near your home. Experiment with the flavors of the region. Choose dishes you might not normally try. Make note of how the flavors make you feel. Avoid stuffing yourself to the point of discomfort or regret.

  3. Step into the scenery. Skip the Uber and sight-see on foot. You never know what stops or shops you will stumble upon between points A and B. Or rent a bike and explore a quiet neighborhood to see how the locals live. Or go for a run on a local trail, along a shoreline, or through a park. Staying active will help keep your metabolism revved up for your culinary adventures.

  4. Forgive yourself. While vacationing doesn’t have to be a total gluttonous sloth-fest, you don’t have to be a perfect angel either. As mentioned earlier, for most people, vacations are few and far between. Thus, the foods you eat on vacation are not likely going to determine your overall health. Once you get back to the real world, return to your normal routine.

Mindful Midlifing

As for my midlife crisis tour, I enjoyed living my daydreams. Sipping coffee on a sidewalk café. Finding fashion in vintage stores. Dining on the waterfront. Wandering with no time constraints, no obligations, and no responsibilities. No reason to be anyone but myself.

Why the escape? Perhaps it was the timing of my birthday. Now in my mid-40s, I am becoming more aware of time and quality of life. At times, life can feel like a hamster wheel. Work, rest. Work, worry. Work, sleep. Work, can’t sleep. Weekends are too short. Mondays are too hard.

I often find myself imagining what I will do “someday.” When there’s more time.

But as I get older, I am realizing that the time is now. We cannot know what lies ahead. There are many landscapes yet to explore, cultures to experience, tastes to savor. I have many words to write, stories to tell, and chances to take.

So after years of studying, paying my dues, developing my craft, and proving my worth, it was time to enjoy what I have earned. After all, why else do we work so hard?

My escape was everything I daydreamed it would be. My girlfriends and I talked deep into the night about family, love, career, and all things female. My days alone were leisurely and low stress. With my family, we experienced the grit and the beauty of New Orleans, from the craziness of the French Quarter to the wildlife of the bayou.

And with every stop, I savored how very blessed I truly am.

Midlife crisis averted.

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