How I eat healthy while traveling

by Andie Mitchell on September 11, 2012

In 2006, I travelled through the full boot of Italy- eleven cities in all- and spent time in Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, Valencia, Barcelona, and London. I stayed in hostels that ran the gamut from dodgy to dodgier to ‘let’s never tell my mother about this.’ And when I returned to the States after all of that, I had lost sixty pounds.

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In the past four years, I’ve moved from Boston to Philadelphia to Connecticut to Seattle.

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In this year alone, I’ve made my way through three parts of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic.

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I travel. And I remain committed to eating in balance all the while.

I think of myself as an adventurer. I believe myself to be spontaneous, curious, and present enough to feel as though I’m actively living while traveling. No part of my day is routine or on autopilot as it so often is at home. I’m out, I’m about, I’m exploring. And once I’ve arrived in a new city or town, I’m committed to experiencing it. I recognize the brevity of the trip, the fact that I might not ever be in this place again, with these people, at this stage in my life, and because of those things, I seize every opportunity.

My senses are heightened. I want to smell everything, to see everything, to taste everything. It’s my way of making a mental scrapbook, of taking in memories like photographs to be filed away. It is this deep and true awareness of my environment and my own senses that keeps me connected to my body. I am living on purpose. It’s the kind of living that satisfies me enough so that I’m not wanting to eat out of boredom, so that I’m not searching for a snack as something to do, so that I’m not wanting to binge eat because I know that feeling bloated, heavy, and sluggish will prevent me from walking more, dancing more, beaching it, more. In this sense, food propels me forward to doing more. And that’s not to say that it is not still wildly pleasurable; it’s just that overeating anything, eating even a salad to the point of mild discomfort, loses its appeal.

What I learned in the beachy cultures of Central America this year was a respect for my body. Being so constantly scantily clad in bathing suits, in shorts and tank tops, in attire that felt both minimally inappropriate and preclusive to excessive sweat stains, I was more aware of my body. Unable to hide any parts that I do not love, I had to accept them. I was putting myself out there, and though the thought of it at first made me anxious, in the end I loved it. I found confidence in knowing that this- this body- is the one that swims and dances and walks several miles a day. This body is the one that I have, and even if its not the one I’d have picked out in a one-day body sale, it’s mine. I can choose to do with it as I please.

Here is my advice on eating healthy while traveling:

  • Walk everywhere. Be Active.
    And by everywhere, I mean: ev.ery.where (adv): to or in all parts or places. Even if you have no idea where you’re going, find yourself a local map and get outside. When Camille and I lived in Costa Rica for a few months last spring, we had no means of transportation outside of our own tootsies. Our modest beach shack was 4 km from the center of town where grocery stores and banks existed. I cannot count the number of times we took a two hour walk to and fro.

If you can, rent a bike. This will increase the distance of places you can easily visit while also saving you the time you might have spent on foot.

 

  • Pick 1 Meal to Indulge.
    For me, the meal that means most is dinner. I look forward to it, usually I’m dressing up, there’s a group of people going with me, and I’m making a big to do about it. And since dinner is my happy end to the day, I keep breakfast and lunch light. In Europe, or at least certainly in Italy, breakfast is not as big a deal as it is here in the USA. Often, it’s an espresso alongside a traditional sweet pastry or biscuit. Italians inhabit a culture that might nibble on a small starch in the morning and be content ‘til lunchtime. You and I, however, can develop a fantastic habit of having a healthy, wholesome breakfast and we certainly won’t be missing out on any grand eating experiences. (Unless gelato becomes an a.m. staple over there, in which case- disregard the entirety of this recommendation). In other areas that you’re traveling, breakfast is usually easy to quarantine as light and healthy. What is worth recognizing as positive about breakfast is that no matter where you are, at least a few of the staples on any morning menu will be good for you. This makes it fairly easy to stay within a reasonable calorie range. There will likely be fruit, yogurt, milk, eggs, and perhaps even oatmeal. Any combination of these choices is wise. All will probably be lighter than a muffin, a pastry, or a serving of pancakes or waffles with butter and syrup. Just make the best choice you can here and know that you have dinner (and perhaps dessert) to look forward to.

 

  • Eat 3 solid meals per day and do not snack (please).
    Europeans eat well, and a large part of how they maintain their slim figures is by avoiding snacking. Americans are said to consume somewhere around 25% of their daily calorie intake through snacks. This hyper-snacking isn’t typical to many cultures, at least not in the places I’ve traveled.
    If you think about it, snacks are never as satisfying as sitting down to a meal. They’re often forgettable, and only leave you fantasizing about your next lunch or dinner. If you’re eating a balanced, full-of-vegetables meal three times a day, you should be fine in between without grazing. Here is where you’ll get in tune with your hunger. You’ll learn that being hungry is a gentle building, and when you do eventually eat, you appreciate, you taste, your food that much more. You celebrate meal time because it is not something that happens at any hour, in any location.

 

  • Eat 1 Treat per day
    This will keep you happy. This will keep you strong and sane. The goal is to stop after one of something, one of anything your heart desires. Know this: Sweets will exist tomorrow, and even the day after that, so no need to stockpile your stomach.

 

 

Savor your meals and sweets a whole lot,

but savor your time even more.

No regrets.

 

I’d love to know: What’s your best advice on eating healthy while traveling?

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Anele @ Success Along the Weigh September 11, 2012 at 11:37 am

Have yet to fully put the eating healthy while traveling thing into practice. It’s going to change soon because the weight loss is moving again (after 4000 tweaks) and we’ve got a week in a foodie town coming up next month and I don’t want to undo all of our progress to spend 2 weeks working it right back off to square one. I do find that we order a lot more fish than we ever used to. We’re going to establish some rules and this post definitely helps!

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Tracy September 11, 2012 at 11:37 am

Lady, where in CT did you live?

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admin September 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Hamden!

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Aubrey September 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I spent 2 weeks in Europe when I was at my heaviest, and I lost 10 lbs eating literally anything I wanted. Although all of your advice in this article is wonderful, I’ll wrestle your loudspeaker away from you to shout #1 to everyone within a tri-state area. WALK EVERYWHERE.

Up until that point I’d lived in rural areas where you drive 2 blocks to the grocery without a second thought. It was a bit of a shock to say the least. But literally walking my face off in Paris, Venice, and Rome, (I wear my face on my feet, it’s weird,) was the jumping off point to losing over 50 pounds and reaching my goal weight.

Walk when you can. Bike when you can’t. And drive when you absolutely have to.

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Megan {A RAY OF SUN} September 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I love your tips, they really hit home with me and definitely things that are manageable for my lifestyle! Love your blog!!!

xoxoxo

arayofsunblog.com

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Robyn September 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I love how speak about your “mental scrapbook.” I, too, always travel with this, allowing the sights, the smells, the overall feeling of a place to take over and become a sweet memory to enjoy later.

Thanks for mentioning snacking less, I can definitely be guilty of this ;)

Xo
Robyn @ Bliss in Print

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Sicorra September 11, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I really enjoyed your post! And the pictures are beautiful.

I have a habit of eating and feeling bloated and I try to remind myself of exactly what you said “Know this: Sweets will exist tomorrow, and even the day after that, so no need to stockpile your stomach.”

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Megan September 12, 2012 at 5:46 am

I totally agree!

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Megly September 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm

haha “no need to stockpile your stomach.” How funny that’s exactly how I’ve felt all my life… whenever there is something delicious sitting in front of me, I feel it’s a disservice to myself not to eat it. So not true. Thanks for the reminder :) Looking forward to more posts and especially your book!!

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Megan September 12, 2012 at 5:47 am

…and I agree with you too! I think the “stockpile your stomach” comment may have just changed my life!! :)

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Mrs Brooks September 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I am loving some of your posts…(but, the food pics are killing me!)..
When I am lucky enough to travel, I walk as much as I can… Sadly, I do snack A LOT!! as I am fascinated by foreign versions of snack/junk foods but, I try and usually manage to offset this by my wandering everywhere.. I have also learnt that if you put a positive spin on it by looking at it as a free and fun chance to get up and close to local things that would ordinarily fly past you in a car, it doesn’t hurt as much.. It works well for this girl from Oz.. :)

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Holly September 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I love when you post about fully enjoying life for everything it offers…including delicious eats! I try to live the life God made for me to enjoy, an abundant one full of His good gifts! I am grateful that authentic Mexican, beautiful cupcakes, and sweet moscato can be a part of that equation. Not to mention the gifts of spending time with people you love,travel, adventure, sights, sounds, and smells. Thanks Andy!

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Vallen Queen September 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I think walking is key!! It seems that every vacation I take – beaches in Mexico, castles in Britain – I eat three meals each day and lose ten pounds every trip. Like you, I think that walking and not snacking are the reason.

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Brittany September 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm

thank you for the great tips! I’ve been trying to think of ways to stay on track while on vaca, since we a have a few coming up :D

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Kate September 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I travelled in Argentina a few years back and lost weight, which baffled me, because I had said a loud YES to every possible food experience over there. It would have been worth gaining a few pounds for that icecream and steak and pizza and ham, my goodness, the ham.

But reading this post, it makes sense – I walked everywhere and didn’t snack. The intent was to save money, but it had a silver lining!

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Bethany September 11, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I just stumbled on your blog and love it. This was a great post. I really appreciate that you base your “diet” advice on culture and appreciation of food, and not a set of seemingly random rules. Michael Pollan touched on this in his book In Defense of Food, and it makes so much sense. I look forward to reading more of your beautiful posts.

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Tracey September 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Thanks for this Andy, leaving for Germany next week. BTW: You’re very photogenic! I admit I think I have a bit of a girl-crush:)

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Mrs. H September 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I love your blog and I’ve never commented before, but I just want to say that my husband and I went on our first cruise this summer and I had heard horror stories about people gaining 5-7 lbs in one week. We vowed to each other that we would walk everywhere on that ship and never take the elevators. Wow, I bet we walked 4-5 miles a day, but it was worth it. We stayed away from the buffets (human troughs) and ate every meal in the main dining room where we chose delicious, healthy, three course meals every night that included wine, appetizers, main dish, espresso and melting chocolate cake for desert. We did this every single day and both came home a couple of pounds lighter than when we left. Not sure how that happened, but I have to think it had something to do with the massive amount of excercise we were getting every day. So I have to agree with your walk everywhere advice!

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Bailey @ Onederland or Bust! September 11, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Great tips especially the walking everywhere! When my boyfriend and I went to mexico this winter I was wearing a pedometer for work and i logged 20,000 steps per day!! It was great and made me feel less guilty about the treats :)

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Merbear September 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Loved this post. Thanks for all the great advice :)

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Lipgloss and a Backpack September 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I’ve spent more than three of the last ten years traveling. For the last eight years I have been a vegetarian, which naturally limits how much kebab and burgers I can eat while on the road (zero), but for my last couple of major holidays I’ve devised a bizarre “four-point system”. Each day I allow myself a maximum of one pizza, one ice cream, one coffee and one alcoholic drink. The points are interchangeable and bankable… if I have four drinks I don’t have pizza, ice cream or coffee that day (or, more realistically, the next day!). If I have two coffees I’ll skip the ice cream. I’ve never actually eaten two pizzas in one day, but if there were NO other vegetarian options… you get the idea. It’s not like I eat all four every day, and it’s DEFINITELY not like I don’t eat other things, but it reminds me to stay balanced.

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Moran September 12, 2012 at 2:39 am

you’ve only been to the parts of europe where people are thin (italy and spain.. omg..). people aren’t that thin in germany or scandinavia (scandinavians aren’t fat at all, but they are, how do you say it? very well built. giants in my 5.1 eyes). i’m not saying you’re wrog, it’s just that what you wrote is true to some parts of europe.

btw, i’ve been to china, and the chinese eat ALL the time (they snack and snack and snack). and they eat EVERYTHING. and they are skinny b/c they’re, well, chinese.. :D

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Sonal September 12, 2012 at 5:24 am

You write so eloquently, every time I read a post I feel inspired to eat healthy. I love the last quote especially to savour your time even more. Live on purpose. Thanks Andi. :)

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Megan September 12, 2012 at 6:07 am

Andy, Andy, Andy…I sometimes forget how young you still are when I read your posts! God has SO gifted you with wisdom, insight, and the astounding ability to convey your experiences in a totally understandable and relatable way! I absolutely LOVE reading your posts…you never disappoint me. You truly do speak with the experience of a 80 year old woman…I really, really, really, really like you :)

I agree with everything, exactly as you said it. I have always had to watch my weight, since I was young, so I have essentially, grown up knowing how to eat right and eat well. That is a good thing. Still, after having my 4 kiddos and reaching the very young age of 40, I have had to become even more diligent…

There is really no tip I can add since you had me nodding my head “yes, yes, yes” through the whole post: eat fruits and vegetables, stay away from snacks and processed foods (ie pretzels, chips, kids leftover fruit snacks and PB sandwich crusts) as much as you can, and move…however you like to and however you can fit it in: just try to keep moving!

I WILL post your comments about not “stockpiling” my sweets and not even overindulging to the point of discomfort on salads though…I need to remember both points!

Love you Andy…perfect post today!

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MAJL September 12, 2012 at 6:50 am

Great tips;I agree, do the same,and tell people the same.
PS I wanted to thank you for your blog….It is the only one I haven’t stopped reading lately, mostly due to how it is not bombarded with ads for things I do not want to purchase.

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Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy September 12, 2012 at 7:43 am

These are pretty much the exact same things I do when I am traveling so that I don’t go completely off track. I like to enjoy myself, but I don’t want to have to come home and spend 6 months working off a 2 week trip!

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Bridget September 12, 2012 at 8:20 am

I think I need you to be my life coach… Wanna move to Northern Wisconsin for the winter? Thanks for this blog- I always feel so empowered and motivated to live healthier after reading your words of wisdom (even if I already knew the lesson it is your validation that helps!) Thanks!

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Kristin Murdock September 12, 2012 at 8:42 am

LOVE LOVE LOVE this, Andie! You are a true gift to the interwebs. :)

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Chrystie September 12, 2012 at 9:31 am

“And that’s not to say that it is not still wildly pleasurable; it’s just that overeating anything, eating even a salad to the point of mild discomfort, loses its appeal.”

This really resonated with me. My whole life I’ve been able to eat whatever I wanted in abundance without ever gaining a pound. In the last year I put on ten pounds rapidly and started losing the body confidence that had always been a constant. I tried eating healthier, eating out less, but the weight just wouldn’t budge. I realized very quickly that portion control was non-existent to me, nor did I know what a “normal” portion was. Frustrated, I decided to do what others had mentioned, to try and stop when I first started feeling full. In my mind I had been following this practice all along, but in reality when I started to actually pay attention to what my body was telling me the weight started coming off and stabilizing regardless of what I was eating. I realize now when I have eaten too much, my body is unhappy and I regret it afterwards. Learning to avoid the discomfort you so eloquently described was the key to everything.

Thank you as always for being the unique voice in this journey of health and happiness. Your stance and ideas about healthy living and life in general make me feel like there’s at least one person out there that understands you can be a food lover and still be healthy.

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Johnny September 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Andy,

Great post, got a real good look at your writing style and have fallen in love with it. You make the life eating experience so real and matter of fact that any idiot (even me :)) could follow it. I think in all honesty you could NOT find a better body at a body day sale! :) Yours is perfect!!!

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Katy Brannen September 12, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Hi Andie,
I am actually on the road for work right now, so this post is oh-so apropos!
My tip for eating healthy while traveling is to hit up the grocery stores and markets for a meal or two each day. It’s very possible to find healthy options at restaurants, but I usually end up feeling bloated regardless because of all the sodium. You can get simpler “wholer” foods at a market, plus, I LOVE perusing grocery stores! :) I think it’s such a fun way to experience a culture. My husband and I also traveled around Italy in 2006 (maybe we bumped into each other?!?) and one of my most vivid and favorite memories is grocery shopping in Venice. All the fresh cheeses, breads, fruits, and veggies were so beautiful and delicious. And while we definitely enjoyed going out to sit-down dinner at a restaurant every couple of days, we also loved eating on benches around the city and just taking it all in.
So with that… I’m going to go steam some broccoli and pasta in my hotel microwave for dinner! ;)
~Katy

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Obsessed About Food September 13, 2012 at 2:50 am

Hi Andie,
This post is very true- it makes me see that eating healthy while travelling doesn’t need to be a massive worry. In the past I was in a bad place with dieting and used to worry sick when I was taken out of my comfort zone- However I now eat 3 meals a day and don’t need to worry about my weight- It’s fab! And very simple! I love the fact that you stress that as one of your travel tips as so many food writers out there are obsessed with the idea that you have to eat 5/6 meals a day… sigh. I suppose it is whatever works for the individual :)
Anyway thanks for another great blog post.

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Amanda S September 13, 2012 at 6:18 am

This post is exactly what I needed today. I travel a lot and have been using it as an excuse to eat all the junk food I want only to come back home bloated and exhausted and regretful. I am headed back to NYC in just over a week to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday and these tips remind me what I already know and discovered through my own weighloss journey–while food can be an experience, its not THE experience. Thank you for this post!

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Amber Ellison Walker September 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Wow – what an amazing blog post! Everything you mentioned makes so much sense and yet sometimes seems so difficult when we’re on vacation right? I think it’s so important to remember that making those kinds of choices makes the trip (and our bodies) better overall.

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Zita September 14, 2012 at 9:17 am

Andie,

You continue to inspire me and I just wanted to thank you again for sharing your journey.

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Moriah September 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Oh my gosh! This is kinda what we do when we travel! I credit my husband for all of this. I was resistant at first, but not only is it healthier- it saves on the wallet. :) Thanks for sharing this with all of us!

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Bek @ Crave September 14, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Lovely post! I’ll use these tips when I do my Europe trip ;)

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Justin September 16, 2012 at 11:06 am

Love it, Andrea!

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Julie September 18, 2012 at 10:40 am

This was great! I love “sweets will exist tomorrow.” I am going to be telling myself that each day. What all of your suggestions really lead to is being mindful about what we put into our mouths, which is totally how I view my diet at this point, thanks!

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Justin October 2, 2012 at 2:09 am

Great post and I enjoyed reading it. Good tips.

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Alla December 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Andrea, reading your posts is wonderful. They are so calming, so inspiring, so teaching…
It made my day.
Thank you.

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TrishInFL December 18, 2012 at 4:52 am

You have such a way with word! I’ve heard most of this advice before, just never in such an eloquent way that really, REALLY makes it’s seem so attainable and enjoyable.

Thank you!!

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Lacey December 28, 2012 at 9:13 am

Great article! I spent some time in Central America last month… and I loved it more than anything.

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Tara December 29, 2012 at 10:00 pm

I am enjoying your blog… good information, some I am familiar with and some not. all of it inspires thought however, and thats great! can you elaborate a little more on what you said about choosing 1 meal a day to indulge? can you give me an example of one such indulgent meal? what would that include?

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Sally July 5, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I love your blog, and especially this post! I just spent four days in NYC with my mom and was suprised to find I lost a pound over the time I was there! (I know half a pound is practically nothing, but I’m maintaining so I don’t try or want to loose weight). All the while I was indulging in yummy meals, some wine each evening, and even a couple of treats from local street vendors! Walking everywhere and just taking the time to enjoy each bite or sip, and the conversation with my mother whom I adore. I’ve always struggled with eating just a little bit of something, with leaving food on my plate, but the concept of “not stockpiling the stomach” just really resonated with me. Thank you Andie!!

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Victoria December 18, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Ughhh. I have the problem of “stockpiling my stomach” as you say. I tend to think that that i wont ever find that yummy brownie or scrumptious apple cake again so I need to eat it while its there. I must break the habit!

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