This post is sponsored by EVEN Hotels, as part of my work with their Well Well Well site. All opinions are, as always, 100% my own.
Living in New York City, I’m constantly surrounded by some of the best food in the world. Every day, someone in my life calls or emails to tell me about a cozy little cafe, a restaurant, a brand new bar that I must try. Every other shop in the rows that I pass in my neighborhood is a deli, a coffee shop, a bakery. Street corners are littered with vendors selling spicy lamb, chicken, and hot dogs. Super pretzels. Hot chestnuts.
The city has cronuts, for cryin’ out loud. It’s delicious. But delicious can be overwhelming as someone who has struggled with overeating her whole life. My instinct is to eat it all in a mad dash. My urge is to grab a plate and treat Manhattan like an endless buffet. But then, no.
The first week I was here, I did that. I made a list of all the places I needed to go, and I ate there. But what I come back to, over and over in life, is that it doesn’t feel good to treat food like a shopping spree. To treat my body like a plastic bag–cramming in a hundred delicious treats dilutes the flavor of each. It reduces each of them to just another cookie, just a slice of pizza, without any real satisfying meaning or memory. It feels good to find one special thing on one day, and maybe another special treat the next, but not all at once. Never all at once.
Eating well is a practice. New York is special in that it makes me actively practice, every day. Moderation, eating intuitively–they’re arts, they’re skills. They get easier, more natural, with time. A lot of the way I’ve been able to handle the intense food culture here is by remembering the beliefs I have about staying healthy while traveling. I reread some of my posts from my journey through Central America in 2012 and I think the same basic principles apply at home or away.
The most crucial part of travel eating, or learning to embrace a new city’s food scene, is knowing that food, while undeniably pleasurable and culturally significant, is the fuel that allows you to see, to explore, the area around you. If you can’t feel comfortable after eating, you’re less likely to get out there and enjoy the city you’ve traveled to. You won’t be walking the streets in a food coma; you won’t be out immersing yourself in the local scene when you’re crashing from breakfast.
Here is my advice on eating healthy in a new city:
- Walk everywhere. Be Active.
Even if you have no idea where you’re going, find yourself a local map and get outside. When I lived in Costa Rica for a few months in 2012, I had no means of transportation outside of my own two feet. The modest beach shack I rented was 4 km from the center of town where grocery stores and banks existed. I cannot count the number of times I 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 until 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. 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
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 One 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.
Of course, traveling requires lots of sampling–the specialty ice cream shop! The world famous nachos! The food truck that only parks for one hour on weekdays! There’s always something to try. And you should try everything, just not all of everything. If you treat your eating like a budget–where calories are akin to cash–you won’t be quick to blow all of them on one item–not when you know there’s more to come. You’ll spend a little here, a little there, being mindful of the overall dent you’ve made, and taking care to save some spare change for later. A good way to sample a little of everything is to share with your travel companion(s). This way, you’ll get to taste what you want in a reasonable, smaller portion size.
This post is sponsored by EVEN Hotels, as part of my work with their Well Well Well site.