How to Eat Healthy in a New City

by Andie Mitchell on January 13, 2014

new yorkvincent desjardins

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Share
    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. 

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Courtney January 13, 2014 at 10:57 am

I’m just like you, dinner is my favorite meal and the one I look most forward to! I think you have hit it right on the head, if we eat 3 well sized meals we won’t want to snack as much!

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Rachel January 13, 2014 at 11:32 am

I LOVE all of these tips! Living in NYC especially, there is food temptation around every corner. I can’t even count how many times I walk past one of those pizza joints with the big windows displaying all of the fresh pies.

Lets enjoy some NYC food together soon!

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Jenny January 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Thank you so much for this post! I think these tips are great to remember for EVERY meal every day, mundane or exciting!

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Sabrina Weeks January 13, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Thank you for this. What really spoke to me was about the sweets – that there will be sweets tomorrow. This is a huge aha moment for me. I’ve just started my journey and I have often fallen into panic mode about sweets and then find myself eating until whatever it is is GONE. This will help me.

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Medha January 13, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Lovely post – these tips are great and very practical while travelling to new place! I am a big fan of your blog since long time – first time stopped by to say hello! You are such an inspiration for healthy life style!

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Diane January 14, 2014 at 5:33 am

100% truth – as soon as I saw I had an email that you had a new blog post I thought – well she’s not doing her ‘I put Mom on a Diet’ anymore, so this is going to have to be a sponsored post. And yeah, it is.
Sorry man, your blog used to be interesting. Back when you know, you actually blogged on a regular basis because you are a Blogger, not because someone is paying you so you HAVE to put out a blog post about a topic of their chosing.

Blogging is what gave you a fan base, you’d think what with having a book coming out your fan base is something you’d try to nurture instead of totally selling out? Now instead of being excited about your upcoming book release I’ll just be unsubscribing from your ‘blog’…if you can really call it that anymore.

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Andie Mitchell January 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Diane,
I hear you. And while it really does pain me to hear it, I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve struggled really hard with blogging this past year–and you can tell. I’m grateful that you’ve even been here long enough to tell.
Writing–writing anything, really–has for a bit now felt like it takes a lot out of me, a lot that I don’t have to give in the first place. It’s strange and sad and, quite honestly, a deep source of embarrassment and shame for me. I’m really wanting to turn it around in 2014. It’s something I want to do for me, for you, for every single reader that comes here. I mean that.
For the past month and a half, I’ve been working 50+ hours a week on a film here in NYC. It will end this week. I know that it will free up some time and some headspace.
I think you’ve brought up a really valuable point about sponsored content and the notion that it really can’t be all of what’s here. That’s so valid, so true, and the direction I’ll follow from here on out.
I might have lost you already–I really hope not, but regardless, i really do appreciate you. I appreciate that you even cared enough to comment. That you even cared enough to want more of the regular writing. Thanks for staying as long as you did.

All the good things,
Andie

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Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic January 14, 2014 at 9:12 am

I read that “treat your diet like a bank account” mantra a few years ago and it definitely stuck with me. Right now I’m on vacation and while I did indulge more than usual, I pretty much still did these things. I even got my family to go the light and healthy breakfast route with me!

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Liz January 14, 2014 at 9:18 am

I have to disagree with Diane. Regardless of the whether or not a post is sponsored, the tips are solid and the vibe is positive and personal. I look forward to new posts!

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Jenna January 14, 2014 at 9:34 am

I loved this post. Such great tips. Finding new ways to eat healthy doesnt have to mean depriving yourself! Great post girl!

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Jenna January 14, 2014 at 9:42 am

P.s. im all about having your own opinion but gosh why bother commenting if its not positive. Your blog is super inspiring and I hope some comments dont discourage you.

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Shelly January 14, 2014 at 11:32 am

NYC is seriously temptation overload. As a food lover who’s trying to keep healthy, I know that it definitely hard, but you’re right, when you overindulge, it does make each treat/meal a little less special. I’m definitely still learning how to keep a balance between enjoying everything and going overboard. Glad to see that you’re adjusting well! :)

Shelly

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Kirthan January 14, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Remembering that treats will still exist tomorrow is still one of my biggest challenges. Logically I know it’s true but in the moment I always feel the need to eat more as if it’s my last chance to have a sweet.

I still feel the need to snack however, between lunch and dinner. Having lunch around noon and trying to go till 6 or 7 just leads me to ordering or grabbing something heavy and unhealthy that I can pop in the microwave. Having a snack helps me to keep going so that I can make a healthy dinner instead of gorging myself on junk.

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Silvia January 15, 2014 at 12:51 pm

That’s one of the reminders that’s so important: the food will be here tomorrow (and, of course, that’s a privileged statement to make in comparison to the starvation that hundreds of millions of people face).

I’ve been posting on your blog for months (with special interest in your Mom’s amazing journey!!) but have always wanted to comment on your iron-clad message of “breakfast, lunch and dinner” and, in particular, the “breakfast is essential” establishment mantra. It never worked for me, but intermittent fasting has been a revelation to me. I’ve been able to lose 25 pounds over the past 7 months and have an incredibly healthier relationship to food by combining intermittent fasting with the standard calorie counting and nutrition-awareness. Again: IF is NOT a solution if calories mindfulness and nutrition are not part of the strategy.

I don’t like eating breakfast, never have, and have found that by pushing my food intake into later in the day I can have the bigger meals that I crave and be more satisfied (instead, I found it much, much harder to resist eating if I have a meal earlier in the day). AGAIN: I monitor calories and pay attention to nutrition (IF is pointless if one overeats). For me, at age 42, I feel liberated because I found a system that works for me. It’s immensely more satisfying than adhering to the “breakfast, lunch and dinner” model that failed me for decades. Again, IF is not a substitute for calorie and nutrition awareness, but it’s a “feeding time” system that has absolutely revolutionized my weight loss maintenance (along with walking/exercise) and, more important, my relationship to food.

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Leslie Thomas January 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm

You know what is so exciting about reading you post? It is thinking that wow, I am doing some of those same things. I use to feel like I needed to eat everything I loved every day. I seriously worried about not having access to the food I wanted, and I think I still feel a little of those leftover feelings from growing up and feeling like I didn’t deserve certain foods or had to hide them. But now I tell myself I can have all these foods I want. I don’t have to eat them all in one day. Breakfast is probably my favorite meal, but most all places serve the foods I like and I can make them at home any day. So when we travel now I try to keep Breakfast my normal routine. We pack healthy snacks, and like you said focus on one meal of indulging. It makes it so much easier to stay on track. I was able to go on vacation last year and stay the same, and over the holidays I lost weight. It is so exciting. Great ideas :)

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Jill January 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I just found your blog yesterday. I can’t remember how, because I’ve gone and read the entire thing (okay, no, around page 400, my computer just sort of quit on me), and everything that came before is just white noise. I love your writing style. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all about your journey to become healthier, and all the delicious meals you’ve cooked. I also have a huge craving to go travelling in Costa Rica now, so…y’know, thanks. (I just returned from a year’s maternity leave so i’m thinking I miiiiiight not be able to go right away)
Keep up the wonderful writing. I’m excited for your book(s)!
All the good things <— totally stealing this for emails to friends, btw.
-Jill

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Monica January 16, 2014 at 6:38 pm

What a fantastic post? It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new place that we forget how to deal with it in a realistic way. Thank you for the reminder! This is going to be terrific advice no matter if you’re in your home city or traveling.

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Brian January 17, 2014 at 10:19 pm

What’s funny about when I read this is that for me it was kind of reversed, if you could call it that. I had to move away for about a year for work, and with all my spare time by myself I began a healthier lifestyle. In a sense it was easier to move to a new city, even for a temporary time, and be able to get things in order. When I actually had the trouble was when I move back home to get married. Since then I’ve found my way back to being who I was while I was gone. I did use similar tips talked about here, but picked up a few new ones in case I ever have to travel again.

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Florence January 18, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Andie, I am always so excited when you have a new post. I love your blog. The writing is fantastic and the advice is always wonderful– wholesome, healthy, but without deprivation. Congratulations on your new life and finding a healthy balance even in a new city!

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allison January 20, 2014 at 2:01 pm

This is my favorite post that I have read on your blog! These tips are smart, easy to follow, and they take the intimidation/deprivation factor out of healthy eating. I love that you advocate for eating delicious foods (even foods with butter and sugar) as part of healthy living. I also agree with you about snacking. Why waste calories on a granola bar?

Allison

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anon January 20, 2014 at 7:40 pm

it is sad how little quality blogging is done on this website and how much advertizing is everywhere. sad and embarrassing.

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Harish Desai June 3, 2014 at 7:18 am

hi,

i liked you post very much. but, i am a breakfast person. this is because when i go to sleep at night, my metabolism also goes to sleep. therefore I do not eat a heavy meal at night. I try to eat a heavy meal in the morning, before leaving for wherever i am going for the day.

During the day, all the walking and moving around helps my digestion and my metabolism remains in fine fettle.

This is not the case with dinner.

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