Friday, September 11, 2009

Tips for the Independent Traveller, Part II of (?)

In my previous post about the subject, I covered the topic of packing, with the main message being – be a minimalist. Today I will discuss the topic of food and diet.

I am approaching this subject with a fair bit of caution. Last year during the KTGC tour, in one of the posts I mentioned that I fail to understand how most Americans & Canadians have their breakfast consist of food that renders them tired and unproductive (actually I think the word I used was “useless”) for the entire day. That appeared to have triggered someone to call me a jackass. I never knew that food is such a touchy subject.

That said, the same rule of thumb that applies for packing also applies for food: be a minimalist.

Ideally, if you have enough time to prepare for such a trip and you are overweight, you will want to lose that extra padding. No, the reason is not that I want you to look good (unless you happen to be a woman and our ways are bound to cross). Losing weight before such a trip has a few indispensible advantages:

  • The actual reduction in your body weight means that it’s physically easier for you to move around. Sometimes, you may have to walk some good distances and every single pound counts.
  • Assuming you have reduced weight in a “healthy” manner (rather than going on an extreme, hazardous diet), the very act of losing weight will normally translate to your body being able to maintain itself with less food intake. The very last thing you want to happen to you while on such a trip, is being in a constant state of hunger.

Now to the diet – that means, how and what you should be eating and drinking while on your trip.

Some background: I have spent 4.5 out of the last 5.5 years living with a partner that was extremely strict when it comes to food. She used to study chemistry, biology and other related subjects and knew pretty much anything there is to know about the body, nutrition etc. When we met, I used to eat a lot of garbage, but very quickly I changed my ways – drastically reduced the amount of garbage intake and overall took better care of my diet. Today I am indebted to her for training me to eat well.

While you are on an independent trip, one of the key things you want to achieve is control and predictability, especially when it comes to your body; and the simplest way I know of achieving this level of control and predictability is to not “surprise” your body. Your diet should be regular and consistent. The more consistent you are with your diet, the lower the risk that your body will give you trouble and there are very few things that can ruin a trip more than an angry stomach.

You also want to eat only when you’re hungry, but be careful not to wait until you’re starving. Also, you want to eat many small meals rather than a few big ones. The reason is that it takes your body between 15-30 minutes to realize that it’s not hungry anymore, and it will surprise you on how much less food you can survive. Try it for yourself… wait until you’re hungry, then eat half the quantity you usually eat when you’re hungry, then take a 20 minutes break. Most of the chances are that you’ll be surprised with the results and you won’t want to eat any further.

In summary, the “how” part of the diet is: eat in a predictable, regular manner, and eat a little.

Now about the “what”.

Candies and “simple” sugars (chocolate bars, candy bars, ice creams) are generally a big no-no. Having your blood sugar in control means a lot, and too much sugar can easily turn your trip from being a delight into a being a pain in the ass. High sugar level will cause you to eat more and be hyperactive – and, depending on how insulin behaves in your body – may sometimes make you simply fall asleep (due to sudden blood-sugar level drops). There is more than enough sugar in the food that you should be eating, and there’s no need to compliment it with candy.

Fast-food such as McDonald’s, Burger King and the vicious KFC (AKA “The Dirty Bird”) are also absolute no-no’s. Not only they contain ample amounts of sugar, the abundance of fat in these foods will make you sleepy and agitated. Given. Maybe in your regular life you don’t need to maintain a high level of attention for long periods of time (in which case consumption of “junk food” wouldn’t matter much), when you’re in an independent trip you really want to be on high alert to what’s going on and fat consumption clearly is not the way to go.

What you should eat is what you always heard that you should eat but never listened to. You want to eat foods that are high on fibre and low on sugar & fat. So-called “complex carbohydrates” (yams, whole-wheat bread, whole rice and, in fact, whole foods in general) are also good, as they are being digested rather slowly which means that you get a longer sense of “fullness” from them, essentially forcing you to eat less.

If you would like to eat something sweet, always prefer fruit over candy. Sweetness comes from sugars, and if you’re already going to consume sugars, might as well consume natural sugars (fruit) over synthetic, actually poisonous ones (candy).

When it comes to drink: avoid soft drinks such as cola, 7-up and other poisonous, sugar-filled crap and stick to the basics: water, tea, coffee (use milk rather than cream) and natural fruit juices. Same rules as before: the less sugar the better, and if you consume sugar already, always prefer natural over synthetic.

That’s it with regards to food… for now. There may be other tips I can provide but so far I captured what I believe are the most important things.

Later,
Isaac

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am approaching this subject with a fair bit of caution. Last year during the KTGC tour, in one of the posts I mentioned that I fail to understand how most Americans & Canadians have their breakfast consist of food that renders them tired and unproductive (actually I think the word I used was “useless”) for the entire day. That appeared to have triggered someone to call me a jackass. I never knew that food is such a touchy subject.

I see you've lowered your estimate from 98% to "most". Nice generalization.

Isaac said...

Hello Anonymous,
Thanks for the compliment, much appreciated.

Isaac