Any change in routine from ‘real life’ can bring about its challenges if you’re trying to stick to a way of eating that is different from the ‘standard Westernised diet’. When you’re not in control of your food choices it can be particularly hard, and can make or break any dietary habits that define what you eat. My good friend Helen shares her experience (and some useful tips) during a recent trip back to visit family and friends in the UK.
April 2013 marked a turning point in the way I fuel my body…high fat instead of low fat, low carb instead of high carb, meat instead of no meat. The result….more stable energy levels, reduced bloating, feeling great. Eating low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF), along with a more efficient approach to training, had quickly become a way of life, but how would a month-long trip to the UK challenge this new way of living? Here’s what I found:
LCHF takes some planning, so while things were in my control, I made the most of it. Bacon and eggs for brunch, and chicken laksa with faux rice before we left for the airport. I also baked some no sugar, no grain muffins for the journey and packed a big bag of almonds.
By the time the in-flight meal was served it was nearly midnight but the chicken curry went down a treat (minus the rice). And eight hours later, a cheesy omelette for breakfast was ideal….so far so good.
In transit at LAX there was sugar sugar everywhere so my almonds and muffins came in very handy, for all of us. And then we landed in England.
My Mum had read my “Diary of a LCHF dabbler” but my in-laws didn’t even know I was eating meat so had bought in Quorn* especially for me. Mum had switched low fat milk and yoghurt for full fat versions, but as a vegetarian herself, going the whole hog (excuse the pun) on LCHF would always be challenging. As an aside, she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and although her GP advised her to increase her intake of whole grains and cereals, she fortunately did the opposite and is noticing much improved symptoms.
There were already nuts and seeds in the house, as well as Greek yoghurt, berries, eggs, olive oil, loads of fish, plenty of vegetables and salad stuff. The only extra thing I needed to buy in the first few days was some cream (and some Pepsi Max!).
It was a very different situation at my in-laws. The fridge and cupboards were stocked with all of the foods I used to think were good – pasta, bagels, tomato-based sauces, low-fat yoghurts, low-fat milk and a cereal selection to die for (literally it might now seem).
Not wanting to be awkward (or starve) I had a bowl of cereal the first morning. It was nice but I just wasn’t satisfied, even after seconds. By the second morning I’d managed to get some Greek yoghurt and had that with a bit of natural muesli and almonds. It was a bit better but still not enough fat and too much sugar. Better than the small pottle of yoghurt my husband pulled out of the fridge though – zero fat but almost 25 g of sugar!
Eating meat again was a big plus and it was lovely to not be the awkward vegetarian for once. They probably thought it was a bit strange that I was avoiding some of the foods I’d previously eaten so much of, but nobody asked why and I was too tired to start to explain.
Choosing LCHF options is made easier when cafes serve breakfast all day, but this is not as common in England as it is in New Zealand. When it was impossible to go LCHF, it was actually nice to prove to myself that I could have an egg sandwich and the world wouldn’t end! Although I advise other people to aim for 18 out of 21 meals to be LCHF, the perfectionist in me had been starting to think that for me, 20 out of 21 meant failure. It’s almost like a fear of carbs had taken over from a fear of fat (not that that is necessarily a bad thing).
Getting over this hurdle meant that I could enjoy a beautiful dish of spring pea and mint ravioli at Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant in Leeds and one day, when the only thing remotely appealing on a lunch menu was a jacket potato with tuna mayonnaise, I had an unexpectedly nice experience. The jacket potato skin was as it should be, thick and crispy, and with my new found liking for butter (and a realisation that it is far from bad), I enjoyed the unique taste of butter and potato that took me right back to my childhood. OK, so it would have been better if the potato had been a kumara, but I was so full from all the tuna topping and the buttery skin that I couldn’t eat most of the actual potato.
Eating out was often easier than eating in and with meat still being a novelty, the new found variety I found on every menu was amazing. And hotel breakfasts were fantastic. I’ve always loved a hotel breakfast (well hotels full stop really) but would always walk out feeling uncomfortably full, only to start getting a bit peckish again mid-morning! Not this time – after a big plate of bacon, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes I was satisfied but not bloated and wasn’t hungry again until mid-afternoon.
My initial impression of UK supermarkets was of variety and low prices, but as the trip wore on, I realised that in terms of “real” food, availability was reduced and prices were probably similar. For example, I had to go to a specialist health food shop to buy a bag of almonds bigger than 100 g, and even then I could only buy raw ones not roasted. I have since found that roasting your own** is an absolute doddle and delicious. One great thing I did find in one supermarket was a huge salad bar. It would have made a great picture to compare what I put in my box this time versus what I would have put in 10 years ago. 2013: two boiled eggs, grated cheese, coleslaw, etc. 2003: pasta salad, rice salad, mixed beans.
I started the trip full of good intentions to do lots of baking, partly to make some healthy snacks and partly because Ella enjoys it, but an average batch of muffins and some slightly more successful pancakes were our only creations and my Mum now has a year’s worth of coconut flour to get through!
Spreading the message
A few people I met had read my diary and wanted to know more. But some people, like my brother, didn’t want a bar of it! I wished that I’d had some really short, simple statements to quickly and clearly explain but I found I often got tongue-tied trying to explain something that seems so obvious to me and angry at how brainwashed we’ve been for so long. I tried though and several of my friends are now giving it a go and others asked for more information. I’ve created a bit of a hand out that I can send to people and now need to work on those punchy statements!
So what did I learn?
As well as being fantastic to see family and friends, this trip reinforced to me what a sensible and achievable lifestyle choice LCHF is (with a bit of flexibility). Travelling can be an excuse, or an unfortunate opportunity, to fall off the bandwagon, but whether your lifestyle of choice is Paleo, LCHF vegan or whatever, hopefully some of the lessons learned below might help you stick to it when you’re away from home:
- Be prepared – pack your own snacks and don’t rely on what will be on the plane or at airports
- Choose the hot breakfast rather than the supposedly “healthy”, “light” or “continental” option!
- Book a Diabetic meal on the plane if the airline will let you (although this may just be low sugar rather than low carb; and it will probably be low fat!)
- Consider telling the people you’re staying with what you’re doing, whether it be LCHF, Paleo, or any other way of living
- Trust in what you’re doing and ignore what others might say
- Try to educate people but don’t ram it down their throats
- Don’t beat yourself up if things slip a bit – remember the 80/20 rule
- Keep a food diary if you need to be more strict – seeing things in black and white is often all you need to get back on track
- Stay in touch with your support network(s) or someone who ‘gets’ what you do
- Have a goal to achieve by the end of your trip or when you get home
- Enjoy yourself – eating out, picnics, a glass of wine J
*Quorn is the leading brand of faux meat mycoprotein in the United Kingdom. The mycoprotein used to produce Quorn is extracted from the fungus Fusarium venenatum
**How to dry roast almonds: Heat your oven to 175oC. Spread almonds on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until they are golden brown and fragrant. Delicious!