Once again Nate Green stimulates my thinking and connects my professional and personal dots. Last week he asked newsletter subscribers this question, and I was surprised at the cascade of subsequent questions it triggered for me:
How do we define “healthy?”
What about travel threatens and/or challenges health?
Is it different depending on the person? The trip?
What about the trip—Destination? Duration? Time of year? Companions? Purpose?
How, specifically, is travel different from home?
How do we apply the answers to these questions?
In my practice, the patients I see travel, I estimate, an average of 35% of the time. They endure interstate commutes between work headquarters and home, or fly between company sites and all over to meet customers across the country and around the world. Inevitably these trips include hours sitting in meetings and then the requisite business dinners. Such meals present the quadruple threat for acid reflux, among other problems: They are large volume, fatty, and alcohol-laden, and often occur shortly before people go to bed. Many patients report that they feel badly after business dinners—bloated, sedate, and a little guilty, or at least concerned, about their health. They feel little agency to change the pattern—fascinating. We cannot underestimate the business culture of peer pressure that perpetuates our worst habits of self-sabotage, and I see this as the primary threat to my patients’ health when they travel. Other challenges include jet lag, poor access to healthy food, and disruption of routine, most importantly sleep and exercise.
I have only started to ask my patients Nate’s question. One patient knew his answer without hesitation: Do not eat late. I’m curious to see how others answer, and how their answers may evolve over time. Perhaps I will add this to my standard questions, after my stress/meaning ratio markers.
Nate’s question invites me to consider for myself, as I prepare to travel for the holidays.
How will I define health on this trip? I will be healthy if I stay active, protect my sleep, and connect with my people. I will practice intention and mindfulness. I will read that which enriches my knowledge, awareness, and relationships, and do my best to avoid click bait, sensationalism, and meaninglessness.
What about this travel threatens or challenges my health? OMG the food. It’s not just business dinners that are full of fat, sugar, and portions to satiate hippopotami. Holiday desserts are my crack—one of these days I might just overdose… I also tend to stay up too late, usually watching movies, and then sleep in and feel guilty for wasting half a day already. That kills my motivation to do anything very active, much less a full workout—the day is practically over—what’s the point? Might as well eat, is there any cheesecake left?
Is this different for me compared to others? Oh, yes. My husband seems to have no problem controlling his eating, sleeping, and activity anywhere he goes. Jerk.
Is travel home for the holidays different from, say, conference travel? Yes. I think I am more disciplined at meetings. There isn’t food everywhere whenever I want it, and medical conferences usually offer more healthy options anyway. I still stay up too late, though.
So what’s the answer? How will I keep myself healthy this holiday travel season?
Nate included a video by Matt D’Avella in his newsletter, which made some useful suggestions. Carve out time at the beginning of each day to exercise. Get outside if possible. Make the objective maintenance of fitness and routine, rather than progress—slow and steady prevents injury. I can probably mark time to do some kind of exercise, just not in the mornings—I hate mornings.
Nate suggests making one consistent meal every day of the trip. Matt made chicken, black bean, egg, and rice burritos every morning in Sydney. That fueled his morning workouts, simplified food decision making by one meal a day, and allowed him to explore new foods the rest of each day. I can probably make breakfast my stable meal each day on vacation. My morning meal has been haphazard the past few months at home, too, so this could be a great opportunity to regain a routine even after vacation.
Perhaps my central strategy this time can be labelled “Planning for Real Life.” Whenever I go home I make grand plans to see everybody, cook a ton, hike, shop, relax, read, write, and organize. For some reason I always leave feeling disappointed that I could not fit it all in, go figure. There will be multiple families together this year, lots of little kids. It’s December, and weather can be neither controlled nor fully predicted. We can make plans, but kids get tired and lose interest, and adults can have meltdowns of our own. I can look at the calendar and compare it to my task list for the week. What do I really need to accomplish? What did I just write here? Sleep, move my body every day, read a little, and spend quality time with my peeps. In other words: Rest, Train, Learn, and Connect.
Thanks for the prompt, Nate! And Happy Holidays to you!