Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jamie’s Thoughts: Is Traveling Paleo? A Tale of Two Trips

Is traveling Paleo?!
A couple weeks ago, I returned from my annual trip back East for the holidays, and this time (finally!), I’m falling right back into my Paleo routine.  That’s probably because I never abandoned it while I was on the trip.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here. 

You see normally, despite my best efforts, when I travel I find myself going overboard, getting off track and falling off the Paleo wagon.  That’s what happens to me when my daily routine is disrupted, and I am continually tempted and wooed by one brain-firework-inducing-gluten-filled treat after another.  I end up caving in to the temptation, eating all those foods demonized by the Paleo community.  A vicious cycle begins.   I get bloated.  My digestion is seriously disrupted in ways I shall not detail here.  I get adolescent-like acne.  It sucks for the duration of my trip, and I return home feeling like I’ve taken two steps backwards in my health journey. 

But I love to travel.  As a child, my family never vacationed.  So, I lived out my travel fantasies by calling chambers of commerce and visitors bureaus, asking them to send me free information.   Free maps and tour guides adorned the walls of my room, not posters of Marky Mark.  Visiting places old and new is just not something I’m willing to give up.   

So, I’ve been asking myself if my love of Paleo and my love of travel are mutually exclusive?  Is it possible to enjoy both at the same time?  In the same way that people ask whether green beans or potatoes are Paleo—maybe we should be asking if traveling Paleo.  It’s not such a silly question, really.  After all, no one’s going to argue that Paleolithic man jet set around the world.    

Thus, without further ado, I present to you a tale of two trips to explore this question:  Is traveling Paleo?   

PALEO TRAVEL STORY #1 – TRIP TO LOS ANGELES FOR THANKSGIVING

You'll need a little bit of background to understand Paleo Travel Story #1.  My boyfriend and I often spend Thanksgiving in Los Angeles.  You see, David, my boyfriend, is half Persian, and that side of his family resides in Los Angeles.  I love visiting.  It’s fun being introduced to a new culture.  The vibe is always positive.  But for reasons I’ll detail below, it’s nearly impossible to stay Paleo when I visit. 

This year before we left for LA, I resolved to keep as Paleo as I possibly could.  I had been in a clean eating groove before we left, and I vowed not to be derailed.  Feeling great and determined to keep on track, we set off for LA.

But Iranians are known for their hospitality.  Much of this hospitality is demonstrated through FOOD.  Whenever we visit, it goes something like this-- a feast is cooked and set out for our arrival—rice, kabob, pita bread, mast-o-musir, salad, tea, and of course, dessert.  There is always enough to feed ten times the number of people there.  As a guest, since the host has gone to such great lengths to not only ensure my nourishment and comfort, but has indeed, celebrated my arrival in such a grand fashion—I want to express my gratitude and appreciation.   

Now typically, there are two ways to demonstrate thankfulness for a meal that is prepared for you.  One way is to express it verbally:  Say, “Thank you,” or in this case, “Merci.”  That’s easy enough, right?

But words are not enough.  Anyone who has been the recipient of Persian hospitality will tell you that a guest is expected to demonstrate gratitude by eating.  As in, consuming way more than you really should--eating well beyond the point of satisfied or satiated.  Even though I pile my plate full of these culinary delights—it is impossible to satisfy the host.  Proud, I finish eating the heaping plate, to which host remarks, ”You are such a good guest, you eat like a bird.  Please, eat more.”   I’m thinking—wait, what?!  Did you see the plate I ate?    

And this is the double-edged sword 
of food-driven hospitality.  

And this is the double-edged sword of food-driven hospitality.  As a guest, I want to please the host who has gone to such great effort.  But this type of hospitality dictates that you feed your guest—A LOT.  And when they are thanked, the host tells you it’s nothing and offers you more food. 

To sum it up, I ended my trip to LA feeling gross and bloated, and I broke out with acne that I could not control.  I felt frustrated because I was worried that I could not explain my dietary choices in a way that his family would understand, especially since I had visited many times before and happily eaten what was offered. 

Even though things didn’t work out as I had planned in LA, I returned to the Bay Area with new resolve. 

PALEO TRAVEL STORY #2—TWO WEEKS ON THE EAST COAST

For Paleo Travel Story #2, David and I planned to fly to the East Coast for the holidays.  The trip was supposed to go as follows:  I’d be spending about a week in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with my family and then I’d join him and his family in Washington, DC until we left.  Following the Thanksgiving LA travel debacle, I had gotten myself back on track and was feeling great.  But I was terrified of losing my balance once again on this next trip.   

So, being the analytical-lawyer type that I am, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it was exactly that I feared.  Do I fear food?  Seriously.  I thought:  Am I literally scared of a croissant?   The notion is kind of ridiculous really. But it certainly is a question worth “chewing” on (yes, pun intended!).  I mean—being offered a piece of chocolate cake isn’t a life or death situation.  In fact, being offered a piece of chocolate cake really is a pleasant circumstance in which to find oneself.  No. No.  It isn't the food I'm fearing.  It's my reaction.  

No. No.  It isn’t the food I’m fearing.  
It’s my reaction.

Yep.  Plain and simple.  I’m afraid of myself.  I’m afraid of what I will do when I see that chocolate cake or croissant or whatever non-Paleo food item I may be offered.  

Realizing I was afraid of my reaction, not the food itself, was an empowering moment for me.  That epiphany set the tone for the trip.  I realized I was in control of what was to come to pass.  I realized that I could decide to have a successful, healthy trip.  And so I did. 

Before leaving, I promised myself that I would remain gluten free.  I knew that staying gluten free would allow me to indulge without going overboard.  I knew that if I stuck to my guns on one Paleo tenet, it would be so much easier to get back into the routine when I returned.  And the results were amazing once I experienced this mind-shift. 

Concerned that I would not be able to find Paleo-friendly foods in Pennsylvania, before I even left, I shipped a box of Paleo-friendly snack food to my parents’ house.  In that box, I included sardines, gluten-free crackers and cookies, epic bars, and plantain chips. 

For the flight, I also packed plenty of food.  In a freezable lunch tote, I brought a Pete’s Paleo meal, sardines, epic bars, hard boiled eggs, avocado, and other snacks (like a Paleo Mustang Bar, which was amazingly satisfying).  I also made sure that I had my supplements with me for the whole trip.  For me, the most important is Prescript Assist Probiotic

When I arrived, things just fell into place.  I would explain to my friends and family that I was watching what I was eating, and eliminating grains, dairy, and legumes.  In disbelief, they would ask, “What CAN you eat?”  My response (always in a nonchalant tone):  “Meat and veggies works.”  After a second of processing, people seemed to get it.   

Downplaying the difficulty of following Paleo, even to myself, made it fun.  I found myself enjoying the challenge of staying Paleo, especially in weird places like shopping mall food courts.  Admittedly, in those instances, I was not dogmatic.  So, I probably consumed small amounts of seed oils I would not otherwise eat and some non-organic meats and veggies.  I also had some dairy here and there.  But I did not eat gluten, and when I stuck to that one rule, a whole host of healthy choices followed. 

I was so pleased to find that I had a lot of support.  The local grocery store, Giant, had a glorious Paleo-friendly aisle, that actually rivaled some of the selection (and most certainly the prices) of places I shop in the Bay Area.  They also had a beautiful salad bar with healthy protein options.  I relied on that salad bar for most of my lunches.  Even one day when I found myself in an Italian restaurant with my boyfriend’s family, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I would probably be consuming a bland meal due to lack of options, we discovered that they had a gluten free pasta option.  While it isn’t Paleo, and it isn’t something I’d normally eat at home, I was pleased to have an option that made ordering with the rest of the family seamless, instead of a hassle.

The best day of my trip was the day I cooked a Paleo dinner for my family.  You see, my dad has colitis and I’ve been urging him to try the Paleo way.  I also wanted to show them that eating Paleo could taste great and didn’t have to be too complicated either.

I made my family a nourishing and delicious meal.  As an appetizer, I made my fresh guacamole with plantain chips.  It was a huge hit!  For dinner, I made cod (at my dad’s request) with a lemon, caper, grassfed-butter sauce, sautéed spinach, and cauliflower puree.  There weren’t any leftovers.  For dessert, I made cupcakes from Against All Grain's Chocolate Layer Cake recipe, and I used her Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting to top the cupcakes.  They were the superstar of the meal. Everyone helped and pitched in.  It was a team effort in both the preparation and in the eating!  I now wish I had taken some photos, but I was just too busy in the kitchen. What a blessing to share this way of life with my family.       

Throughout my trip, I continued to make healthy choice after choice.  And when I returned, my skin was clear.  That’s huge for me, because that’s usually my first indication that something’s not right.  Transitioning back to Paleo was effortless, probably because I didn’t need to “transition back.”  I was already there. 

I would say that without a doubt, making the choice to own my food decisions and retain Paleo as best I could, enriched my trip, instead of detracted from it.  I had the opportunity to share this way of life with people I love.  I talked health and nutrition friends and family who were curious about what I was doing.  And, it was fun to challenge myself. 


All in all, I know not all circumstances are the same.  But after reflecting on both trips, I have concluded that it is possible for me to stay Paleo while traveling-- that is, if I choose to.  Happy Paleo travels to you all!