Travel can bring endless joy and new experiences, but it can also throw many of us off our healthy eating, exercise, and sleep schedules. Often this is accentuated for business travelers who exchange rest for flying cross country for meetings. Even recreational travel can involve layovers and multiple time zones.
To learn how to make travel healthier for both the body and the mind, LAX Magazine spoke with Dr. Zelana Montminy, a renowned wellness architect, positive psychologist, and author of 21 Days to Resilience: How to Transcend the Daily Grind, Deal with the Tough Stuff ,and Discover Your Strongest Self.
Dr. Montminy believes that in seeking true happiness, we often make ourselves even more stressed out. Instead, we should shift to practicing the skills needed that result in enduring resilience — seeing challenges as opportunities and discovering emotional strength during times of struggle.
To combat the challenges of business travel, Dr. Montminy advises finding a routine that is both sustaining and comforting, and to fuel yourself with nutritious wholesome choices throughout. You may not be thinking of it when grabbing the nearest food option on a short layover, but a healthy diet is essential to the overall travel experience and will benefit your mental as well as physical health.
“Travel involves a lot of movement, and when you’re running on empty — or on sugar that will make you inevitably crash — you’re setting yourself up for a challenging travel experience,” Dr. Montminy told LAX Magazine. “What you feed your body is how you’re going to feel, and when you feel strong and healthy, you can think better and have more stable moods.” So yes — that means choosing healthy food in the terminal could impact your performance in the important executive meeting at your destination.
Fortunately, there are healthy options available at airports thanks to concessionaires such as HMSHost and OTG who offer fresh salads, Paleo meals, and protein-rich snacks that are quick food but not “fast food.” This is “critical to improve the travel experience,” Dr. Montminy said. “I used to only pack food from home when I traveled because there were such limited healthy options in airports, but with HMSHost’s new program to increase wellness, we have choices that are fast and sustaining. Quick options are important because, unless you’re delayed, travel is often a fairly rushed experience that usually pushes consumers to make unhealthy choices because that’s the only thing available.”
Flying and airport visits can be stressful — but eating a well-balanced meal can actually counteract that more efficiently than what most people would normally consider comfort food.
“Comfort food is ‘comforting’ because it triggers memories of our past like enjoying ice cream with your dad for example,” Dr. Montminy explained. “It can also be a social experience that increases connectivity,” such as sharing a plate of nachos with a friend. And while eating foods high in bad fats, sugar, and salt activates the brain’s reward system, the satisfaction “doesn’t last and leads to all sorts of negative consequences long term,” she said.
“When we switch to conscious, healthful eating vs. the emotional, unhealthful eating people defer to during stress, it counteracts those crashes we often experience quickly after feeling ‘good’ by giving us the wholesome nutrition our body needs to weather the daily grind and keep us going and thinking clearly.”
Travelers need to make healthy eating a conscious choice. Like many things in life, the first step is “awareness, and then planning to find better solutions,” Dr. Montminy advised. “Look in advance at the terminal offerings and make a choice of where to go that’s healthier before arriving at the airport ... and then stick to it,” she said. Also, packing healthy snacks like a bag of nuts and seeds from home in your carry-on will mean you don’t arrive starving.
While a healthier travel experience will impact your short-term performance, it can also lead to better “long-term mental, physical, and spiritual health,” according to Dr. Montminy.
So before you set out on that next business trip, think about planning your meals in advance. “Know if you’ll be eating on the plane or in a terminal, plus bring two to three healthy snacks from home,” Dr. Montminy said. Activity is also important, so remember to breathe and stretch. “Make sure to move your body to avoid sitting for too long of a period,” she added.