Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Frequent Flier Weight Loss Plan

Although it has been said that travel broadens the mind, travel may also shrink the body.  Jet lag, sleep deprivation, minor intestinal upsets due to foreign water and unfamiliar foods, necessity to walk  miles inside airport terminals, as well as the unavoidable need to use one’s feet rather than a car to sightsee at a museum or church, may allow you to return home thinner than when you left.

Weight loss can begin even before the trip begins.

Outrageous prices for junk food at airport newsstands and kiosks  may decrease the temptation to snack  while waiting to depart and once on the plane, eagerness to eat a meal (served if the flight is 3 or more hours) is tempered by its resemblance to high school cafeteria lunches. The timing of the meals on the plane also helps you resist consuming them. Typically flights that go cross country or across the ocean depart late in the evening. ‘Supper’ may be offered at 11 pm or midnight when the traveler’s tummy is ready for bed. Skipping that meal as well as the frozen bagel and plastic fruit served for breakfast the next morning at 3 am (well, it is morning isn’t it?) will further diminish your calorie intake.

Once at your destination, you should continue to lose weight if the following conditions exist:

1. Alien food…If restaurant specialties feature grilled octopus, marinated baby eels (they do indeed look like eels) or still living shrimp, dinner might consist of bread and water, or a protein bar back in your room.

2. Not understanding the language on the menu.  Ordering from a menu written in an incomprehensible language, may present you with dishes that contain ingredients you hate or don’t recognize.   (Years ago on a trip to Budapest for a meeting, my husband and I found that we had ordered , without knowing it, dishes made mainly of cabbage, including dessert of a cabbage strudel).

Caveat: If the  destination city is known for steak smothered in cheese sauce,  chowder made with heavy cream, fried clams with greasy  French fries and mayonnaise loaded coleslaw or half a pig’s worth of  barbecued ribs, weight can be accumulated as fast as used napkins at the barbecue.  The frequent flyer diet works best when the foods at the destination are more or less bizarre, or inedible.

3. Smaller portion sizes. The size of meals served outside the US are almost always smaller than those offered in the states.   Pasta in a restaurant in Florence may come on a salad size dish rather than on a platter large enough to hold a turkey, and almost nowhere will you be given 16 oz. steaks or half a chicken. Desserts tend to be tiny compared with our outsized offerings, and more likely to be a fruit and pastry combination, rather than a densely rich production of egg yolks, heavy cream and chocolate.  Sandwich fillings are sparse and do not require a veritable unhinging of the jaw in order to bite into them.

4. Contaminated food and/or water.  Sometime simply drinking the water may produce digestive discomfort ,and although most travelers avoid eating food that obviously does not meet US standards for hygienic preparation, even cautious eating may not prevent picking up a food born organism. Travelers may lose considerable amounts of weight if the problems persist, although often the weight lost is, alas , from muscle as well as from fat.

5. Increased exercise. Tour buses don’t pull up to the front door of a museum or church or monument; you often have to hike quite a distance from where the bus parks.  Moreover, you have to walk to see. How else can you look at art, botanical gardens and zoos, explore historical buildings ( think of the Tower of London) or marvel at the natural wonders of a  national park ? Some destination cities are so hilly ( think San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Sydney) that your legs will feel as if they are on an elliptical trainer at the gym.  And  shopping requires walking ; open air markets, for example,  may cover blocks and walking is the only way to find something to buy.

6. Jet Lag. Even a three hour time difference, for example between coasts in the US, can disrupt normal eating schedules. Your hunger will be at odds with the meal schedules of your destination: if you are in Europe, your body may want  dinner when everyone is going to sleep and the restaurants are closed. Conversely, no matter how flaky the croissants served at a Parisian breakfast, if you are overcome with sleepiness at 8 am because it is 2 am back home, you may prefer to sleep through the first meal of the day.  Substantial time differences of 6 or more hours, can make eating seem physically impossible. When you desperately want to sleep, you simply cannot bring yourself to put any food in your mouth.

If  your destination is a  cruise or beach resort where you  can lie on a chaise and be brought drinks with umbrellas stuck in a piece of pineapple, the frequent flyer diet will not work. Otherwise you may find upon your return, that there is less of you than when you started.

Sunlight: The Natural Appetite Suppressant

About 30 years ago, a depression associated with the dark seasons of the year was identified. It was called Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD”)1. For reasons still not well understood, late sunrises and early sunsets caused people to sleep excessively, experience fatigue and disinterest in work and social life and, alas, eat too much. Long hours of daylight starting in the late spring and lasting through most of the summer were seen to have the opposite effect. Formerly depressed, lethargic, often-chubby SAD sufferers turned into energetic, upbeat, salad eaters and many managed to shed their winter pounds along with their sweaters.

For most of us, this transition from a darkness-induced depression and overeating to a gym- seeking, snack-rejecting mild mania is very subtle, like the tiny increments in minutes of sunlight all through the spring. But this past month, my travel schedule made me a research subject for what happens to mood and weight when going from darkness to light.

Almost two weeks spent in Australia, as the country entered the short daylight hours of winter, caused me to be suddenly aware of a creeping fatigue (not related to substantial jet lag). Grumpy mornings waking up in darkness had me seeking out caffeine and carbohydrates in the late afternoon when the sun set hours earlier than the States. Weight gain was checked only because, like any tourist, I spent many hours walking, and the jet lag took away my appetite during the early days of my visit. Who can eat dinner when one’s body says it is 3 A.M.? Moreover, where was I going to find dinner when I became hungry 3 A.M. Australian time?

A few weeks at home, and then a trip to Israel with its endless summer blue skies and brilliant sun flipped my mood, energy and appetite. My traveling companions and I were like Energizer bunnies: charged up and moving constantly. The early sunrises and long sunsets elongated the hours during which we could sightsee. The mounds of locally grown fruits and vegetables available in the gigantic souk (market) made salads a constant feature in the menus we prepared in our rented apartment. My caffeine and carbohydrate consumption all but disappeared in the afternoon. And, to my astonishment, I found when returning home that I had, without trying, lost a few pounds.

Unfortunately, the culture of weight-loss programs do not acknowledge the dramatic effect spring and summer daylight has on losing weight2. Magazines, newspaper articles, and advertisements for diets cluster in the early weeks of January. How many New Year’s resolutions include dropping 20 pounds before springtime? Insisting that weight-loss efforts begin in the depths of winter darkness is usually as effective as forcing one’s jet-lagged body into going to the gym, or eating dinner when it desperately wants to sleep. A friend of mine who had visited China told me that her head narrowly missed hitting the salad plate when she fell asleep at a restaurant a few days after returning home.

June, July and August are the best times to lose weight in the Northern Hemisphere, and as June is already gone, there are only about two months left. The long hours of sunlight (alas, diminishing as we move toward autumn), are a natural appetite suppressant. Long hours of sunlight elevate our moods so that we feel optimistic about taking care of our bodies. Long hours of sunlight also elevate us off the couch, into long walks or finally trying a class at the gym. Extended hours of sun make local produce available at farmer’s markets or your backyard garden so it is possible to feast on newly picked tomatoes, summer squash, or the impossibly sweet tiny kernels of newly harvested corn.

What better combination can be found for removing those pounds added in the winter?

So unless you are planning a trip to the southern hemisphere next winter (when it will be their summer) the time to start that diet is now. And love yourself for doing this.

1) Rosenthal, N.E., Sack, D.A., Gillin, J.C., Lewy, A.J.,Goodwin, F.K., Davenport, Y., Mueller, P.S., Newsome,

D.A. and Wehr, T.A “Seasonal affective disorder: a description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy.” Archives of General Psychiatry.41 (1984): 72-80