How to avoid weight gain during frequent travel

Whether it's for work or pleasure, erratic travel may affect your health negatively and also lead to weight gain. Here are tips for how to stay healthy and beat jet lag too

man sitting at airport, travel

Are you a frequent flyer who collects airline points and piles on weight during your travel? In this current day and age, we travel for work, we travel for pleasure, we travel to meet family, we travel to take time off…the list goes on. Whether or not you are a travel enthusiast, the impact of travel on your body is the same. It is often also an excuse for most people to avoid making a lifestyle change. Indeed, travel is cited as a major obstacle by many who want to lose weight.

The key reasons why we tend to put on weight while travelling are: disruption of the Circadian rhythm, imbalance of our gut bacteria and of course, unplanned meals and junk food.

Circadian clock

Circadian clock or circadian rhythm is more often called our “body clock.” This internal clock, which is present in almost all living organisms, is responsible for regulating sleep and wake cycles, hunger and satiety, hormone balance, and behaviour. It is driven by a master clock located in our brain which is connected to other “peripheral” clocks located in different organs like the liver, the gut and so on. This master clock runs on a 24-hour schedule by receiving cues from our environment, such as light, darkness and food.

Gut bacteria

Gut bacteria are the trillions of bacteria that reside in our intestine/gut. They have their own clock which sends signals to the master clock in the brain. These bacteria play a critical role in our metabolism, mood, health of our brain and heart and how our body absorbs nutrients from food.

When the gut bacteria and our circadian clock are not in sync, our health starts spiralling downward. Travel, even if it’s domestic travel and does not involve different time zones, could send our body rhythm out of balance.

Three things that affect gut bacteria

  • What we eat
  • When we eat
  • Our sleep-wake cycle

Apart from this, the geographical location also makes a difference, though studies in this area are at early stages.

The reason why we feel tired and sluggish at the end of a road or rail trip [even if we just read or slept during the travel] is because we spend our time doing something that is out of our normal pattern. This also disrupts the body clock and gut bacteria.

The travel fatigue that we feel after a long day of travel within the same timezone should go away with one night of sound sleep, hydration, nourishing food and a warm shower. The recovery is not so smooth and quick if you are travelling international or across more than two time zones and that’s what we call a jetlag. Jetlag doesn’t go away with one night’s sleep and hydration because the circadian clock is not synchronised with the location and external environment.

It takes time to realign our biological clock. Our body needs approximately 2/3rd the number of days as the time zones we have crossed to adjust itself.

Tips to avoid weight gain during travel

Whether it’s a fun domestic trip or an international trip for work, if we plan the travel carefully, we can avoid putting on weight, feeling bloated or having water retention at the end of the travel. Some of the things that we could do are:

  1. Carry your own food. This ensures that you are in better control of what you eat [and what you don’t end up eating]. People tend to give in to temptation when they are hungry and don’t have much choice
  2. Avoid alcohol, packaged juices, refined foods and desserts during the journey. Travel by itself is dehydrating, especially flight travel. Sugar, alcohol and juices [which are a concentrated source of sugar with almost no fibre] will only worsen it
  3. Avoid refined, fried, salty and ultra processed food
  4. Carry fruits, nuts, cooked rice, beans, nut balls, sandwiches etc. These will make it through most security systems and are less messy to pack and carry
  5. Keep sipping water through the journey. This will keep you hydrated
  6. Move around more, walk as much as you can
  7. Use ginger to your fatigue rescue. Have ginger tea, or dry sweetened ginger or ginger chews once you reach the destination to help you get rid of bloating and get back your appetite and digestion.

How to adjust your body clock quickly after travel

    1. Use light and dark to set your biological clock. If it’s morning when you reach your destination, get exposed to sunlight often through the day and that will keep you awake too. If you reach your destination at nighttime, reduce the lighting indoors and any light emitting devices [including phones, tablets and TV]
    2. Change your meal and sleeptime according to the destination timezone from the moment you start your travel, through the journey
    3. If it’s nighttime at your destination and you are not sleepy, have a glass of warm milk with a pinch of turmeric powder and nutmeg powder. That will help you fall asleep and improve your immunity that’s disturbed by the travel
    4. Workout first thing in the morning once you reach your destination. A few rounds of suryanamaskar or a light jog or run in the fresh crisp morning air for 20-25 minutes is enough to awaken your senses and make you feel fresh and ready for the day.

With the current lifestyle it is not possible to avoid travel. Following these tips will help you enjoy the travel and reduce the impact of travel on your waistline, mood and overall health.

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