There's a dieting and travel problem that many people don't want to talk about: Vacation constipation!

June 14, 2009

By Shaun Chavis
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I'll be doing a lot of traveling over the next two weeks, and leaving home is an issue for any dieter. If you're devoted to sticking to your meal plan, there are plenty of ways to keep track of calories on the road. Books like The Diet Detective's Calorie Bargain Bible guide you to good choices at popular chains, not to mention websites like CalorieKing and DWLZ, or iPhone apps like Nutrition Menu and the LIVESTRONG Calorie Tracker. Even amusement parks like Disney World are no longer as dangerous as you might think; there are healthier choices at park eateries, like the smoked turkey leg that I love to split with a friend.

But there's another dieting and travel problem that many people don't want to talk about: vacation constipation! Sitting on planes and in cars for long periods of time isn't good for your gut. You'll feel bloated, and you're not likely to fit into or feel great in your shorts or swimsuit. If you've been eating a healthy diet of fiber, fruit, and veggies and take a break to indulge in mile-high stacks of pancakes, bagels, pizza, and mounds of fries, you might find yourself stopping in a convenience store for Metamucil.

"A lot of people think they can go on vacation and have lasagna, or steak frites, or dive into fast food, and just add a salad and think they've got their fiber for the day, but that's not enough," says Danielle Svetcov, the author of The Un-Constipated Gourmet: Secrets to a Moveable Feast With 125 Recipes for the Regularity Challenged ($16; available in July).

I know. A cookbook about constipation sounds crazy, but Health's senior food editor, Frances Largeman-Roth, wrote a prologue to Danielle's book, so I flipped through it. As I read recipes for bourbon truffles, Gorgonzola-stuffed dried fig salad, chorizo and chickpea stew, and fruit compotes with yogurt, I forgot all about crazy. I was thinking yum.

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Instead of laxatives, Danielle is a big believer in smart eating to keep your digestive system healthy. In fact, she always travels with a bar of dark chocolate (more on that below) for relief—and we're not talking Ex-Lax. "I tell people they don't have to give up the things they want to eat, but they have to decide what they want to splurge on and figure out where to balance it. Maybe you swap the fries for wild rice or Swiss chard."

It turns out that waist-friendly strategies are also, well, waste-friendly. Here are a few cures for traveler's tummy from Danielle's book.

  • Avoid loading up on foods that are low in fiber and can get your gut stuck, like refined white bread, pastas, and pastries. Choose whole-grain and whole-wheat options whenever possible.
  • Spend 10 minutes on your back and bring your legs to your chest one at a time, as if you're cycling.
  • Go for an hour-long walk at a fast pace, then lie down for an hour.
  • Have 3 ounces of dark chocolate (choose a bar that has at least 65% cacao), and chase it with a hot cup of black coffee or an 8-ounce glass of warm water. You need to sit still for at least one hour afterward for this remedy to work. (If you're on vacation, now's a good time to skip the museum tour.)
  • Pour yourself a shot or two of brandy in a warm glass. Slowly eat five prunes (unsulfured is best) and in between bites, sip the warm brandy. Again, you'll need to sit still for an hour afterward.

Do you have any surefire strategies that get you moving? Share, share!

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