Monthly Archives: June 2013

Around the world in 80 pies – Can you diet and keep weight off when traveling?



Leaving home. Oct 5th 2012.

Leaving home. Oct 5th 2012.

I know, I know, I’ve been rubbish at posting anything about how to keep weight or dieting off on this blog for the last few months (though I have been posting on Facebook). The reason – well I’ve been travelling the world! Really!! Since last October my husband and I have been backpacking around the world. We’ve been living on a tiny budget, living in hostels and cheap accommodation, and mostly eating in cafes, restaurants and other cheapo eating houses. So it won’t come as any surprise that I’ve therefore been what I call doing a ‘Miss Jean Brodie’; doing as I say and not as I do. Basically, for the last 9 months I’ve not been following my own advice, and guess what? My weight has gone up. Not out of control but more than I like.

A higher starting point…
I’m in this trip because basically life was not going well for me and Patrick my husband. So we decided that we needed to do something different and set off on what we have called our ‘mid life crisis global adventure’. It’s been amazing and we have a travel blog and Facebook page with loads of stories and pictures. Lots of things happened to cause us to decide to do something so drastic. The final straw was that at age 43 I unexpectedly got pregnant again, and again had a miscarriage. Of course during this time I put on weight, even though it was very early on. I tried to lose it afterwards, even joining a local Slimming World group. I did really well at first but the round of goodbye parties proved too much and so I set off on our trip about 10lb more than I like to be. Now I’m more than that – probably about 28lb too heavy. I can still fit size 10 clothes I left the UK with but Blimey they are tight. If I don’t get a hold now soon the size 12s won’t fit.

Now I know I’m still a long way off being the size 22 I used to be. But I am not happy at this size and I do have an element of body dysmorphia. When I’m bigger and I look in the mirror I see the 16 stone me. I struggle to see anything in between. And it makes me really unhappy. So I have to get control. But how did this happen? Well it’s been interesting learning about foods around the world and it makes me realise how British my diet normally is, and how lucky we are in Britain to have such good food and such a variety. Also as a vegetarian some parts of the world are easier than others to watch your weight…..

So, a potted mini global tour:

First stop Turkey!

A medieval meal at theme restaurant in Tallinn. At the time I was worried this was calorific. Little did I know what was to come....

A medieval meal at theme restaurant in Tallinn. At the time I was worried this was calorific. Little did I know what was to come….

After a few days in Tallinn, Estonia with my mum, we spent a month in Turkey. Here people are generally smaller than in Europe. But their diet is very meat based. Patrick had a blast eating lots of Kebaps (as they call them), and stews. But they love their pastry (Boreks are a kind of pasty) and overall the diet is very bread based, all white bread. I couldn’t find brown rice or pasta anywhere and fat free foods were hard to come by. For me that meant many meals of …. white bread, sometimes with eggs. Nuts were plentiful but not cheap. I also developed a real taste for Helva (sugar and sesame seeds) and Baklava which whilst very fatty pastry at least has real honey and nuts. I defiantly left Turkey larger than we arrived.

Next stop was India and I thought the weight would fall off me so quick I’d almost be able to see it happening. At first it did! I got a dose of Delhi Belly within the first few days, ending up in hospital as a result of a fall caused by fainting where I banged my head. 9 months later I am still suffering with dizziness from the fall. I had been hoping to live off cheap street food with basmati rice (the lowest GI of any rice so slower to release its energy so keeps you feeling fuller for longer), but suddenly that was out of the question. Rice is actually one of the foods most prone to food poisoning if left out in the warm.

We ate all kinds of new fruits. Most delicious but we hated Durian - Asia's marmite!

We ate all kinds of new fruits. Most delicious but we hated Durian – Asia’s marmite!

Indian eateries lived up to reputation and I dread to think about cleanliness in most places. I became terrified of eating at all for a time. In the end I just went for fried food and no rice. Which meant just loads and loads of bloody bread – roti, and naan. I must be the only person in the world who managed to put on weight in India!

We spent 2 months in Thailand with a break in Vietnam in between. O everywhere we’ve been Thailand was by far the easiest place to manage my weight. I didn’t manage to lose any (though I kept trying) but despite eating every meal out I pretty much held my own. I think Thai food is the best in the world – fresh food cooked in coconut oil, pad Thai, lots of peanuts and fresh fruit, not much dairy. I got totally addicted to Green Papaya Salad – a really healthy low fat food with lots of fat burning ingredients like chili, lime juice, fresh veg. I avoided the rice though for safety reasons and also as jasmine rice is high GI so turns to fat on you more quickly. I also started drinking coconut water and eating a fresh coconut each day, often with a small bar of 80% dark chocolate, both of which help to manage your weight.

Eating with chopsticks is brilliant. You have to eat slowly.

Eating with chopsticks is brilliant. You have to eat slowly.

It probably helped that portions were TINY!! In fact so small that I would still be starving after a meal. After a few days I worked out though that Pat’s meals were bigger and I decided that they do men’s and women’s portions. So then Pat started ordering all our food and I started to get a little more on my plate! Any rice came shaped in small bowl helpings. Makes you think though. You don’t need much rice with a meal. A small bowl is plenty!

The only downside is they put sugar in EVERYTHING! Getting sugar free yoghurt or cereals impossible, all shakes and drinks have sugar syrup and condensed milk in – even omelette’s have condensed milk and sugar. But if I asked most places could just about cope with leaving it out.

Whilst I was in Vietnam and for our 2nd month in Thailand I tried out going wheat free. On this diet if you avoided wheat, grains, carbs and sugar it didn’t matter about fat and oil. So strange as it may sound in a rice based cuisine it was really easy. I ate loads of omelette’s (often fried in lots of oil so I’d previously tried to avoid them),  nuts, and in Vietnam a lot of tofu. I’m sure I actually did lose weight.

With food like this its no wonder people are tiny

With food like this its no wonder people are tiny

It was a good job. In South East Asia most people are tiny and I felt huge, which even as a size 10 comparatively I was. I couldn’t buy any clothes and would find I was very big for things like seats on buses. It was not good for my self esteem and I actually became really unhappy despite being in such beautiful places. But this is starting to change. As we headed south towards Singapore, the places we visited became more developed, and there was more western food. And the people, including kids, started getting bigger and bigger. I fear, this is not progress.

Malaysia & Singapore
In Malaysia my wheat free regime fell apart as it was almost impossible to get tofu or veg based meals with enough ballast and protein – they just didn’t do veggie food. So I ended up eating lots of rice and noodles. We loved Malaysia itself (it was one of our fav places) but food wise it was a disaster. Thank goodness we could get porridge oats though as they kept me going, eating them with nuts and coconut milk. Scrummy!!

Down-under; Australia and New Zealand
In Asia there is no such thing as food replacement diets. After all why would you do this when their food is so healthy and keeps you small. But with increasing western foods available – doughnuts, burgers, sandwiches, milk based foods – people are putting on weight. So instead you can buy all sorts of supplements to burn fat or boost metabolism. I would drool over them in chemists, wishing I could get some. But they were expensive, as expensive as in the west, and our budget tiny. I couldn’t even afford to get my hair cut and dyed!

We loved Melbourne - but its all cafe society. Hard when trying to avoid pies and cakes!

We loved Melbourne – but its all cafe society. Hard when trying to avoid pies and cakes!

Down under was a totally different story. In every large pharmacy type store you can buy endless diet bars, protein meals and VCLD (Very Low Calorie Diets) packs without any medical advice. Australia is arguably the most expensive country in the world at the moment so I decided once we got there I would do a VCLD to shift some weight. My healthy, fresh food diet would be way beyond our budget so me going on a VCLD would help our pockets as well as my waist line.

On the plus side once we got here I started to feel attractive again. I bought some warmer clothes that I liked, fitted me and I felt good in. I could buy a home hair dye that would be OK on my western hair and was a fairly bright colour. And I looked a normal size. Such a relief after being so comparatively big.

Our shopping basket whilst living in a campervan in NZ. My food on the left; Pat's on the right

Our shopping basket whilst living in a campervan in NZ. My food on the left; Pat’s on the right

Feeling good, I did really well at first, despite being taken out for meals and seeing amazing deli food everywhere. But…. astonishingly for Australia we were cold. And VCLDs make you even colder. Plus the one I’d bought didn’t taste as nice as the ones I’ve used in the UK. I got cold, my hair and nails were bad anyway from travelling and I felt rubbish. Temptation was everywhere so it became too much and I ended up eating. I tried instead to do 5:2 Fasting – using the packs for my 500 calories on 2 fast days every week. I think this helped.

The same when we went to New Zealand. For 2 weeks we were fed the most amazing breakfasts and lunches, but they were very bread based. As they were free and us so poor I didn’t feel able to say no so I tempered this with fasts. Then as we travelled round in a camper again I ended up eating all sorts of fatty, carby, unhealthy food, with the occasional fast. Thanks to the packs and fasting I left New Zealand probably around the same kind of size I arrived. Still too big, but still fitting in the shorts I set out with.

Oh dear …this is where it all falls down. USA here we come….
The USA started well for me. First stop Hawaii. And I kept to my VCLD packs with the odd salad for an evening meal. I was so shocked by how huge people were, even after Oz and NZ, both of which say they have an obesity problem. I would see lots of people unable to walk simply due to their size. If I was ever determined to not become morbidly obese again myself, this first place in the US gave me all the motivation I could ever need. I posted on Facebook LINK how easy it was to make the right choices. Then it all went wrong…. 🙂

This was a small breakfast in LA

This was a small breakfast in LA

First we got to Hollywood and my first taste of an American Breakfast. Amazing pancakes, maple syrup, omelette’s, endless coffee and diet pop refills. Bliss. I chose whole-grain with bananas and pecans and was fit to burst. I didn’t need to eat again all day. They became the best way to start in day and so became our routine. In Hollywood we had a kitchen so had a small healthy evening meal to counteract the breakfast, but as we moved around the US our evening meals became less healthy and as we had at this point run out of money, by necessity cheaper. Refined food is pretty cheap in the US; fresh fruit and veg and healthy non processed food really pricey. Before you know it, it’s pancakes and omelets for breakfast, a burrito or burger for tea. And an extra dress size on me thank you very much!

This poster on a bus in Hawaii. Soda is a huge problem due to corn syrup

This poster on a bus in Hawaii. Soda is a huge problem due to corn syrup

The other thing that makes everything so bad in the USA is high fructose corn syrup. It is in everything in the US. Described as more addictive than crack its arguably the worst substance known to humanity to make you put on weight, especially on your belly. I think it is why the US has the worst obesity crisis in the world and people here are just so much bigger than elsewhere. Basically if you buy any processed food it is in it – from non diet fizzy pop, to salad dressing, to even a tin of tomato and veg pasta sauce. It’s in every single cookie, sweet, doughnut, and bread, even in bars promoted as healthy such as oat or granola bars or maple syrup! The reasons why it’s so prevalent in the US are well documented and are to do with trade deals made with certain food producers and lobby groups. You can buy food without it but it’s very expensive. They also have ‘pink slime’ here, put into processed meat products. Food with corn syrup and pink slime is fairly cheap. I think it’s hard to be slim and healthy in the US.

We thankfully don’t have HFCS so much in the UK where its called Glucose Fructose syrup. But it is around. I’ve seen it in yogurts, some shop cakes and biscuits and worryingly even in Diet meals. I’ve been checking every label I can here before eating but I’ve still not been able to avoid it. Pink slime hasn’t made it yet to Europe but some companies are trying. We need to make sure neither of these things make it over.

Just can’t get enough….
I’ve also noticed how eating refined food makes you want to eat more. At home I just don’t want to eat crap – like shop or cafe cakes, or biscuits, or chips, or fried food, or sugary yogurt and the like. In fact I get really angry and upset if I have no choice but to eat it, always wanting to have a salad or veg/Quorn based food or fruit and sugar free puddings. But here I can’t get enough. It’s so true that once you start, it’s harder to stop. Going sugar and carb cold turkey isn’t pleasant but truly once you do, you just don’t want to eat that kind of food.

Final stop, Canada…..
My next stop is Canada where I will be staying with relatives for around a month. And with a kitchen! Although money is tight I’ll need to find away to start eating healthily again, cooking my own meals, aiming for loads of fresh veg and fruit if we can afford them and choosing high protein low carb meals. And then hopefully by the time I get back to the UK in about 6 weeks I’ll be around the same size as when we left!

During the trip I managed to finish the draft of my book all about how you keep weight off. Time to start following my own advice!!

So what have at learned from all this to share…..
Well firstly, once again it’s proved to me that my 21 Keys to Keeping Weight Off which I normally follow really do work. It’s when I don’t follow them that I start to get bigger than I want to be. But following them does need me to be able to cook and shop.

I’m going to increase the amount of coconut in my diet when I get back home as it makes such good food and helps regulate your weight. I’ve been a bit scared of it, even though I do use virgin coconut oil in cooking but I’m going to have more coconut milk and flesh. I’m also going to allow myself high cocoa black chocolate, just a small amount each day.

I’m going to eat using chopsticks at home when I can to slow down my eating.

Also I think I’m going to be less worried about other non refined oils. For years I’ve not had olive oil in my salad dressings and have cooked without oil. But again I need to be less scared of it when it’s good, unrefined oil.

At home I do self monitor how much wheat I have. I only ever have unrefined and generally only in food I cook. And often I’ll avoid the rice or pasta in a meal. I’ll keep with this but may use almond or coconut flour more in my own cooking.


Just today on the most westerly coast of Canada

Just today on the most westerly coast of Canada

Lastly, as I’ve traveled the world it could not have been starker to me what the effects are of eating a high carb, high release fatty diet of processed and refined food. This trip has just reaffirmed why I don’t eat it at home and actually how I don’t miss it when it’s not there. It’s made me all the more determined to do my little bit to help others to have a good diet. So I’d better get a move on, shift my extra weight and get my book sold….. 🙂