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By Allison Downing Jordan
Traveling is hard on the gut. Can I get an amen on that?
As a gut health therapist, all my research shows that pretty much everything about travel makes things hard on the gut, with bloating and constipation being the top two offenders. Occasionally, there are a few people who might tell you that traveling doesn’t affect their gut at all, but this experience is not common. Why?
The four main behaviors that make travel hard on the body are 1) sitting for long periods of time (in a car or plane), 2) crossing timezones, 3) changes in diet (what you eat and when), and 4) changes in daily rhythms (sleeping in, not exercising, readjusting to new geography, directions, cuisine, temperature, etc).
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, the effect is the same—constipation, bloating, and physical and gastrointestinal sluggishness. You want to keep traveling, but you don’t want these side effects. What can you do?
Here are six ways to travel well with your gut:
When it’s an option, get up and walk.
At car rest stops, don’t just sit back down with a bagel or coffee. Stay standing as you eat, or take a stroll. Better yet, if you have kids or a dog, take a moment to run around with them to help release their pent-up energy—and yours! Between plane layovers, walk around the airport. Set up a scavenger hunt to find unique spots in the airport you, listen to a podcast or music, mentally list things you are grateful for, or call a friend or family member and talk to them as you walk.
- Wake up an hour earlier*
Waking up an hour earlier than you need to leave your hotel or destination ensures that your gut has time to begin to move before you do. When we start moving too quickly (whether going to work, an errand, or a museum or park), our bodies get signals to not need to go. A start that is too quick for the day is basically a digestion suppression mechanism.
Starting your day slow helps give your body time to digest—and want to go number two. If you have a breakfast date, get up one hour before you eat breakfast for coffee, tea, or water. If you wake up really hungry, eat during that first hour, but make sure it is a relaxed and slow meal. During this hour, you can give yourself time to go for a walk, journal, read, or plan for the week. You could even write a letter or email of love or encouragement to someone! The benefits are endless.
*And as a note, this is a great technique in everyday life to increase regularity and quality of stool emptying. It helps the body slow down and have a moment to relax and release!
- Plan to eat one light meal a day
We get force-fed a lot of meals while we travel. From plane food to just grabbing something from a vendor because it smells good, having one meal a day where your gut doesn’t have to do enzymatic gymnastics to process the food can really help.
Qualities of a light meal include: having more veggies and fruits, no including dessert or extra sweets, having low salt, being light on carbs including breads, pastas, rice, or potatoes, being light on fatty meats and cheese or dairy, and including a single serving of alcohol at the most.
Instead of eating lasagna, a hamburger, or fried meat, choose a salad, a nutrient-dense smoothie (with veggies, not just fruit and sugar), some grilled salmon, or chicken and veggies. This helps lighten the proverbial load on your gut, helping restore a healthy balance to the microbiome and prepping the large intestine to do its work.
- Pack snacks from home that you know your body likes
Whether you are traveling internationally or not, this can make a big difference! Without food we are familiar with, we don’t know how much to eat or how it will affect us. When you’re still at home, buy and pack food you know your body likes and can handle well—nuts, granola bars, smoothie mix, dried fruit, dried meat, etc. Pack in it bags or mason jars. Having this food on hand between meals can help you make better choices at mealtime and better deal with hunger when it comes at less-than-ideal times. And what’s more, it will be extremely helpful if you get sick overseas and your body can’t handle any new food or spices for a few meals.
- Bring supplements
I don’t like going crazy on supplements, especially when trying to travel light; so here are my two go-to travel supplements:
- Magnesium citrate: pill, powder, or gummy form
- Cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) and Himalayn/Celtic salt
Magnesium citrate, potassium, and salt are all electrolytes that our body needs to help our muscles fire well. Magnesium citrate can be bought in pill form from Amazon or as a drink mix or gummy from Calm (also on Amazon). Take 200mg once or twice a day, or 400mg once a day.
Add ¼ tsp-½ tsp of potassium bitartrate, in the form of cream of tartar, to ¼ tsp-½ tsp of Himalayan or Celtic salt. Mix together with 1 tbsp of water or lemon juice. A lemon essential oil will also help with the flavor. Drink quickly as a shot once in the morning (after you wake up an hour early!).
As an added benefit, these supplements can help with hydration, body aches, and overall energy levels. Experiment and see which supplement your body benefits from the most, or alternate days between using either supplement.
- Plan all this in advance!
If you’ve never done any of this while traveling, it will not be natural to start doing it. Before going on your trip, mentally rehearse what problems or snags you may run into that will make it hard to follow through. Will it be hard to get up in the morning because others are sleeping in your room? Here’s a possible solution: put all the clothes you need to change into by your bed the night before so you can grab them in the dark without needing to rustle through your suitcase.
While traveling, it can be easy to want to kick back and forget our body’s needs. We are occupied with fun or work, and we are distracted by navigating our GPS, staying on top of our plane itinerary, or hailing a cab. But with the right steps, you can look forward to your next trip, and maybe even come back with more energy and health than you left with. Happy travels!
Allison Downing Jordan LMT, BCTMB is the author of Stop Stomach Pain: How to Heal Your Gut and End Food Restrictions and is the founder and head therapist of Better Belly Therapies, an Ann Arbor clinic that treats men and women with IBS, acid reflux, and functional GI disorders to decrease food restrictions and increase quality of life.
To learn more, you can visit betterbellytherapies.com to read more about our methods, or buy Stop Stomach Pain at betterbellytherapies.com/book. Available in ebook or print form.