Staying healthy while we travel...and at home while we can't.
Liz Butler is a London-based mind-body practitioner who has worked as a nutritional therapist for more than twenty years as well as more recently helping people with their emotional wellbeing.
With some light glimmering at the end of the lockdown tunnel, I talked to her about staying healthy – physically and mentally – while travelling, as well as how we can take the best possible care of ourselves while we still stay home.
We can’t travel anywhere right now Liz but are there any ways we gain some of the usual benefits of travel while we’re at home?
Yes, there are definitely ways you can do that and they can be really transformative to your mental health, which is obviously extremely important right now.
For example, when we travel to sunnier climes, we boost out vitamin D, which is vital for many things, including immunity. At the end of the winter season levels can be low and so a supplement is worth considering right now. You could either test to determine your levels first (details at the end of the article), or instead supplement with a moderate-strength vitamin D3 product – about 1,000iu/per day.
Also think about a probiotic. One of the benefits of travelling is that we get exposed to new microbial environments, which is good for maintaining a healthy microbiome. While we have been isolating our microbiome has not had the normal exposure to a diversity of micro organisms which, scientists claim, may have negative consequences, particularly for our immune system and mental health. A probiotic can help however, so a supplement (choose a product with bacterial counts over a billion) or probiotic foods, such as kefir, are a good idea.
Try new things and mix up your routines with something as simple cooking a new recipe or trying a new book. This is where many of the benefits of holidays and travelling stem from, because change and variety is good for us.
And take time off work just to relax if you can. When we go on holiday, one of the greatest benefits comes from switching off. One of the temptations right now is to keep on working and save holiday for when we can travel, but without regular breaks, our health can suffer.
Get outside. When we're on holiday we tend to be outdoors more which has many benefits, one of them being less exposure to damaging radiation from computers, WIFI and so on. Being outside and grounding (walking barefoot on the earth) rebalances the body's energies and reverses radiation damage – it might sound a bit whacky but there’s some good science to support this.
Light therapy is important too. Science shows that exposure to visible and other forms of light is very healing. When we travel and spend more time outside, we are exposed to more natural light and sun. We can do our best to get outside more often while at home and an extra boost, particularly for those who struggle when daylight exposure is low, can come from using natural light therapy boxes, which are relatively low cost. Again, there’s lot of evidence to show the physical and mental benefits of this.
When we are allowed to travel, the experience can be quite stressful for all sorts of reasons – how can we mitigate that?
I think there are three important ways to reduce stress and enjoy a healthy, happy holiday!
Firstly, set up healthy routines before you go, ideally the sooner the better.
For example, make sure you’re eating healthily. I’ll run through a few things now, but for more details see the nutrition section on the resources page of my website. Choose to eat real, unprocessed foods with as little added and as little taken away as possible and ones that are locally grown if you can, in season and ideally organic.
Base your diet on plants, but by that I don’t necessarily mean vegan, just ensure plants are the bulk of what you eat. Have animal products too if you want, but smaller amounts. Make 50 per cent of your plate vegetables, which yes is a lot of you’re not used to eating that much then 20 per cent protein (meat, fish, eggs, tofu), 20 per cent carbs (potatoes or grains), and 10 per cent healthy fats (olive oil, butter).
Moderate food intake and cut down your portion sizes – don’t finish your meal feeling absolutely stuffed, end it thinking you could have a bit more it was offered to you. Eating till you’re bursting puts strain on the body in several ways.
Don’t overdo starchy carbs – bread and pasta for example. Most of us eat too much of those.
Include lots of fibre. It helps make you feel full and keeps you regular of course by helping your digestive system. It’s also very important for your gut microbiome.
Include protein from plants or meat, as well as healthy fats from things like avocados, olives, nuts, seeds and some oils (the less refined the better, so cold pressed or extra virgin.) A little bit of butter is fine, certainly better than margarine or spreads.
Keep well hydrated – so many of us don’t drink enough water. Keep a jug of water next to you on your desk during the day. It doesn’t have to be just water but don’t have too much caffeine and keep away from sugary drinks.
So, getting back to travel…incorporating those healthy eating habits well before you go away means that when you actually are on holiday you know what you should be eating and drinking without having to think about the principles too much. You’re already trained in what supports your body and what doesn’t and if you’re in a restaurant you know what the healthy choices are. Many of the places we choose to go on holiday offer very healthy food as part of their natural diet, so eating well while away doesn’t feel like deprivation.
In terms of reducing stress, plan plan plan! Do some preparation…leaving things till the night before an early morning flight is going to cause trouble.
A really simple thing we can all do that is proved to reduce stress is to focus on our breathing: slowing your breathing down has an immediate effect. Breathe in for a count of four through the nose, then breath out through the mouth for eight. That slows your heart rate, and it’s a proven way to calm you down.
Bring whatever you use to listen to music, plug your headphones in and listen to some calming music and shut out the world. Probably not heavy metal…try some classical, or a meditation app, whether that’s music, sound or talking. Or try something to make you laugh – a comedy film, TV series or podcast. Anything that makes us laugh, reduces our stress.
You can tap on the acupressure points too, using a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (more details at the end of the article). There’s a point just below your collarbone, so where the knobbly ends come close together, go a couple of centimetres down from there and tap gently on both sides. This will help reduce stress and calm the mind. Do it at an airport lounge and people won’t really notice.
Also try visualisation. Take your mind and place it wherever you want to go. If you’re heading off to a fantastic beach, imagine you’re there already. Slow your breathing and picture yourself in that lovely place. It’s a very powerful tool.
Can you recommend some good snacks to bring with you so you don’t have to rely on unhealthy airplane or hotel minibar food?
Sometimes you can find some healthy food at the airport, but generally it pays to plan ahead.
My go-to is tamari nuts and seeds. You will find this and other healthy snack recipes in the Healing Recipes booklet in the Nutrition section mentioned earlier. Get a combo of any nuts and seeds you like, so pumpkin and sunflower seeds as well as almonds, unsalted peanuts and cashews, and then mix in a bowl with a bit of tamari soy sauce – you don’t need much. Very lightly coat the nuts and seeds, you don’t want them dripping wet or else it’ll be too salty. You could add a few chilli flakes as well.
Spread them on a baking sheet and put them in a high-temperature oven and every minute or so toss them so they dry out evenly. You want to allow them to go slightly golden, but not darker otherwise they’ll be burnt. This will take between 4-8 minutes depending how many you’re preparing. They’ll become crunchy and they’re really delicious.
Store them in an airtight box, they’ll last for a very long time and they’re easy to travel with, while you’re on the plane or if you’re tempted by the hotel minibar.
Other things you can take with you include olives, nuts like cashews, and if you know you’ll have a fridge at the other end, then yoghurt too but avoid ones with hidden sugar. Rather than chocolate bars, bring “health” bars but again look out for hidden sugars – I like Nakd Bars…there are lots of varieties of them and they don’t have added honey or syrups, they’re just sweetened with dried fruit.
Try oatcakes and home-made hummus, which is very easy to do and tends to be much tastier than the shop-bought stuff. Or prepare a fresh salad at home for when you’re on the plane. But sometimes plane food isn’t that bad and if you’re organised you can pre-book a special meal.
Do you think any foods help with jetlag?
Stay well hydrated so drink plenty of water even if you have to use the loo on-board a lot! It’s worth it for the sake of looking after yourself. And don’t go overboard with caffeine.
Nor alcohol, although I know a lot of people want to start their holiday as soon as they get on board. It might help you sleep but it won’t help your jetlag when you arrive.
And eat at regular mealtimes because it keeps your blood sugar steady, and avoid just carbs and have protein and healthy fats.
I think supplements can help too including melatonin (can be ordered online - see below) or there’s Montmorency cherry juice, which naturally contains melatonin, this is available in health food shops or online. Research has shown it can promote better quality sleep.
Also think about anti-oxidants which help counter the radiation we’re exposed to when we fly. These include vitamins C, E and A, as well as selenium. All of these you’ll find in a good multivitamin and mineral. Phyto, or plant, nutrients, are also powerful antioxidants and you can get those from bilberry extract, green tea extract and curcumin, for example.
Foods can boost your phytonutrients as well, of course. So, when you’re away fill up on foods that have lots of herbs and spices in them such as garlic, chilli, ginger. They’re anti-inflammatory as well as antioxidant. Be careful about overdoing the chilli if you have delicate digestion but generally, they’re really good for you.
NB. These supplements are not related to jet lag – just for general health when travelling
There are other reasons supplements can be useful while travelling. Again, consider a probiotic. Whilst exposure to new microorganisms can be good, there are those that can upset our tummy and a probiotic can help protect against this. This is especially the case if you’re going somewhere tropical where your body might not be used to the local bacteria, and where the local food and water might put you more at risk.
Any books you’ve read recently that you think people should know about
Further information from Liz
For further dietary information and recipes - https://www.yourhealingheart.co.uk/nutrition
For those who would like to know more about supporting the immune system while we isolate at home - https://www.yourhealingheart.co.uk/post/nurture-your-whole-self-during-lockdown
Details on how to test vitamin D levels - https://www.vitamindtest.org.uk/
A UK online store for high-quality supplements - www.naturaldispensary.co.uk For a 10% discount, quote EJB010 at checkout (correct at time of article first appearing in March 2021)
Melatonin is generally only available on prescription in the UK but can be bought online.
Please ensure you buy a good-quality product, one I often recommend is this: https://uk.iherb.com/pr/Now-Foods-Extra-Strength-Melatonin-10-mg-100-Veg-Capsules/54511
More information about Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) - https://www.yourhealingheart.co.uk/energypsychology
Photo credits: top photo Liz Butler; all other photos Unsplash.com