You know what’s kind of awkward? Writing a blog post about something that is your absolute least favorite thing to talk about. And for me, that’s my weight.
Man, it just sucks so bad. I’m a driven, accomplished, confident lady and I don’t love admitting that I have that particular weakness. It’s not cute.
It’s also not fun to admit how long I’ve struggled with it (for probably half of my life), and that nothing that I’ve tried has ever seemed to make any difference in the long term. I’ve made a reputation for myself as someone who gets things done, so my inability to deal with the issue of my weight felt like a particularly embarrassing failure.
For me, losing weight has been a battle that I’ve always lost. And to be honest, I’d gotten to a point where I expected to continue to lose it forever.
Until I started Workationing.
When Kari and I arrived in Aguada, Puerto Rico on January 1, we were determined to make some healthy changes in our lives. And to my surprise, those changes were easier to make than I ever dreamed.
It’s now three months later and I just stepped on a scale this morning for the first time since I left home, and I was astonished at what I saw. I’ve lost a grand total of 38 pounds since this journey began — and I’m just getting started.
So how did I do it? And what is it about traveling that made something that once felt impossible feel almost effortless? Here’s what I’ve learned:
Change Your Context
When I was growing up, my dad used to ask me this one particular question. “What is the strongest force in the universe?” he’d ask at the dinner table or as he drove me to basketball practice, and I’d know what the answer was.
“Habit,” I’d parrot back with a roll of my eyes. I did not enjoy this game.
But I can see now that my dad was absolutely right. The coolest thing about traveling the world so far hasn’t been seeing new places, meeting new people, or even crossing items off of my bucket list. It’s been the way that I’ve been able to intentionally reprioritize my life and change patterns of behavior that felt completely beyond my control back home.
As a lady in her mid-to-late 27s, I knew that I needed to do things like work out, eat better, and have more structure in my life, but the life that I’d built for myself had all of my bad habits built into its very DNA. That made change extremely hard. I’d get started on a new diet or a new routine, but when push came to shove, the path of least resistance always took me right back to my old habits.
The things about traveling is that there is no path of least of resistance. Just about every decision that you make everyday has some element of complication or problem-solving involved. Even going to the grocery store can be a challenge. Where is it? Can you walk? How will you get your groceries home? Why is the milk in bags on the unrefrigerated shelf?
The result is that traveling forces you to engage in active decision making every single day. The default, mindless behaviors that were your go-to at home are not necessarily any easier than anything else when you are out on the road, and so it becomes much easier to make better choices.
I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as a geographic cure, but from what I’ve experienced in three months on the road I suspect that those people just didn’t get weird enough with it.
Consider Ditching the Scale (at least for a while)
Probably the coolest thing about the weight loss I’ve experienced while traveling is that I’ve done it without a scale. I recognize that might not be the best approach for everyone, but for me it was a real game changer.
Based on my decade of unsuccessful diets, I knew that the pattern of behavior that had me ditching my diet and reverting back to my old ways after a few weeks almost always involved a scale. I would always start strong with working out and eating well, and as I started to lose weight I’d inevitably get obsessed with weighing myself — which always lead to disaster.
If I was losing weight quickly, I’d decide to treat myself and cheat on my diet. If I was losing it slowly (or more slowly than my obsessive, irrational brain decided I should be losing it), I’d feel hopeless and give up. That’s why I decided that this time I’d try to bypass that deeply ingrained, self-defeating thought process and just ditch the scale entirely.
It made a huge difference for me. Instead of obsessing about the scale, my only way to measure my progress was by how I felt. After years of being at war with my body, my whole mindset shifted to focus on listening to my body and doing my best to give it the things that made it happy.
For someone who’s been out of touch with her body for a long, long time this was both a revelation and a relief. It turns out that my body likes getting enough sleep. It likes fresh fruits and vegetables. It likes to be active. And all those things that I was turning to for comfort before? Well it turns out that those things make me feel terrible.
Once I started to realize just how good I could feel, it seemed suddenly unthinkable that I would return to my old ways. And if I’d been weighing myself the whole time, I really don’t think that I personally would have been able to get there.
Build Healthy Habits Into Your Travel Plans
First and most importantly, in most of the countries that we’re traveling to, we’re traveling without a car to save money on a rental. This means that we need to choose an Airbnb that is centrally located so that we can walk to things like stores, restaurants and beaches. Doing this builds physical activity into basically every single day, which is a big change if you’re used to driving everywhere.
We’ve also been very intentional about choosing Airbnb rentals that have gym facilities. For instance, in Colombia we had a gym in our building and in Puerto Rico we were across the street from a public track and outdoor free gym. The easier it is to make it to the gym, the more likely you are to go, so these decisions were crucial.
We also got Fitbits. I may not hit 10,000 steps every single day – but before I wasn’t even counting and had no step count or daily distance goal at all. We got these gadgets at the airport before we left on Workation, and they’ve become permanent fixtures on our wrists ever since.
Just like my old habits were built into my new life, traveling gives me the opportunity to build new, better habits into my routine on the road.
This part might seem trivial or even a little self indulgent, but I assure you that having fun is one of the best — if not the best — tool in your weight loss arsenal. Why do I say this? Because science.
Studies have shown that people can get addicted to high-fat foods in much the same way that they can get addicted to things like drugs and alcohol. This is because these things trigger the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain making it more likely that those behaviors will become habits.
Over time, this habitual behavior can create a higher threshold for dopamine in the brain, which basically just means that it takes more of that thing to make you feel good. This is why diets are so hard. You’re literally waging war against your own brain chemistry — and that’s an extremely hard battle to win.
A great way to counteract this process is to find your dopamine somewhere else, and it turns out that travel can be an incredible source for that. This is because novel experiences activate the dopamine centers in the brain giving you the same feel-good rush that overeating provides.
Traveling provides a constant stream of novel experiences, and therefore, dopamine. So while it probably won’t completely eliminate your cravings for unhealthy food, you’ll likely find it much easier to make better decisions. I certainly have.
This is just the beginning of my journey. Ideally I’d like to lose 100 pounds this year. While that’s a lofty goal, the good news is that now that I’m down 38 pounds I’m more motivated than ever keep this progress rolling — and with the new habits I’ve developed I’m more confident than ever that I’m going to get it right this time.
If you want to follow along with more of our Workationing story, check out the Workationing podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud. You can also follow along with us in real time on Facebook.