How to Prevent (and Fix) Digestive Problems While Traveling

Our bodies like consistency. But when we travel, there are many factors disrupting our routine – changing timezones, different foods, and dehydration –  which can lead to digestion issues.

 

While this topic is not exactly the sexiest thing to talk about, the struggle is universal because it has affected us all at one point. Depending on what’s the issue, you can feel constipated, fatigued, bloated, weak, nauseated, or even cranky. Yes, even our mood is affected by our gut health. So what can you do? Let’s break down the most common digestive problems, as well as how to prevent and treat them…

Constipation

Symptoms – bloating, feeling sluggish/cranky, abdominal pain, and feeling “heavy”

What to do:

Hydrate. This is both preventative and necessary for treatment. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight. In fact, take two water bottles onboard. If possible, book an aisle seat to get up and move more easily (which also helps as detailed below).
Move. Stretch and walk around as much as possible, especially on flights. This will get the blood flowing and stimulate movement of the bowels. It also helps to get movement in before and after flying (I recommend a power yoga class or a long walk outside). Additionally, twisting (sitting or standing) is a great way to activate your digestive tract. Make sure to counter-twist in the opposite direction to neutralize your spine.
Fiber Up. Consume fiber-rich vegetables like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and zucchini beforehand to promote regularity. Note – eating raw vegetables can create additional gastrointestinal discomfort so eat these vegetables cooked.
Fast. On flights I prefer fasting; it helps your body adjust to different timezones better. Plus, the high altitude and dehydration on planes do not make a good environment for digesting food. You’re better off drinking plenty of water, and adding green juice packets to your water bottle for extra nutrients. If my flight is too long to do intermittent fasting, I’ll usually pack avocados or olives to snack on because they’re lower in carbs, but high in monounsaturated fats (the healthy kind that keeps you full) and contain fiber.
Take probiotics. If you don’t already, take a quality probiotic supplement daily to ensure a healthy gut environment. Opt for one with a high number of different strains, with at least 5 to 10 billion colony-forming units (CFU’s). It’s best to test a probiotic that works for your body before a trip and bring enough with you to take daily while traveling. Tip: take your probiotic with food to reduce digestive discomfort.
Take MCT oil with your morning coffee/tea. Also known as multi chain triglycerides, MCT oil is gaining popularity as a powerful ingredient in “bulletproof” coffee. Not only does it make you feel full and boost energy, but it also stimulates bowel movements. If you’ve never taken it before, start with half to a full teaspoon and see how you feel because its effects can be intense for some. Seriously, be careful. I personally like to use this brand of MCT oil in case you’re curious which one I recommend. Mix MCT oil with plain black coffee or unsweetened green tea and drink first thing in the morning.

Diarrhea

Typically occurs from food poisoning or drinking contaminated water. Symptoms include feeling dehydrated, weak, and fatigued depending on how long it lasts.

Prevention:

-Avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables, unless you are able to peel them yourself.
-Stick to bottled water to drink/brush your teeth, especially in countries known for unclean water. If you’re in developed, European countries like Italy or Spain, you shouldn’t have to worry about this.
-Avoid ice in your drinks unless you’re certain it was made with bottled water.
-Make sure meat is thoroughly cooked before consuming.
-Avoid street food, unless you know it’s clean.

Recovery:

-Avoid greasy and high-fiber foods, as well as dairy.
-Skip caffeine.
-Drink plenty of bottled water.
-Rest and try to avoid the sun for long periods of time, which can further dehydration.
-Avoid food and drink with lots of sugar.
-Slowly introduce bland foods as you develop your appetite such as cooked white rice or bananas (that you personally peel) to strengthen your stomach lining.
-Take charcoal pills to absorb and expel any lingering toxins. I always travel with this brand.

Bloating

When traveling, there’s temptation to loosen the reins on your eating regime and try new foods outside of home. While that’s completely fine in moderation, be aware of what (and how much) you’re eating so that you can avoid the uncomfortable bloating that can damper your trip.

What to Avoid:

Dairy (especially if you’re lactose intolerant)
High-fiber foods (e.g. nuts, raw vegetables), even though they’re healthy they can worsen bloating
Processed foods (high in sodium and sugar, these foods also contain binding ingredients that cause stomach discomfort)
Larger portions (excess food tends to be common on both work trips and vacation; pick one thing to indulge in and enjoy it fully).

What Helps:

Water, while it may sound counter-intuitive, drinking water actually reduces water retention (if you’re dehydrated your body holds onto fluids as a survival mechanism) and prevents constipation (which leads to bloating).
Herbal tea, specifically ginger and peppermint. Pack a handful of teabags to travel with and drink tea throughout the day/evening. Most places offer hot water for free, including airports.
Exercise, especially if you’re already active at home. Any movement helps, even walking.

Final Words:

Don’t beat yourself up. Sh*t happens (no pun intended).

If you are traveling somewhere with only unhealthy options, try eating less. Our bodies can handle calorie restriction for a day or two, and it’s actually good for your body. And if you love eating, then move more to boost your metabolism and better process the food you just ate.

Either way, stressing out about it is only going to further worsen any digestive issues. So take a breath and remind yourself that your body has an incredible ability to self-regulate and heal, if you allow it with the suggestions provided above.

Happy traveling!

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