Eating healthy while traveling can be a major challenge.

No matter how much you evoke your inner Hulk-smash in the gym, there is no way around it, those abs are primarily the result of the work you put in at the dining room table—and no, not the dining table at Chick-Fil-A®, the one in your own home. If you are like most of us, airports and hotels are just part of “adulting”. Whether it’s another business trip or taking the kids to cast their first “expecto patronum” at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, traveling is something you’re probably going to have to learn to enjoy, or at least deal with. And, if your health is a major priority, this dealing is going to take some planning.

Some of you may want to close your eyes, I’m gonna say it: restaurants are the world’s most lethal health and fitness goal assassins. How much time you spend bowing at the throne of the Burger King® or cashing in your tokens at Subway® is one of the greatest determinants of your overall well-being. The breadth of research is pretty overwhelming. Countless studies have directly associated how much one eats away from home with weight gain, insulin resistance, and comorbidities. Even with the best intentions, research has shown that you are far more likely to underestimate how much you are eating when doing so in a restaurant than at home. Most interesting of all, the environment and health of the wait staff actually can influence what and how much you are likely to consume while under the bright lights of a restaurant’s chandelier.

There’s no two ways about it: one of the most critical aspects of staying on track while traveling is setting clear and simple rules that focus around minimizing the nearly-unavoidable restaurant destruction.

  1. Pack food.

It’s a lot easier to navigate the airport gauntlet of Cinnabon® kiosks when you have a bag of almonds in your pocket. Last time I checked, there was nothing in the traveling rule book that said that you couldn’t bring your own food. If you have room in your carry-on, pack plastic bags filled with protein powder, some nuts, and maybe some non-perishable fruit; at worst, it will get you through the airport and give you a reason to pause when the stewardess comes around with her cart of calorie-dense goodies.

  1. Be prepared.

Spend a few minutes and do your homework. Get a good view of the lay of the land, where the closest grocery store is, if there are restaurants nearby that may offer some healthier selections, if there is a nice trail or park nearby so you could sneak in a workout if you get some downtime. If you go in clueless, you are bound to find yourself standing in line as soon as your get a wiff of the aroma emanating from the Korean fusion taco truck parked outside your hotel.

  1. Request a mini fridge in your room, and ask that it not be stocked.

Yep, hotels will absolutely do this (I’ve confirmed this several times). As soon as you check in, hit up the nearest market. The concierge may be able to tell you where to get the best pizza within walking distance, but more than likely they can also tell you where to get the freshest produce. Stocking up on some healthy snacks will save you a lot of time, money, and will minimize the restaurant diet destruction.

  1. Forget about the menu.

Regardless of what’s on the menu, most restaurants will prepare whatever you want, within reason. It is next to impossible to know exactly what goes into prepared restaurant food. As the research suggests, some of us regularly underestimate meals we eat at restaurants by over 500 calories. Even when the restaurant posts nutrition labels in the menu, studies show that you aren’t likely to care and will go straight towards the chili cheese fries anyway. Instead of asking about the day’s special, you aren’t going to offend your server if you inquire if the chef can prepare grilled salmon and steamed vegetables. The worst they can say is no, and based upon my experience, that is highly unlikely.

  1. Skip the free continental breakfast.

It may not be for everyone, but if the plans for the day include a business lunch at the nearby steakhouse and you plan to end the day by visiting the local ice cream parlor that Yelp® suggests is a “must try”, it may be a perfect time to give intermittent fasting a try. The possible benefits are very well researched, and even if you find regularly abstaining from food through mid-day isn’t for you, at least you saved a few hundred extra calories. While everyone else is trying to decide what toppings to put on their complimentary waffles, go for a sight-seeing jog or get in a quick workout in your hotel room and save the post-workout refueling until lunch.

Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.