Off the rails: when healthy habits go out the window

We went to Europe in November, for the second time this year. Normally, I don’t take two major trips within twelve months, but we had been stuck in the house for two years, and my husband was anxious to take his six-week sabbatical. So he went off gallivanting around Europe for four weeks, and I met up with him outside of Lisbon to consider real estate for a couple of weeks.

During the time my husband was in Europe on his own, my morning routine got all discombobulated. I had been vigilant about getting up before him to do my morning meditation and yoga for two years. He gets up at six and does a Peloton ride, so I would get up at five or 5:30 in order to be out of our shared gym/ office space before he started his ride. Without his schedule to work around, there was no real reason to even leave the bed to meditate, so most days I didn’t.

This was further complicated by early morning texts from my husband, updating me on his adventures. Given the time zone difference, my mornings were our only hours to keep in touch. Normally, I don’t look at messages or feeds of any kind before my morning ritual, but for four weeks I got sucked into my phone first thing. Some days I got so sucked in, I skipped my morning ritual altogether.

It felt like my very solid set of habits had suddenly become tenuous and fragile. Would I get back to my new healthy routine, or was the first step off the wagon?

I decided not to worry about it too much. Sometimes circumstances change, and habits might have to go on hiatus for a bit. So I gave myself permission to be off the wagon for a few weeks, if only to find out whether I would be able to climb back on.

I slid into vacation mode. A few drinks on the weekend. A frozen (cauliflower crust) pizza instead of cooking myself a healthy meal. I got lazy about afternoon workouts and ordered food delivery more often.. I was slipping back into the self-indulgent lifestyle that I had lived for many years before I started my healthy habits push in 2020. Would I be able to turn the ship around again?

Once I got on the plane, all bets were off. Yes, I had pre-ordered the gluten-free meal, but I had it with several glasses of free wine. Side note: why is the gluten free dessert always fruit? Surely it’s not that hard to acquire some GF treats?

Arriving at Schiphol Airport, I had several hours to kill. At another time, I would have tried to keep my alcohol level up for the day, but instead I went to Starbucks to try to get enough caffeine and water to not fall asleep before my next flight.

On my afternoon flight, I returned to the wine and asked my husband to buy more for our Airbnb once I had landed and located my driver. The weather was lovely, and it felt right to sit on the balcony with a bottle of wine and stare at the Atlantic in the dusk light.

So—as I have started many vacations—the next day I felt very jet lagged and a little hungover. We didn’t have any breakfast foods in the apartment, so I made an instant coffee and ate a few of the spicy cashews my husband had kindly picked up for me.

When I have traveled in recent years, I often make some kind of attempt to keep up with my morning routine with a short meditation and a few sun salutations. It rarely happens daily, but it makes me feel like I’m not totally going off the rails if I do it occasionally. In this case, I just let myself go off the rails. Let’s see what happens, I thought.

Earlier this year, we traveled to Italy. On that trip I was pretty vigilant about staying 98% gluten-free, and I had a system for tracking and limiting alcoholic beverages. In Portugal, I decided to be less strict and just have an intention to not overdo it with anything that might make me feel crappy the next day.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

We went to nearby Cascais, and the first thing we did was acquire two pastels de nata. These Portuguese custard-filled pastries are the reason I brought my gluten-digesting enzymes. I hadn’t had a standard pastry with wheat flour for more than two years. We sat on a bench overlooking the quiet beach with crashing waves, and I ate all of the filling and about half of the crust.

Nothing bad happened. I didn’t get gas or notice any particular inflammatory responses to my little treat over the coming days. I ate one of these for breakfast almost every day we were in Portugal. I’m not sure they are even meant to be a breakfast food, but custard has egg in it, right?

In Porto, we found a little gluten-free bakery near our hotel where I got a bona fide GF pastel de nata. It was good, but gluten-free pastry tends to be a bit tough. My husband also picked up a couple of pastels de nata for us at a vegetarian cafe in Porto. When he asked if they were gluten-free, they responded with a nonsensical, “Everything is vegan!” The vegan custard was actually delicious, with a bit of fresh cinnamon on top, but the crust definitely had gluten.

Gluten or no, pastels de nata are not healthy. They are full of sugar and saturated fat, even when made without animal products or wheat. But this trip was intentionally not a healthy vacation. I wanted to explore a little self indulgence and see how well I would bounce back.

When I saw runners out along the seaside walkways, I wondered, “Why aren’t I like that?” Why don’t I want to go deep on health and fitness, even when on vacation? I want to be that person. Ultra healthy, and not even considering a second or third glass of wine.

But I considered way beyond three glasses of wine, on at least a few occasions. In Europe, it is so easy to buy decent three-euro wine at the neighborhood grocery store. So about halfway through the trip I found myself in the grips of the worst hangover I’ve had in awhile. I spent most of a whole day in Porto reading sci-fi novels on the couch and trying to stay warm in our chilly apartment during a multi-day “coastal event.”

It is not fun to be feeling unwell while traveling. I didn’t know it yet, but I was incubating Covid at the same time I was recovering from the hangover. I assumed the stuffy nose and back pain were just after-effects of too much wine, but a day or two later I found myself shivering with a sore throat after a day out in the pouring rain. Maybe I’m getting a cold, I thought.

I kept going. We had several nice dinners around my birthday. I continued to allow myself gluten here and there. We wandered around Amsterdam is the cold sun for a couple of days before our flight back.

By the time we got on the plane, my husband was also starting to feel sick. He took a Covid test shortly after we got home, and it was positive. I took the other test in the box, and, yup, my first official case of Covid.

Strangely, though, my morning routine seemed to reconstitute itself without much help. On the Monday after our return I planned to take a sick day for Covid and jet lag recovery, but I still got up early, did a nice 15-minute meditation, 20 minutes of yoga, and my normal one page journaling practice.

If I thought about it much, I didn’t really want to do my morning routine. But my Covid brain wasn’t up to much thinking…so I just did it. Every day for over a week, so far.

I also went right back to cooking every day, stopped drinking alcohol after a final glass of wine on the flight, and have been vigilant about going to bed by 9 PM to get plenty of sleep while still in Covid-recovery.

So, to answer my query: My healthy lifestyle isn’t all that fragile. I can take a multi-week break and get back into the groove even when I’m not feeling that great. This is good news, as I try to build in even more healthy habits over the coming months and years. Maybe I will become one of those vacation joggers, or someone who won’t go a day without meditation practice. I’m not that person yet, but I can see that the more I practice acting like that person, the more room she has to evolve.

One Comment Add yours

  1. kittyireland says:

    Reblogged this on Sixes and Sevens.


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