WHY I Ate Wednesday: The Airplane Food Edition

FYI: This post is not meant to be an eat-like-me kinda post. My goal is to give you a behind the scenes on intuitive eating, sharing what guides my decision making about food and how that plays out on the plate. This post is about WHY I ate the food I ate, not WHAT I ate. I hope that in reading these posts, you see that "healthy" eating can look really different from day to day. 

If you’ve been following along on instagram, then you know the last couple weeks I’ve been in South Africa on vacation with the hubs. I got a lot of requests on instagram to share the details of how we planned our trip, and of course I love to share our travel eats anyway, so I plan to do a post on our 4 days of safari in Sabi Sands Reserve, a post on Cape Town, and another on our trip along the Garden Route plus our day in Johannesburg. But for today’s Why I Ate Wednesday post, I thought it would be helpful to tackle an eating situation that often brings a lot of anxiety – airport eating.

I used to be someone who put much too much thought and effort into bringing my own food when I was traveling. I even had an old post (since deleted) about all the snacks I made for an overseas flight, which included homemade white bean hummus, “healthy” chocolate peanut butter cookies, and from scratch energy bars that were basically just Lara bars so DEAR LORD why didn’t I just buy Lara bars???

Now I think of airport eating as an exercise in flexible eating. I still do like to pack snacks when possible, but only if it’s easy, like if I have leftovers to finish up before heading out of town, actual Lara bars and not homemade ones, or my random favorite travel snack – frozen vegetable dumplings. Random, I know. Fun fact – airports do sell food, and although it may be overpriced and not always the tastiest, airport food does serve foods most basic purpose of providing fuel.  Since our travel plans involved two 10-hour flights and a 3 ½ hour drive back from Atlanta, I thought this day would be the perfect example of flexible eating! If anything, I hope it normalizes eating solely for fuel, and knowing you can just eat what’s available and be OK.

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When we got to the Johannesburg airport around for our 8 pm flight to Frankfurt, we had already had a pretty heavy lunch at a food market a few hours earlier, so I was somewhere between snack hungry and meal hungry. Since I knew dinner would be served late on the plane, and that it would probably be pretty crappy airplane food, I decided to have a substantial snack/mini-meal in the airplane lounge. Airport lounge food is pretty hit or miss, and this one was a miss, so I ended up piecing together a bunch of random stuff. There was a hot bar with chicken and beef and rice, but it all looked gummy and weird, so I grabbed a spicy chicken salad sandwich from the refrigerator, plus a Coke light. Sidebar - I used to drink massive amounts of diet Coke in my diet-y days, probably because I had zero energy, but now I don’t like the taste of it, except after being out in the sun for awhile, or if it’s Coke light (the diet Coke they have overseas) which I swear tastes different. Also, if you like the taste of regular coke vs. diet, that’s cool too, I just prefer the tste of diet. Anyway, that sandwich brought me to about a five on the hunger/fullness scale, so I went back and grabbed some sushi, a couple pieces of cheese, and a glass of wine, which I drank about half of because I remembered that wine makes me wake up at night sometimes and I wanted to be sure to get as much sleep as possible on my flight. That’s an example of me thinking about how food (or in this case, drink) will make me feel, and using that information to help make a decision about how/what to eat.

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Once I got on the plane, I wanted to get as much sleep as possible so I could stay up for our next long flight, and sleep as close to normal as possible when we got back home. To feel satisfied, I typically need more than the amount of food they serve on the plane, but since I was planning on just sleeping, I just ate as much of the weird creamy chicken and pasta as I could tolerate, plus the roll with butter, and the raw vegetables served on what I think was overcooked buttered pasta (cause that makes sense?) just to not be hungry. I passed on the stale coffee cake and put the cheese and crackers in my bag to snack on later in case I got hungry in the middle of the flight…then promptly forgot about them until I was unpacking my bag 20 hours later. Cool cool.

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Thankfully I managed a full night of sleep (thank YOU melatonin), but that also meant I slept through breakfast offered on the flight. As soon as we got off the plane, we went in search of food and much needed coffee. I was feeling a little wonky from the turbulent flight, so I wanted something that was easy on my stomach. We stopped at a cafe and I went with a plain croissant and a bottled smoothie over the sandwiches. Normally I try to include fat, protein, and carbohydrate at meals to make sure they’re satisfying, but when I’m not feeling very well, plain carbs feel best.

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Back on our second flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta, I realized I was feeling pretty hungry from the second we got on the flight. I immediately regretted not stopping to pick up a snack to bring on the plane, but I had been trying to hurry up and finish some work before our flight, so I don’t think I realized how hungry I was. You might notice that when you’re stressed or concentrating intently on something, you don’t notice hunger as much. This is helpful brain knowledge to have, to know that your hunger/fullness cues may not be as reliable in those moments. That doesn’t mean you can’t trust hunger/fullness cues, just know that it’s one piece of information for making food choices. When lunch finally came (I went with the very exciting vegetable lasagna over the very exciting chicken and rice), I ate everything, because I knew I wasn’t going to eat again for some time.

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I was feeling meal hungry probably 2 hours later, but we weren’t served food again until about an hour before landing, so I was pretty ravenous the whole flight. As I’m writing this, I realize I probably could have just asked the flight attendant for a snack, but it honestly didn’t occur to me until now. When we were served our snack, once again, it was horrid - this weird soggy cheese sandwich and a cookie with (bleh) raisins in it. Even though I didn’t want to eat it, I ate all of my snack just to take the edge off my discomfort.

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We arrived at Atlanta airport around 3, where my mom picked us up and drove us back to her house (where our car was parked) so we could head back up to Columbia. I was feeling uncomfortably hungry when we started to debate picking up food on the way home in Covington, which would have been some kind of fast food, or stopping at Bufort Highway Farmer’s Market, an international farmer’s market in Atlanta (you must go if you live nearby and haven’t!). They have a really yummy Asian deli, plus lots of other grab and go foods. Although timewise, it make more sense to stop in Covington, I was SO sick of crappy food, and really just wanted something satisfying to eat. Sometimes convenience trumps taste and nutrition. Other times taste/satisfaction comes up on top. And sometimes nutrition is the priority too!

When we ran into the market, I was in a rush so quickly went to what I know I love - their sushi and kimbap (Korean sushi). We picked up a package of spicy pork kimbap and a package of mixed spicy tuna and salmon avocado sushi to split.

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By the time we picked up our car and got on the road to Columbia, it was about 5 pm and I was SUPER meal hungry, so I ate my half of the package. Even though Scott and I ate pretty much the exact same food the past 24 hours, he wasn’t really hungry yet, and waited about an hour. I often see female clients comparing what they eat to their male spouse, feeling like they should always eat less. While generally speaking, most males will have higher energy needs, that doesn’t mean that in every individual situation, you should be eating less, or that you don’t need more energy than they do in the moment - or in general! It’s a really gendered expectation that women should be eating less than a male, and if you feel you should be eating less than a male, I encourage you to consider what it means for you if you were to eat more than a male. Remember that by comparing your eating to others, it detracts from building a trusting relationship with your body.

Considering how hungry I was before eating, I figured I would probably need more food on the road, but I was SO tired, I ended up just falling asleep for most of the ride back. I know that biologically, I didn’t eat enough to fuel my body that day. But what’s cool about intuitive eating and learning to listen to your body is that over time, you make up for “mistakes” in eating. While my appetite was still a little wonky from jetlag on Tuesday, this morning as I’m posting this, I woke up with a strong appetite, and ate twice what I normally eat for breakfast, plus a snack an hour later.


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