Jayne McAllister

Travel Wellness Expert and Author

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5 Perils of Prix Fixe Menus

chambery menuI’m just back from a month in France and Italy (definitely not looking for sympathy) and with the impending launch of Dine Out Lose Weight, I was more conscious than ever of trying to make the right choices when eating out since I can do a lot of damage in a month.

I’ve always loved fixed price menus, particularly at lunch time.  For a relatively low price, you get to pick an appetizer, main course and dessert.  Some even include a small carafe of wine.  What could be better?  When you add up the individual cost of these items, your bill would total a lot more than the typical 14 to 20 Euros.

Do this for a week or two during your trip, and you’ll see a cost to more than your wallet.  Here’s why:

1.  Menu choices are limited to what the restaurant wants to sell that day.  A lunch in Limoux, France, gave us selections of sausage in brioche, a tablet of melted cheese, or eggplant/aubergine parmesan as a starter!  Holy fat calories, Batman!  What happened to a simple salad?

2.  If you’re trying to cut back on animal protein and fats, there might not be an option for you.  Our main course choices that same day were rabbit, sauerkraut with pork and sausage, steak and, you guessed it, sausage. (Actually andouillette, a coarse-grained sausage made from pork, intestines and seasonings).  There are typically no substitutions for prix fixe menus.

3.  You end up eating dessert whether you’re full or not.  Plus, they’re often sublime and who’s going to pass up on chocolate mousse or lemon tart unless they’re seriously deranged?

4.  While European dessert portions are typically smaller than those in the US (read “no mountain of chocolate cake”), many of us are in the habit of sharing and having just a few spoonfuls.  If you get your own teeny, weeny, seemingly smaller piece of pie, you may be tempted to scoff the lot.  Of course, you can have a couple of bites and leave it but it’s harder when sharing prevents you from, well, having more than your fair share.

5.  Prix fixe menus are definitely great value but only if you want to eat three or more courses.   I found more often than not that a salad or a plate of pasta would have sufficed, and would actually have cost less than the menu.

In all fairness, some prix fixe menus give you the option of having an appetizer plus main course, or a main plus dessert. But still, what if all you need is one plate?  It’s easy to be led by the seeming value of a prix fixe.  And, they’re becoming more prevalent in the USA.  Actually, they’ve been around for a while under the guise of early bird specials!

Full disclosure: I have a dinner reservation at Bouchon in Los Angeles this week because I was attracted to the $40 prix fixe menu.  This is not a cheap restaurant but the fixed price offers great value.  My plan is to listen to what my body really wants and if a simple plate of salmon tartare will do it, I’m not going to feel obliged to wade through several courses for the sake of it.

Watch this space – I’ll report back in the comments or a separate blog.

To learn more about Dine Out, Lose Weight, visit www.dineoutloseweight.com.


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A Hotel Brand for Health Conscious Travelers? Enfin!

EVEN Hotels_Guest RoomI spend my life helping business travelers stay healthy on the road and much of that involves coming up with ways to make a hotel stay more congruent with our communal goals. From making sure there’s a fridge in the room, to stuffing healthy snacks into every possible orifice in hand and checked luggage, to pre-qualifying menu items from the hotel’s restaurants, to investigating work out options (Is the hotel gym an afterthought? Is there a yoga or Pilates studio nearby?  Is it safe to jog there on one’s own?), I do it all. It’s my life.

So imagine when I heard that InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) announced that they are introducing a new brand especially for health conscious travelers.  A hotel brand that has done my work for me and where I can confidently direct clients.  English girl happy dance was in order as I learned of the inception of EVEN Hotels.

We are talking hotels with state-of-the-art workout rooms that aren’t dark, dank, and squirreled away at the end of a corridor; substantiated health claims on menus, by which I mean people who know what they are doing have checked the ingredients and health claims rather than sticking a star on a menu item like pinning the tail on the donkey; ease of business transactions and connectivity to keep unnecessary stress at bay; and every little comfort and thoughtful touch to make sure you get a good night’s sleep.

I can’t give it all away, but I have the best way for you to find out all the details.  I first learned of EVEN Hotels a few months ago and I’ve been following their progress with interest. So much interest that I had the good fortune to connect with the brand team and have the pleasure of interviewing Adam Glickman, Head of EVEN Hotels, for the upcoming Healthy Travel Summit. Please join us to learn everything there is to know and more.  The Summit starts the week of September 9th, and registration is free. Click here to register.

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Healthy Travel Summit: International Expert Interview Series

travel summit logo 2

The first global event that focuses on every aspect of business travel from diet and exercise to stress, socializing and relationships.

WHAT7 Experts, 3 Countries, and the Most Authoritative Voices in Travel Health.

WHEN: September 9th to 15th at noon EST/17:00 GMT.

WHERE: Virtual! Listen via webcast or download and listen at your leisure.

HOW: Register for FREE right here.

WHY: Because when my health was suffering as a result of bad habits gleaned from constant travel, I could have really used help like this. The combined interviews will be the most comprehensive guide ever to overall health and wellness for the business traveler.

WHO: Adam Glickman, Head of EVEN Hotels; Averil Leimon, Director of White Water Strategies, one of the UK’s top ten coaches (Independent on Sunday), and author of Positive Psychology for Dummies; Nikos Loukas, founder of InflightFeed.com and consultant to the airline catering industry; Christopher Babayode, the Go To person for healthy jet lag solutions for frequent fliers, founder of www.NoJetStress.com, a hybrid nutrition, fitness and wellness program that helps frequent fliers overcome jet lag without medication; Stewart Stone, founder of NowLanding.com, the social network for frequent business travelers; Katherine Patch Sleipnes, business development director of FlyInStyle.co, the app that helps you maximize your time in airports; and Jayne McAllister, I’m here to talk about overcoming challenges with diet and exercise on the road.



Eight Steps to Dine Out and Lose Weight

Young woman in fine restaurant, she eats a burgerI constantly survey business travelers on the topic of their health and wellness challenges when on the road.  The biggest concern is always, “I can’t control my weight when I have to eat out so much.”  (It’s followed very closely by lack of sleep, in case you’re wondering…).  “Just tell me what to eat,” is the plea uttered by the vast majority of new clients.

Well, I’ve listened and I’m hard at work on the launch of Dine Out/Lose Weight™ but it won’t be finished until October.  That doesn’t help you now, does it?  And we all want instant gratification… So, here are a few tips to get you started.  They are the tip of the iceberg but should keep you going until I can reveal all my secrets in October!

In a previous post, I talked about zoning out with menus.  That’s when your eyes glaze over and reason evaporates. You are suddenly incapable of making decent menu choices, even though you walked into the restaurant planning on having consommé and broiled chicken with a green salad.  Well, click your heels three times and come back to reality.  Here’s how we’re going to address the menu…

Step One

Start by mentally eliminating all unsuitable items from the menu.  I say mentally because it might not be appropriate to whip out your biro and start putting lines through dishes on someone’s elaborately designed menu.  These dishes will have key words like cream, fried, cheese or all three.

Step Two

Look at the remaining dishes and see how you might be able to manipulate them into something healthy.  Look for vegetables, other than white potatoes.  They are going to be the star of your plate, but they might be hiding as a side dish.  Sautéed spinach, broccoli, asparagus or green beans seem to be the most common options.

Step Three

Find some protein to accompany said vegetables otherwise you won’t feel full.  This will include fish, seafood, lean meats and poultry, tofu and beans.  They should be prepared without elaborate sauces.

Step Four

See if you can get extra vegetables and have them instead of potatoes, white rice or other starches.  If you’re a carb lover, then pick the good guys such as brown rice, quinoa and barley, just limit your portion to half a cup.

Step Five

Make sure the dish comes with a green salad, otherwise order one.  Make sure it’s dressed with an olive oil based dressing.  Anything creamy is on the out so adios to ranch and blue cheese.  Sorry, but you’re here to lose weight.  If dressing is on the side, you can pour about half of it on your salad.  This will vary by restaurant.  Some establishments bring you half a bucket of dressing while others will give you a thimble-full.

Step Six

Drink water until you order and ignore the bread basket.  Don’t feel deprived, you’re going to eat as much of the healthy stuff as you like, until you feel full.  Instead of reaching satiety by overindulging on evil, sugary carbs, you’ll get there with the help of the protein and good fats you’re consuming, such as olive oil in your salad dressing.

Step Seven

Once you’ve ordered, now you can include a glass of wine, which you will enjoy with your food.  Drinking on an empty stomach leads to less rationale around food choices and the alcohol enters your bloodstream way too fast.  You may find yourself dancing on the table for your clients, or tearfully telling them about the demise of the pet spider you had as a child. (Okay, guilty.  His name was Incy Wincy.  Not very original but I loved him).

Step Eight

Pick your poison.  If you REALLY want dessert, you can have three small tastes to savor.  Or, you can have a glass of red wine or champagne instead.  But not both.

Try on these steps and see how they work for you.  There’s much more to this but you have been officially pointed in the right direction.  Let me know how you do and please feel free to post questions.


Join me in Italy’s Piedmont…

aerial shot of papaveriI spend my entire life working at keeping frequent travelers healthy on the road, and I spend a good amount of my own time traveling too.  It might seem odd therefore that I elect to travel on my down time to take a group of people on a retreat to Italy. Isn’t that a busman’s holiday?

Not really.  My biggest goal with clients is to address their relationship with food.  First of all, I steer them away from processed and packaged foods to the real thing.  Next, we look at other issues that might have them opening the fridge door more often than they would like, such as habits, environment and emotions.

If you’ve lived off fast foods and processed foods for years, there’s nothing like coming back to basics.  In food terms that means getting as close to the source as possible.  And that’s what we do at Cascina Papaveri.  Most of the produce we consume is picked that day from the extensive organic garden.  Any food that isn’t produced on property comes from within a 5 kilometer radius.  Garden to belly time is minimal, taste factor is maximum!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow consider how you eat.  Are you always on the run, do you eat in your car, or do you scarf down fodder while you’re at your laptop? Do you give yourself time to register whether or not you’re full? We take all our meals at a long communal table, mostly on the extensive terrace so we can enjoy the fabulous views (on a clear day we can see the Alps).  We prepare our dinners together using the freshest ingredients and cooking everything from scratch. Yes, everything.

“You’re making the bread tonight,” says Chef Gino.  Pointing to someone else, he adds, “You’re going to make pasta.  Andiamo!” Panic sets in for a second until you realize that you’re not being left to your own devices but you’re in the hands of a top notch chef who has great teaching skills and, most importantly, a sense of humour.

IMG_1479Before you know it, you’re massaging flour into perfect eggs that are used specifically for making pasta. The yolks are as orange as the dress in my profile photo!

Are you gluten free?  Dairy free? Vegan?  It doesn’t matter.  Gino is an amazingly talented chef and you will not be left behind in the taste stakes because of any dietary limitation.

All this real food is washed down with local wine.  People who don’t drink red wine because of the sulfites have no issue here.  Appetites increase, wine is quaffed and no one puts on any weight.  Is this Utopia?

Actually  we have a secret weapon.  Cascina Papaveri has its own fully-equipped Pilates studio.  We start every morning with a mat class on the roof overlooking the vineyards.  After breakfast, duets and trios are taught on the oddly named Pilates equipment; the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Wunda Chair.  There’s even a 12 meter indoor pool to enjoy.IMG_1388

Truth be told, my favorite activity at Cascina Papaveri is watching the world not go by.  And that’s okay.  You don’t have to cook.  You don’t have to do Pilates.  You don’t have to go on the excursions to Asti and Alba.  You can just be.  Or you can do.  You can do it all or not at all.  That’s why I love the place.

This year’s retreat is from September 9th to 16th.  Limited space is available.  Email retreats@jaynemcallister.com if you’re ready to jumpstart your way to healthy living.

Cascina Papaveri is in the town of Costigliole d’Asti in the Piedmont region of Italy.  Milan and Turin are the most convenient airports.  If you’d like to join me, you can select from a 7-, 4- or 3-night stay.  retreats@jaynemcallister.com.

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The Minibar/Fridge Dilemma

Snack Mix I always like to make sure I have a fridge in my hotel room so I can stock it with healthy snacks and breakfast provisions.  It makes sense.  You can stock up and save money, and exercise an element of control over what you eat.  It’ s the antithesis of  the overpriced, sugar- and fat-laden delights lurking in mini-bars.  If you care an iota about your health and your pocket, have that bad boy emptied or decline the key.

That said, I’m seeing more and more hotels offer to fill the in-room fridge for guests as a “convenience.”  Beware the promise of healthy fare. (I always worry about institutions’ definitions of “healthy’).  Here’s a quick look at what an upscale Orlando hotel was offering when I stayed there last week.

Lo-Cal Snack Attack.  Quaker Cheddar Rice Cakes, Cheese Nips, Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Apple Crisps and Baked Lays, each at 100 calories.  You get to pick 4 for $6 or 6 for $9. Dude, I can get an apple and a banana for 100 calories and they don’t contain chemicals and trans fats.

The Energizer Bars. Pick any 3: Clif Bar, Nutri-Grain Bar, Nature Valley Granola Bar, Quaker Chewy Granola, or Resveratrol Winetime Bar. $10.  Is this food really fridge food? This collection should be renamed the Sugar Spike and Crash package.  I would like to reiterate my stand on energy bars – they are not real food; they usually contain lots of sugar; they are often fabricated in labs rather than made in kitchens; and – according to my husband – they look like dog turds, which is why I never touch them.

Of course I had to check out the Resveratrol Winetime Bar.  It’s an interesting concept, basically a 190 calorie chocolate bar masquerading as 50 glasses of wine (it contains the resveratrol equivalent thereof).  I’ll take a glass of cab and a piece of 80% cacao chocolate instead, thanks.

The Energizer. Pick any 3: Red Bull, Monster Energy Drink, AMP for $15.  Perfect for any road warrior who hasn’t been listening to me about how to increase energy while you travel.  In my naïveté, I’m always shocked that people still drink these concoctions, but then I’m so much in a bubble I nearly fall over when I see someone drinking a soda.  In both cases, it’s common knowledge that they’re bad for you yet the habit prevails.  Habit it is so let’s not encourage it.  If you want more energy, eat some protein and good quality carbs.

Honestly, the healthiest, most natural options they had were the Tiny Bubbles (2 bottles of 187 ml Mumm Cuvee Napa Champagne for $20, add hummus with pretzels for $24), the Chilled Republic of Tea Time (3 flavors for $10) and the Hydrators (3 bottles of water (including Smart Water and PowerAde) for $7.25 or 6 for $14.

Is it any less convenient to stop en route to your hotel and stock it with bottled water, iced tea, snacks and, heck, a split of wine or champagne if that’s what you want?  The shopping time will be made up by having a quick and convenient breakfast in your room.  Plus, you’ll have made your own healthy choices and you know that’s what I care about!


Top 10 Tips To Avoid Travel Weight Gain

Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean it's devoid of calories.

Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean it’s devoid of calories.

It’s that time of year again.  Even if you travel year round like I do, it’s that time of year again.  How do I know?  There’s some kind of airport strike in France. This year it’s the air traffic controllers. School’s out or nearly out and you can’t find a transatlantic ticket for under $1,000, and that’s for the last row of economy, next to the loo.   And there’s one more thing: the weight gain that accompanies the opening of the floodgates of permissions that can have you stuffing your face with every fatty, sugary, calorific morsel you spy.

While many of my clients and I deal with this on a year round basis, I’d like to revisit travel weight gain on this summer solstice so you have a little primer to stave off the dreaded excess baggage that might creep around your middle or derriere if you don’t keep it in check. (That was supposed to be a gentle pun about checking baggage – I’m easily amused).

Here they are – my Top 10 Tips To Avoid Travel Weight Gain:

1. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead will keep you in control and take the guessing out of meal decisions while you’re away.  Start by checking out the eateries in the airport from which you’re flying in case you expect to eat before you fly.  Call your hotel and make sure you have a refrigerator in your room so you can pick up breakfast supplies and healthy snacks once you reach your destination.  If you’re flying long haul, order a special meal such as Hindu vegetarian (Yes, really.  I do this every time).  You’ll have a more nutritious meal with more vegetables, less fat and sugar.

2. Eat Veggies at Every Meal

Crowd out your plate with extra orders of veggies and eat them before you touch whatever else is on your plate.  Start your meal with a salad too.  That way, you’ll curb your appetite with the low-calorie, nutritious foods and be less likely to overeat on starches and animal proteins.  Dress your salad with olive oil and lemon juice or a little vinegar.

3. Look For Ways to Exercise

Traveling is not the time to wimp out on your regular exercise routine.  Although if you are committed to exercising daily, chances are you will continue your routine at the hotel or at a nearby gym.  That said, if extra morsels are making their way onto your plate, you’ll have to move more to counter the effects. So, regular exerciser or not, take the stairs, walk a few more blocks or go for a swim.  Or, let your hair down and boogie a bit more than usual.  It doesn’t matter what you do, just keep moving.

4.  Avoid Zoning Out With Menus

Do your eyes glaze over when you look at a menu? Does your brain turn to spaghetti and you forget everything you know about healthy eating as soon as steak au poivre jumps off the page at you? Does the fact that you’re traveling mean that all of the yummy concoctions listed in front of you are just fine to order?  Time to get a grip.  If you wouldn’t eat a double chocolate cheesecake at home, what makes you think it has fewer calories while you’re on vacation?  The same healthy eating rules apply as at home.  Look for simple dishes, maybe two appetizers instead of an entrée and appetizer, and always a green salad.

5. Take Food With You

This is probably the single smartest thing you can do.  Having healthy food with you at all times eradicates excuses and keeps you in charge of your health.  I travel with almonds, seaweed snacks, lentil chips, hummus and guacamole.  If you’re flying, hummus etc are considered creams/lotions and should be in 3-ounce or less containers.  That said, I’ve taken bigger tubs through in hand luggage and not had any problems.  It depends on the TSA of the day!

If you’re driving, take a cooler.  Use freezable foods or drinks as ice blocks.  For example, use frozen high-protein muffins and you’ll have the next day’s breakfast ready in advance.  I’ve been known to check a cooler inside a bag pre-flight for the same reason.  Those of you who know me well, know that I always check luggage.  One of my bags is usually full of healthy food.  I have a bag of oatmeal that’s been all over the place with me.

Other good foods to pack are dates, dried mango, crackers (I recommend Nut-Thins by Blue Diamond), cherries, carrot and celery sticks, smoked salmon, homemade popcorn, and bean salad.

6.  Share A Plate

If you want to let go and have a to-die-for dish or dessert that’s packed with calories, share it.  Don’t deprive yourself – you’ll end up feeling resentful and put yourself at risk for bingeing as a result.  Have a few bites, relish it and appreciate it.  You’re worth it but respect your self-worth by not polishing off all of it.

7.  Drink Wisely

If you’re going to indulge, whether traveling for business or pleasure, beware the perils of overindulgence.  I’m not talking about obvious hangovers, but the lack of energy, blotchy skin and weight gain.  If you’re trying to lose weight, there’s little room for the empty calories in alcohol, I’m afraid.  If that’s not an issue, avoid drinks that have soda as a mixer.  The diet stuff is poisonous and the regular is full of sugar.  Spirits mixed with soda water are okay. A glass or two of wine enjoyed with dinner are fine.

If you’re on vacation, the pina coladas and daiquiris that seem so appealing when you’re sitting out in the heat of the day might be regretted later for more than their high calorie content.  My recommendations are to avoid drinking in the mid-day sun (even though I’m English and married to a mad dog) and – my number one rule – always always have food when you drink to avoid the alcohol entering the blood stream too quickly.  You’ll also be less inclined to end up in embarrassing situations.

8.  Start the Day Right

Rushing at the start of the day and avoiding breakfast sets you up to fail.  That said, I’m not a fan of breakfast for breakfast’s sake because your typical cereal, juice and muffin are full of sugar.  After your initial high, you’ll be asleep at the wheel or, on a plane, dozing with your head on the shoulder of the stranger next to you. (I’ve only done that once – it wasn’t pretty).

A blend of fruit, and oatmeal or eggs with sautéed veggies, especially spinach, get my vote.  If you have access to a green smoothie, great!  If you’re driving, throw the Vitamix, Magic Bullet or NutriBullet in the back of the car and go for it.

If you skip breakfast, you will end up snacking heavily, stuffing yourself at lunch, and you won’t have the energy to function properly.  So there!

9.  Keep It Simple

Lobster Thermidor might sound delightful but it’s full of hidden fat and sodium.  By contrast, grilled lobster with salad will not contribute to junk in your trunk.  A piece of grilled fish, chicken or meat with a medley of vegetables is far better for you than a dish comprised of a bunch of ingredients as long as your arm.  A simply composed plate will have fewer calories and be easier to digest. The more complicated the recipe, the more room there is for hidden nasties and extra calories.

10.  Keep Your Regular Sleep Patterns

A good night’s sleep goes a long way in so many respects, not least in relation to fat burning.  If you don’t get enough sleep, you could find yourself reaching for fatty, sugary foods to help you through your energy slumps the next day. Not getting enough sleep also means that your metabolism won’t function properly and weight loss will be impaired. So, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening; skip heavy, fatty foods at dinner; and pack your eye patch and ear plugs to drown out strange noises.  Bonne nuit!