a special feature from Debra Orringer*, Nutritionist & Health Coach

I recently embarked upon an 8-day journey to Iceland. Sounds great, right? I was so excited; however to be honest, I was very anxious. No, the act of travel doesn’t fill me with anxiety like so many other people I know- but rather the notion that my carefully scheduled and planned daily routine becomes upset and my eating and nutritional balance goes out of whack. After all, as nutritionist and counselor, you can bet that I am ever so sensitized to watching myself. Travel adds another dimension to that topic.   But let’s be honest- the entire point of a vacation is to ‘vacate’ your current schedules, life, and get out of the routine so that you can experience something new and something different. This trip in particular was huge on so many levels. I wanted to find a mindful balance so I could truly enjoy letting go.

If you knew me 25 years ago when I weighed 100 pounds more than I do today, you would understand just why fitness and nutrition is such a priority for me, and why I have become professionally involved to the extent that I am. I worry each and every day that I may slip into the extremes that attributed to my past. To make sure I could enjoy my vacation, I decided to research the food of Iceland, to make sure I was familiar with how my lifestyle and nutritional needs would fit. The purpose of this exercise is to alleviate food anxiety no matter where you go. And, this is what I suggest to my clients. You must get yourself familiar with what and how this will affect your lifestyle or eating habits.  After all, who wants to go away and come back 15 pounds heavier? No one that I know. But, yes, you can travel and totally enjoy yourself by letting go in drips and drabs. It is possible.

An example of my personal daily routine at home is waking up at 4:30am, six days a week, to participate in my swim team’s 90-minute practice at 5:30am. From there I head home where I have an organic shake and green juice for breakfast before heading to yoga to stretch and tone for another hour. Then I am off to work and help coach my clients with reaching their goals. I am very dedicated and I love my schedule and routine. I feel great and I have tons of energy, and on this particular trip to Iceland, I was planning on keeping as close to that schedule as I could.

Well, when we got to Iceland a lot of that planning went bye-bye, and it was a VERY good thing.

Iceland is an amazing country first of all. The hotel where we stayed was sheer perfection. They also had an amazing breakfast buffet. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a fresh croissant or a cappuccino with real cream. And when I say I enjoyed that breakfast buffet, believe-you-me I definitely consumed what seemed like my weight in food every morning. Remember, I’ve had a protein shake for breakfast for almost every day for the last seven years.

I also slept until almost 8am everyday. That’s another huge deal as the only days I don’t set an alarm are Sunday’s, my rest days, and I still wake up naturally before 7am and participate in a decompressed yoga class as I consider that my active rest. Are you starting to see a small pattern of behavior here?

Taking a step back, the first day in Iceland, I did power walk the 1.5 miles to get to the local geo-thermal pool and did my 3000m swim of the day before hiking back to the hotel. I didn’t swim again for the entire trip, which is not a normal occurrence for me.  I’m known as a local mermaid and I am happiest in the water. But as that first day went on, I started to let my routine guard down and explore my surroundings. I actually stated to ‘vacate’ on vacation.

My routine, if you can call it that, consisted of sleeping until 8 or 9 as I didn’t wake up to an alarm, and then heading down to that ginormous buffet of real, whole and fresh foods. I did have a power shot they made daily which consisted of ginger, turmeric and a random juice of the day. I sat and dined for maybe an hour while enjoying breakfast and the cappuccino before heading up to the room to shower and get ready for the day. The days consisted of exploring the island. We stayed in Reykjavik and walked everywhere. We took a bus tour a couple of days, took a ferry to another island and hiked and even rented a car to drive the entire south coast discovering new and amazing landscapes I had not experienced before. Hiking at every location and even partaking of Icelandic foods. I tried their famous meat soup and smoked lamb. I am thankful they told me about how it was smoked AFTER I ate it (horse or sheep manure which is an old Icelandic custom of curing foods).

This time of year in Iceland was light 24 hours a day. It was so easy to get lost in the day as it never got dark and when we were exploring volcanoes, I had no idea it was 10:30 at night.  I’m usually asleep around 9:30pm every day so the fact I was awake, alert and still full of energy to explore the countryside into the wee hours of the morning was so out of the norm for me. It was splendid. We spent 8 days in this non-routine atmosphere, delving into a different culture of food, drinks, activities and sleep.

As we were sitting on the plane on the way home, looking at an unbelievable view of Greenland, I was thinking about the trip and realized that I didn’t care about the lost routine that I didn’t find. I didn’t care that I ate my weight in Icelandic foods or took naps when I was tired. I didn’t check my email every five minutes for fear of missing out on something important. I didn’t care because for one of the first times in my life, even though I was active everyday with hiking and exploring, I actually relaxed. I vacated that part of my life that is ingrained into my soul.

When I came back, rested up from the jet-lag, did some laundry and spent an additional day in my pajama’s just chillaxing, I was happily surprised that my swim time was faster and my ability to do certain poses in yoga were stronger than before. I also lost a couple of pounds even with all piles and piles of food I ate. I was excited to be home, excited to talk with my clients and get back to work.

As an exercise physiologist and an integrative nutrition health coach, I know these things. I counsel clients on this daily…. yet for some reason I didn’t listen to my own advice. It was a humbling reminder that’s for sure! Now, while I don’t recommend eating the way I did on a daily or permanent basis – the lesson I learned was that truly vacating your life for a week or so out of the year and resting and rebooting is unbelievably rejuvenating for your body, mind and soul. Travel helps you rest. It helps you mentally, spiritually, nutritionally… it literally shocks your system and forces you out of the norm of the day to day, and that’s the important lesson here.


“Being Healthy Doesn’t Have To Be Hard”

Debra Orringer Health Coach*Debra Orringer, MS from Naples, FL, is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and a Clinical Exercise Physiologist with over 20 years in the industry. She has managed the wellness programs at the Kennedy Space Center as well as consulted for several national fitness companies, authored articles, and retains a myriad of advanced level certifications.  Debra produces a nutritional blog weekly at www.DebraOrringer.com and can be reached at DebO@DebraOrringer.com