Any wine or spirits industry rep knows how challenging it can be to maintain a healthy lifestyle while juggling a hectic schedule of appointments and meetings (not to mention drinks and dinners) with clients. As a regional director for SevenFifty, an online platform for the beverage alcohol trade (and the parent company of SevenFifty Daily), I spent more than 100 days on the road last year. I know from experience that it’s all too easy for healthy choices to be abandoned when your primary focus is caring for your customers and accomplishing your business goals.
In the last few years, I’ve become an expert at healthy eating while traveling, even in the bleakest of culinary territories. For me, it was a necessity. After developing an autoimmune (AI) disorder several years ago, I realized that I needed to reorder my approach to eating—and drinking and socializing—on my business trips and in general.
In an effort to reduce the symptoms of my illness, I’ve been following the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), a diet and lifestyle regimen designed to help regulate the immune system, since November 2015. After eliminating gluten, grains, dairy, soy, legumes, caffeine, nuts, and nightshade vegetables from my diet, I noticed marked improvements in my mental clarity, level of chronic pain, and overall well-being.
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While the strategies I’ve developed are likely to be especially helpful to those with health conditions, like mine, that require restrictive diets, they have the potential to benefit anyone who wants to make healthier choices while traveling regularly for work.
Here are my five top tips for taking better care of yourself on the road.
1. Prep and pack meals and snacks.
One of my mantras is that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. One problem with regularly eating on the road is that there can be a dearth of healthy options, especially if you have dietary restrictions like mine. Hectic travel schedules packed with meetings and appointments also leave little time to suss out healthy options. I’ve found that prepping meals ahead of time and taking them with me is a good way to ensure that I can still follow my eating plan when I’m away from home, but this strategy would work for anyone who wants to be sure of having access to healthy meals and portion sizes while traveling.
One of my most recent obsessions is a vacuum-sealing machine that helps me portion out and store my favorite meals. I’ll make white chicken “chili” or turkey meatballs, then freeze, pack, and reheat them as necessary on the road. Another must-have is a device called Hot Logic, which is basically an electric lunchbox. I use it all the time: in hotel rooms, during long car trips (I have a special converter to plug it in), and even during trade shows and conferences to heat up a preprepped meal since I generally can’t eat anything that’s served at such events. Finally, I always keep on hand a ready-to-eat snack—like plantain chips, Epic bars, and green juices.
2. Create a bag (or bags) of tricks.
And by this I mean a literal bag of culinary tricks—the little extras, condiments, and other items that can be hard to come by on the road but really turn food into a meal. I have a small toiletry bag that holds my pink Himalayan salt and pepper grinders, tiny packets of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, coconut aminos, and wasabi, and a set of reusable plastic cutlery that even has a pair of chopsticks so I can eat one of my favorite meals from Whole Foods—prepackaged, presliced ahi tuna on greens—in style.
For air travel, I swear by my Chill-n-Go backpack—it serves as my on-the-go wellness pack. I use the cooler section to keep vacuum-sealed food (or meals in Tupperware containers) cold until I arrive at my hotel, and the front pockets for extras, like essential oils and cannabinoid oils, a lacrosse ball to help with muscle stiffness on the flight, and sometimes my TENS unit (a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation machine) for pain management.
3. Research hotels, grocery stores, and restaurants along your route.
I look for hotels that have rooms with kitchenettes and refrigerators so I can cook and store my preprepped meals and juices. I’m a big fan of Home2 Suites by Hilton for this reason. Before I leave for a trip, I also make a point of mapping out the natural grocery store options where I’m going, whether it’s Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or something local. Knowing the staples from your eating plan that you can find in each makes shopping a quick stop.
Supplier and distributor reps typically do reconnaissance on the restaurants in their sight lines before traveling anyway, so when you’re checking to see whether the venue carries your wines—or if the menu is conducive to the selections in your portfolio—take a moment to preselect your healthy meal option so you won’t get derailed when dining.
4. Take care of yourself as well as you do your clients.
One thing I’ve noticed in this industry over the years is that the sense of hospitality runs so deep that reps often take much better care of their clients than they do of themselves. But that’s a misguided mind-set. The truth is, you’ll be better at caring for your clients if you take care of your own needs first, whether that involves traveling with your own premade meals, scheduling time into your trip to exercise or meditate, or skipping the late-night hang so you can get adequate sleep.
As I began to observe the positive effects that my healthier eating routine had on my physical and mental well-being, I also started to notice how it seemed to impact everything else too. Because I was feeling better, I was able to step up my game in my profession and in all other aspects of my life. I subscribe to the notion that how you do anything is how you do everything. Eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, being mindful, executing your work with precision—smart choices have a ripple effect.
5. Beware the “more is more” attitude that pervades the industry.
The beverage alcohol industry is one that celebrates excess. For importers, sales reps, and regional directors, indulgent eating and drinking with clients and colleagues is often part of the territory, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many ways you can adjust your industry lifestyle to make it healthier. Go ahead and order a salad for lunch if you want to, take only a few sips of each wine, go to bed early—and don’t think twice about it when others look at you sideways. Your lifestyle choices do not make your career soar, your talent and expertise do.
If you’re interested in checking out more of my tips for living well with an AI disorder, visit my Instagram page.
—As told to Blane Bachelor
As a regional director for SevenFifty, Melissa Hoffman oversees a territory of more than a dozen states in the southern and central U.S. The New York native has extensive experience in the beverage industry, including positions in distribution and as a sommelier, wine director, and importer regional manager. She currently resides in the St. Petersburg, Florida, area.