Food & Fitness

Reader Mail from the Sisterroommate/traveller: Losing Weight Overseas

The sisterroomate left in October to visit the father dear (he’s working with the United Nations in Cambodia) and to explore Southeast Asia. She was supposed to be the sistertraveller only until about a month ago, but then she scored an internship working with some kind of non-governmental organization, helping war-affected children in Sri Lanka (I actually have no idea what she’s really doing or which program she’s with, but it’s something to do with children, and she writes reports and spends the day doing paperwork, so far as I can tell). Thus, the sistertraveller will be gone until sometime in July. Late last week she sent me this email:


I know you’re super busy right now, but I have a problem, and I’m pretty sure only YOU: Health Blogger Extraordinaire! can help me. [Editors note: The sistertraveller knows me and my susceptibility to flattery so well ;)]

I’m going to get fat in Sri Lanka. I am trying not to, but I can’t go running during the day because it is 35 degrees, or in the early morning or evening because of safety risks (being female alone, crazy feral dogs in the streets…), oh! and I left my running shoes in Cambodia. But! I have a yoga mat! No weights, hell not even soup cans, we don’t really cook. I need you to help me get rid of my vastly growing rice belly (and rice thighs, and rice cheeks…). Help me! I will happily put 1/2 hour in the morning and 1/2 hour in the evening towards working out on my yoga mat. I already try to do a minimum of 30 situps a day and 20 pushups—my goal is for 50 situps in the morning and again in the evening, and 20 pushups at each time too. But just that is not enough. Do you have any good core training tips etc? Could you make me a workout for a week or two so I can get into a routine? I’m bad at remembering different workouts and stretches. I can do about 10 minutes of yoga or so too. I want to lose about 10 pounds.

My diet, as much as it is consistent, is usually some cereal and yogurt in the morning (trying to cut down on the yogurt—it’s full-fat here—and replace it with non-fat milk, which I can occasionally get). Usually it’s curry for lunch, so a piece of chicken, some potatoes, and some veggies. I’ve tried to either not get rice, or, if I have to, only have a few mouthfuls. And then dinner is either salad and pasta that Tyler [Editor’s note: Tyler is the sistertraveller’s roommate and our friend from here in Winnipeg] and I make, or noodles, or prawns and curry, it varies. Plus alcohol—but we’ve cut back on beer, and instead have arrack (kind of like whiskey?) with soda water, which is less calorie-packed. Tyler has a sad obsession with Pringles, which I am also suffering from, but I’m really really really trying to not eat as many—which means trying to not buy as many!

So, when you have a minute, tell me what to do! Save me!

xoxo Sistertraveller

I am not one to turn down a challenge, especially not one like this! After a few more questions to get details, the sistertraveller explained that she drinks about 2 litres of water a day and has roughly 2-4 beers three times a week. She also said that her salads consist of tomato, cucumber, onion, corn, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

I could respond to her that it’s important to love our bodies no matter the size, but the sistertraveller knows that already: this is more a matter of fitting into clothes and being healthy. So here are some of my suggestions for the sistertraveller:


The number one thing you can do right now is to cut back on the alcohol. Women should only have a maximum of one alcoholic beverage per day, and “saving up” those drinks to have them all in one night isn’t the same thing. Drinking the arrack is probably a better idea in terms of trying to cut calories, but it’s also important to read the ingredient list on the bottle of soda water (assuming it’s in English!).

Tonic water, for example, contains a lot of calories; soda water likely does not, but there is the possibility, so that would be worth checking out. Cut back to two alcoholic beverages per week on the weekdays, and if you go out with friends on the weekend, have no more than two drinks; three in one night at the absolute most. It would be better to stick to only one if you go out with friends on the weekend, but I also realize that drinking only one on the weekend might not be very realistic. However, if you’re looking to drop weight, cutting back on alcohol and even eliminating alcohol is the quickest (and healthiest!) way to do it.

It’s great that you’re eating salads with plenty of vegetables and a homemade dressing. I don’t know how much olive oil/balsamic you’re putting on the salad right now, but measure it out every time that you eat so that you see how much you’re putting on. Studies have shown that even veteran bartenders over-pour a shot of alcohol by almost twice as much if they don’t use a shot glass; it’s easy to misjudge portion sizes (something to bear in mind with the aforementioned alcohol, too!).

One serving of oil is only one teaspoon, and that’s a measuring spoon, not a spoon you’d use to stir your coffee. Therefore, only use one measuring spoonful of olive oil per salad. Including the corn in the salad is a great way to get in some grains to the meal; you didn’t mention lettuce, so if you aren’t including that in your salad, definitely get some leafy greens in there! Try having just salad for dinner: include a bit of protein (such as prawns), and forgo the noodles etc.

Above all, listen to your body. Increasing the amount of vegetables in your diet would be good, and you might want to start eating fruit as well. Depending on your current portion sizes, you could cut your current breakfast/lunch/dinner in half, and replace that extra half with veggies and fruit. This will fill you up and add vital nutrients to your diet. Eating a slightly bigger breakfast, a normal-sized lunch, and a small dinner might work in your favour for cutting back on calories and staying energized at the same time.


Adding half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening of exercise will be really useful if you’re performing the right exercises. Even without weights or soup cans, bodyweight can be used for strength training. The key is to get a good balance.

In the morning, focus on core and cardio: Doing sit-ups is fine except that it doesn’t really work the core. It requires hip strength rather than core/abdominal strength. Instead of doing sit-ups, it’s best to do a variety of core exercises to work all of the muscles. For example, you can do regular crunches, bicycle crunches, double crunches, and reverse crunches. Work your way up to doing 30 reps of each, or simply continue doing reps until you lose good form.

Another good core exercise is “the alphabet” (lie on your back on a mat, legs in the air, and draw the letters of the alphabet with your legs, keeping your feet together. Try to make it all the way to “z”), as well as holding a plank position on your toes and forearms for 30 seconds at a time (work your way up to hold it for as long as possible; make 3 minutes the goal. Five minutes is even better!). For cardio, jumping jacks are fantastic. You can do these in between the various kinds of crunches.

In the evening, focus on strength training and yoga: Do push-ups, triceps dips, calf raises, squats, squat chops, bridges, lunges (unless they hurt your knees), wall-sits, and inner/outer thigh leg lifts; try for 15 reps of each, and work your way up to 30 or more if you can.

If you prefer to do them in the reverse (strength training/yoga in the morning and core/cardio in the evening), that works just fine too. You should also have enough time to squeeze in a short 10 minute walk in both the morning and evening if you’re giving yourself 1/2 hour time chunks, although if you can go for a longer walk (15-30 minutes), that would be even better. The more you walk, the less lower body strength-training you’ll have to do!

Because you have 1/2 hour break for lunch, take a short 10-15 minute walk during that break. Fifteen to twenty minutes should be plenty of time to eat your food. It will be good for your body and your mind if you take the time to stretch your legs.

Fitness Magazine also offers a 20-minute circuit workout; some of the moves require equipment, but others just use body weight, so you can experiment with those exercises. Yoga Today also has a new free yoga video to download each week if you’re looking for some yoga moves.

What do you think? What would you do to get healthy if you were in the sistertraveller’s position? Do you have any ideas or pearls of wisdom to help her out? The sistertraveller is in need and she would love to hear your insights and advice!


  1. Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman

    These are great suggestions. I have a feeling if I were in her position I’d be writing you, too. Talk about having a lot of obstacles to exercise! Your ideas sound realistic and not too strict (considering she’s traveling and still wants to have a good time). The only other thing I do when I’m traveling is do activities that require exercise as part of my touring (say, hiking).

  2. asithi

    I love planks! There is the one you mentioned on your forearms and your face facing the floor. You can also do planks on the side (one foot on top of the other, one arm on the floor, the other arm extended, facing the wall). Then there is the reverse plank (feet extended, arms near the hips area pushing yourself up, facing the ceiling).

    You can also consider sending your sister some tubes/bands. There are a great way to add resistance without the shipping cost of dumbbells.

  3. Tony the Pink Panda

    This is some great advice, especially since I’m in Taiwan and need all the help I can get for exercise since I don’t have access to a gym.

    Just one thing though, isn’t a serving of oil 1 tbsp? If not. then I’ve been adding way too much lol.

  4. Sagan Morrow

    Tracey- Good point, I forgot about that one! Typically when I’m travelling, that’s where all of my exercise comes from, too: just walking around exploring and seeing the sights.

    Asithi- Thanks for the tips on plank variations; side planks are a great one. I’d never heard of the reverse plank! I also like the plank with arms extended, and the plank where you raise your opposite arms and legs. There’s so many neat “twists” on regular exercises.

    Tony- Sorry, a serving is only 1 tsp! I know, it seems like such a small amount. In general we all just have portion sizes blown way out of proportion.

  5. Mimi (Damn the Freshman 15)

    Great tips!

    I think it’s important to realize though, that you CAN be healthy and maintain your weight anywhere. I mean…the middle class locals of Cambodia obviously aren’t all obese.

    And walking is so so so good. I was in New York for a week and eating tons of nut-heavy raw food, big steakhouse dinners, Italian lunches, and a dessert every night. And the scale didn’t budge. I actually think I might have lost a pound (not intentionally) because I resumed taking creatine when I got back, and that usually makes you appear to gain a pound or two.

    And you can do PLENTY with bodyweight. Seriously, check these out:

    (a few tips for the most bang for your bodyweight buck):

    (great routine):


  6. Teddy Cregeen

    Hi! This is my first time on your blog. Got some good stuff here. I am trying to track down a rumor I keep running into. I have read the Chinese military ran a clandestine lab near Banlung. They were supposedly testing some hallucinogenic drug like acid that made you think you were having an out of body experience. Anyone have any info about it?

  7. charlotte

    I like your suggestions, Sagan! It can be so hard to maintain fitness while travelling. I applaud your sister for trying! I’ve found that living like the natives of the country do can be helpful. If they walk everywhere, I walk everywhere. If they eat sushi for breakfast, I eat sushi for breakfast. Etc. Good luck!

  8. Sagan Morrow

    Mimi- I agree- the people in Cambodia are the smallest I’ve ever met. Granted, however, my sister’s in Sri Lanka πŸ˜‰ but I don’t expect that the locals are heavy there, either. BUT, she isn’t exactly living the same lifestyle as the locals, which does create a few difficulties. Thank you for the links!!

    Cammy & Sophia- Glad you enjoyed, hehe.

    Andrea- I often find that I lose weight when I travel too, just from walking. Walking is the BEST!

    Dr. J- I shall make sure that the sistertraveller reports back to us πŸ˜€

    Westwood- With names like “foot-fire”, who WOULDN’T want to do that exercise? πŸ™‚

    Charlotte- Definitely. Doing what the locals do can be the best way to get healthy.

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