I Lost 20lbs in India and almost Hospitalized: Why You Should Watch What You Eat When Traveling.

In All Topics, Health & Fitness, India, Lifestyle, Personal by Ryan14 Comments

Traveling isn’t always frolicking through fields in the Italian countryside, or living out childhood fantasies exploring ancient ruins like Indian Jones or Lara Croft. And though it would be nice if life always involved fried cheese and beer in Prague — life on the road isn’t always fine and dandy. Actually, I will rephrase that — life on the road can be much more challenging than sedentary life in your comfort zone. Which makes sense, because of course you chose to break out of your cushy comfort zone to explore the world, taste exotic flavors, and conquer your fears.

Stress like running late to work because you had to wait in line longer at Starbucks for that “half-soy-mocha-cino-latte-extra-hot-light-froth-2.75-caramel-squirts-dusted-lightly-with-pumpkin-spice” becomes waddle-running to catch an overflowing Indian train with 50 kilos strapped onto your stomach and back like a pregnant tyrannosaurs rex. Yeah, it’s exactly what you just pictured, and if you’re a traveler, you know that run well.

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It’s the stress of trip planning and trying to make your planes and trains and buses on time. It’s arriving a your destination after 14hrs under the sweaty armpit of your seat mate in a cramped van to find out there is no more accommodation available. It’s trying to do everything you can to have the energy and confidence to make new friends in a strange new place when you’re completely exhausted. It’s not letting tempers fly when you don’t have it in you to deal with the throngs of people demanding to take a photo with you and their whole extended family. One by one. It’s a lot more than that, and it adds up. But that is why nomadic-hearted people like us do it. Not because we like smelling of that seat mate’s armpit or wearing the same clothing for a week. It’s because there is freedom of exploration of ourselves and the world that takes effort to do, and easy doesn’t pay out life experiences. Challenges do.

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Yet, there is a whole different side to travel challenges and life on the road that most don’t talk about.

What about your body staying healthy on the road?

What about our bodies combating fluctuating types of new foods in varying states of cleanliness? Or our erratic diets of beer drinking and fried street foods? What about when we fall seriously ill in a foreign country?

This is something that isn’t brought up much because of course it’s not Buzzfeed worthy or inclusive of “The 10 Best Beaches“. Unless of course it’s some new strain of plague threatening our existence. But failing health is the reason I have been absent on social media and the blog ever since leaving India 3 months earlier.

I got severely ill, and my health was fast deteriorating.

After our team completed the Rickshaw Run and survived the mayhem that it involved, my health was already at a very low. At that point, I had dropped 4 pant sized and was poking crude holes in my belt to hold up my pants. None of my clothes fit, and my normal small but broad build was wiry and weak. There had been many bouts of extreme dehydration while on the race (which I will be going into in a post soon) and stomach illnesses that added to it, but I had also not been getting the proper amount of nutrition that my body was used to or needed.

It wasn’t just Delhi Belly as everyone claims. It was the severe dehydration making me not keep anything down and wreaking havoc on my digestive system. And eating street stall Indian food, as tasty as it was, usually lacked anything more than a couple of pieces of potato and carrots. Added to that, my immune system was weakened and for most of the trip I had cold like symptoms.

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Lots of bread and soup, roti and curry, but little veggies. And “green salads” were oddly enough just a few slices of onion and tomato.

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By the time I got to Australia, I had gone from a 32/34 waist size to a 26 waist, and from 155lbs (70 kilos) to 135lbs (61 kilos).

You’d think that eating so much fried food and bread would fatten me up! But I could barely stomach meals halfway through the race.

Once the finish line was crossed and we went our separate ways, I kept traveling around India for a bit going from Darjeeling to Kolkata to Goa. During this time I attempted to recover with a normal eating habit, but no matter what I did, it didn’t seem to help. I was still having stomach issues, even when I cut out all meats and mainly ate rice. I was feverish with hot and cold sweats, and a constant dizziness. When I made it to Goa, I even stayed at an ayurvedic resort paying more than I have for a room in a long time thinking the diet and environment may help. I tried to do some running, meditation, and yoga to get the blood pumping and give me some energy. Didn’t work. Then I sat in a beach chair for weeks relaxing and eating and trying to regain my energy. It helped slightly, but I was still feeling zombie-like mentally and physically from the race.

Western food is what I needed surely. Big meals with lots of extra grub. My stomach was this empty pit and I needed to fill it. I needed to regain that weight fast.

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The moment I got to Australia, I went on a binge. I over-ate daily with massive meals of burgers and fries and pizzas. I thought that by consuming a lot, and consuming a lot of foods I ate stateside, it would balance out my falling weight and finally give me some energy back. I was eating my greens as well, but I was also inhaling McDonald’s at an alarming rate. I couldn’t quell the cravings.

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That had the reverse effect. Obviously.

Migraines lasted 24 hours and were debilitating. If I wasn’t passing out resumés for work, I was laying in bed not able to muster the strength to get up and do anything. I slept majority of my time the first month in Melbourne. And my immune system was rock bottom, leaving me with flu-like symptoms and weak and achy muscles. I couldn’t think straight and my coordination was off. I couldn’t ever eat much, but I was always painfully hungry.

Something was very wrong, and my body was shutting down. 

I consider myself a healthy traveler overall. I’m always active and exploring, and though I love to chow down on the street foods around the world, I also make sure to eat plenty of fruit and drink plenty of water as well. Ya’ know, the good stuff. And when I can, I eat tons of vegetables, which I normally do in “every day” life as well. But sometimes, you just can’t get that good stuff. And more than any trip I have taken I found it harder to eat healthy while on the Rickshaw Run across India. In a photo post of the Rickshaw Run I showed the mayhem and madness that took place and how driving across India was no easy feat, most of the time not even a difficult feat, but more like an impossible feat that we got through by a lot of luck we chased out on that journey.

And through all the harrowing moments, the thing that defeated me was food. While driving 2,000km across rugged northern India, there aren’t many places to stop along the road for a big ole’ green salad. Manly, the street stalls served up fried samosas and various curries with rice. Though incredibly tasty, not nutritious.

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It was when I arrived in Australia that the real problems began.   

For the first month or so I ate terrible here in Melbourne. And with those migraines and stomach issues and weakness worsening, I sought out some help. Since I don’t have travel healthcare (I know, I should) I rarely visit a clinic unless it’s dire. Last time I was in a hospital was, coincidentally, for a stomach virus I got in Thailand after Songkran over a year ago. And in Australia, it isn’t just a handful of change to visit a doctor or a stroll into the chemist for them to give you antibiotics. It costs a few hundred dollars. I couldn’t wait any longer, and I couldn’t deal with the state I was in. The nutritionist found that my body was extremely low on most important vitamins and nutrients and the doctor gave me an antibiotic for my stomach. But the nutritionist told me I seriously needed to completely change my diet to get everything back to normal.

How do I repair the damage? Start from scratch.

Since it was painful to eat anything, I had to start from the bottom and work my way back up. For the first week, I drank only blended smoothies of kale, beetroot, carrot, ginger, bananas, spinach, and various other vegetables high in vitamins and iron or easy on the stomach. Even just a week of that I noticed the headaches were going away and I had a bit more energy.

After that first week, I did only smoothies 3 times a day, and raw vegetables 3 times a day for another week. It was hard at first trying to find time to keep this strict regiment given that I had just started working at the hostel reception and found a restaurant gig, but I had to do it.

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After two weeks of this raw diet, I noticed a drastic difference.

I wasn’t experiencing pain in my stomach and I wasn’t having headaches. But I still had to keep at it. After the first week of smoothies and the second with raw vegetables, I would only eat vegan and strayed away from gluten, dairy, rice, and pasta for the next month. Those foods were just too hard for me to digest, and I always noticed a tinge of pain or discomfort when trying to eat it, so I cut it out.

It wasn’t at all as strict and torturous as that might seem. 

The best thing about this super strict diet, besides feeling healthier of course, was that I was getting super creative with cooking. I began learning how to make things other than instant noodles and hostel spaghetti! I was making zucchini “pasta” and vegan gluten-free tacos. I made of recipes for veggie nori (seaweed) rolls. And all the while I was feeling amazing.

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A month and a half later I had gained back weight, energy, and focus.

I started doing ghetto backpacker workouts in my room using my bag and whatever I could find. I had energy again to get out of bed early. I had created a routine and habit of eating clean and healthy and I really wasn’t missing much of the baked goods or meats. But I will say, I always miss cheese. Throughout the second month, I began trickling in breads and dairy one day a week, which I deemed a “cheat day” to start getting my body used to processing them again. But even on cheat days I found myself craving the good stuff. This diet that I was forced into had completely changed my tastebuds and cravings. I have never liked avocado or coconut or mushrooms and other foods like them, but I began to love them. I was exploring cooking with what would have previously been crazy combinations, but now it was normal and delicious.

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Three months into my year visa in Australia and I am back on my feet. It took a little over two months of strict eating to get back to 100% but I am happy to say that I am healthy again.

It was also spiritually taxing in it all as well, given that I am a creative person and I just didn’t have the energy to write on the blog and post stories from the Rickshaw Run or how life in Melbourne was. But now I do. It’s great to be back on the keyboard typing away, and reviewing the insane footage we got from the race that I have yet to post. But with my spirit and energy back to normal, and my strength, it’ll be fun editing these into videos.

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I’m a bit of a green fiend now. Due to the recovery being from eating clean and green, I will most likely be sticking to this vegetarian diet for a while. Who knows, I may just go vegan, because I never feel unhealthy eating this way. And though I can’t help salivate over a juicy burger or pulled pork sandwich or giant rolls of cheese, when it comes to actually wanting it over what I’m eating now — I’m don’t have an urge to.

This health scare taught me a vital lesson as well about traveling. In every country I go to, there are always mouth-watering local cuisines and it’s easy to get swept up in devouring street foods and drinking booze nightly with new friends. But you have to remember at the same time that you have to still give your body what it needs to be healthy as well — especially when on the road.

Hydrate all day. Get bright-colored fruits and veggies in you when possible. And if you have something physically taxing like a trek the next day or even exploring under the hot sun, hold back on the booze. Because eventually it adds up, and your body will take you for a tumble with it like it did to me.

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It took me two months to recover fully, and during that time I had to focus on myself solely, which is why I haven’t been present on social media or the blog and sharing all I have been up to. I apologize for the disappearing act, and not holding to the promise of releasing Rickshaw Run videos. But now you will be seeing plenty more content coming the next few weeks as I play catch-up with the post-Rickshaw Run stories and videos, as well as delving in what it’s been like settling into Australia for a year.

Also, along with that, I will be starting a new series of blog posts and videos called “Road Warrior” which will be focusing on easy ways to stay healthy and fit while traveling!

I’ve got to say, I have some exciting news coming soon, so make sure to check back Lost Ones, and thank you as always for coming along the journey.

In this article I talk a lot about the state on my health because of what I was eating in India, but don’t think for a second that I didn’t like Indian food. Cultures around the world have adapted to certain diets and ways of eating based on what is available or traditional, but as travelers sometimes these foods don’t play nice with us. For example, in Haiti my Haitian friends can go days just drinking sodas, while it was a struggle for me to go even a few hours without water. Also, given that we were on the Rickshaw Run constantly driving and stopping off briefly, our food choices were always highly restricted to grab and go stuff. And though most of my trip in India I noticed that much of the food lacks in quantity of vegetables, it’s still all worth eating. Just remember to also stop and grab fruits or veggies when you see a produce stand!

Have you ever fallen ill on the road? How do you stay healthy while traveling?

Comments

  1. Julia

    Interesting post, and great food porn. Glad you’re not dead ryan! I would have no one to live vicariously through :p

    1. Author
      Ryan

      Ha thank you Julia. And nope, still alive and kickin’ so glad you’ll still be around following 🙂

    1. Author
      Ryan

      Hey Steph, thanks for the kind words and thoughts! Yeah, I definitely wished up a bit to my health after this and excited to start making some posts about health and fitness!

  2. Toni

    I wondered where you had got to lovely! It all sounds very scary especially the weight loss when, as you said, you weren’t exactly a big guy to begin with!

    I’m so glad that you took that step to see a nutritionist and built yourself up from scratch again discovering a new love of creative cooking!

    I didn’t go to India but as you know, I came to Australia in 2013 and got sick six weeks in sending me back to the UK as an emergency just 5 months later to be diagnosed with an incurable liver illness. Thankfully the only diet issue I have is that I can’t drink alcohol which was never a big deal for me but it takes a while to get used to several pills a day and making sure I don’t get sick now that I don’t have an immune system!

    Loved this post Hun – so glad to see you back online and look forward to hearing about your adventures! Xx

    1. Ryan

      Ha, Toni, Yeah I know I disappeared but it was necessary to recover and focus on that. Thank you though, and I am definitely happy I did to so I could figure out what I wasn’t doing right and what was wrong. Because I have an okay stomach for foreign foods. I’m sorry you have that incurable illness to deal with but I’m happy to see that you still have your positivity and drive!
      Ryan recently posted..I Lost 20lbs in India and almost Hospitalized: Why You Should Watch What You Eat When Traveling.

  3. Wayne Seto

    I’m glad you doing OK now! I was pretty careful while in India and became a vegetarian for the 5 weeks that I was there. Luckily vegetarian there is amazing 🙂 I couldn’t resist trying the street food while there, but only ate things that were cooked. I also got laid up in a hospital in Thailand last year, but I think that was more water than food related. Great post, thanks for sharing!
    Wayne Seto recently posted..India Survival Guide: 30 Tips To Make Your Travels Easier

  4. Ashley

    This sounds like a nightmarish experience, but I’m glad to hear you’re on the mend, and that you’ve adapted a healthier diet as a result of it! After contracting a parasite or something similar in Fiji a few years ago (which also left me unable to eat normally for a few months), I’ve been extra careful with what I eat when travelling. I was so tempted by the street food in India, but I couldn’t justify risking my overall health again for a few samosas (even though I’m sure they were ridiculously delicious).
    Ashley recently posted..Expat in Edinburgh: Month 4

  5. Carly

    Wow good on ya for taking the time out properly to recover rather than just pushing through. Your recipes and dishes there are putting me to shame if you can create them living in a hostel! Thanks for sharing this its a good reminder to listen to what your body is telling you. I always end up inflating when I travel from trying all the local foods but you can only sustain that for a short time and I inhale veggies when I get back. Most of all glad to hear you are on the mend!
    Carly recently posted..We Got Married for a Visa

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