Eating and Driving: The 5 Commandments

How to eat well when you're a road warrior

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

Your shoes are off. Your favorite CD is playing -- loudly. The all too familiar map is spread out on the dashboard. And a week's worth of clothes (don't forget the bathing suit) is shoved into a suitcase that is nestled somewhere between the pillow you can't sleep without and the book you never seem to have time to read. This is a familiar sight when on a summer road trip. But the truth of the matter is, we spend a lot of time in our cars (even when we aren't vacationing) -- and out of convenience or necessity -- when we drive, we eat.

With close to a million restaurant locations across the country, it isn't surprising that almost everywhere you turn, in most American cities anyway, you come face to face with a fast food or table-service restaurant chain. This can actually be a welcomed site when you are visiting a strange new town on business trips or vacation because there is a certain comfort to patronizing a restaurant you are familiar with. Think about it: it's when we are "on the road" that we rely the most on restaurants and fast food to feed us. So how are we to survive?

5 Healthy Eating Commandments to Eating and Driving

1: Don't Eat Out Of Boredom

If you are truly spending a lot of time in your car during a day, then chances are you're not going to be as physically active that day either. Which means if you aren't burning up lots of calories doing what you normally do, you may need to take in fewer fuel calories as well. Keep yourself entertained with other non-caloric options such as new CDs, an interesting traveling companion, a new magazine (if you aren't the one driving), etc.

2: Portion Snacks So It Isn't A Feeding Free-for-all

One of the problems to eating and driving is the tendency to overeat because you are doing a few things at once and you may not be paying attention to the act of eating and the amount that you are eating. The answer? Package take-along snacks in snack-size ziplock bags to keep your portions moderate. Since driving is rather monotonous, eating while driving can be mindless as well. And, if you are snacking from a large bag or box of snack food, before you know it, you could be at the bottom of the bag or box!

3: Rehydrate With Smart Beverages

Sometimes for me, just about the only time I get a chance to concentrate on sipping water and hydrating myself is while I'm driving! Use this driving opportunity wisely by drinking decaffeinated, no or low sugar beverages. Watch the caffeine -- it's an intestinal and bladder stimulator. Overdosing in caffeine will make you over-visit the restrooms along the way, not to mention the attached vending machines.

4: Eat Balanced Meals and Snacks That Curb Hunger

Meals and snacks that are higher in fiber with mostly complex carbohydrates (not refined), and that are balanced with some protein and fat, will tend to be more satisfying in the stomach and will scare off hunger longer than a meal or snack that is mostly refined carbohydrates. One example of a balanced meal would be a bean and cheese burrito or a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole grain bread.

5: BYOH (Bring Your Own Healthy Snacks)

By planning ahead we can stack the snack deck in health's favor. We can keep ourselves comfortable, refreshed and well nourished while we drive -- without driving our healthy-eating intentions off a cliff. It is all too easy to grab a bag of chips or licorice or a box of crackers to eat in the car. Change the types of foods you take with you though, and you are not only adding more nutrients to your day, you are successfully avoiding a big collision of extra calories and fat.

Originally published June 4, 2003
Medically updated May 2, 2005.

©2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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