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How Flying Can Make You Fat

From stress eating to being sedentary, here's why being at high altitude can lead to weight gain.

Flying sucks. Delays are up, seat size is down, and luggage space is limited. And to top things off, plane travel can actually pack on the pounds. Think about it: You sit on a plane for hours and spend little time (if at all) moving. It's like being sedentary in overdrive. Here are five ways flying can make you fat, and ideas for how you can stay healthy while traveling.

Your Taste Buds Change

If you're wondering why your food tastes different when you're up in the air, it's because your taste buds change at high altitude. According to a study from Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP commissioned by Lufthansa Airlines, the taste of salt in flight was 20 to 30 percent less intense. This may cause you to either pile on more food onto your plate or overdo it on the salt shaker. Moreover, sugar tasted 15 to 20 percent less intense in flight, which can lead you to consume more cookies and chocolates. Another study from Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine showed that at high altitude, our palatability for sweetness increases. It's important to pack healthy snacks in your travel arsenal so when a sweet or salty craving hits, you don't fill up on candies and cookies.

Eat This! Tip: Pack a KIND bar with dark chocolate and sea salt. The sodium will stimulate your taste buds and the dark chocolate will satisfy your sweet tooth, while the protein in the almonds will keep you satisfied.

You Skip Meals to Save Money

Airport food is outrageously expensive, so it's natural that you'd want to save your vacation budget and avoid spending money on food. But when you're traveling, skipping meals can seriously undermine your flat-belly goals. A 2015 animal study at Ohio State University found that mice who ate a full day's worth of meals at once and fasted for the rest of the day developed signs of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when your body stores excess blood sugar as fat because it doesn't use it efficiently.

Eat This! Tip: Instead of skipping breakfast, pack some hard-boiled eggs with fresh fruit or enjoy some scrambled eggs with a whole milk latte at the airport. You can also take along a bag of walnuts or one of these healthy nutrition bars.

You Get Dehydrated

While bottled water isn't TSA-approved, you can bring a reusable water bottle with you to fill up once you get past security. Hydrating is key to staying healthy while traveling and keeping those sweet and salty cravings in check.

Eat This! Tip: A number of airports have vending machines by the gate, and there are dozens of shops, restaurants, and cafes that sell bottled water. During the flight, be sure to ask the flight attendant for a cup or bottle of water. Making sure you drink enough H2O will prevent your body from mistaking thirst for hunger.

You Forgot to Pack Snacks

Traveling can be overwhelming and stressful, which can cause you to forget the essentials—like healthy snacks! Since the average airline meal packs 1,054 calories—that's basically two Big Macs—sometimes you're better off prepping and packing your own healthy meals and snacks.

Eat This! Tip: Add "pack snacks" to your checklist, and check out these 50 best snacks for weight loss, for delicious, waist-whittling ideas.

You're Anxious

There's nothing quite anxiety-inducing like ascending 33,000 feet up in the air. Anxiety can cause your body to pump out high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This signals to your brain to start storing energy as fat and to increase your appetite for sugary, fatty foods. Nervous flyers also tend to over-imbibe on empty-calorie drinks.

Eat This! Tip: Try to practice a deep breathing or meditation before you board your flight to help you refocus your mind and relieve anxiety. Bring relaxing foods aboard like dark chocolate, almonds or a banana.

Eat This, Not That!
Inspired by The New York Times best-selling book series, Eat This, Not That! is a brand that's comprised of an award-winning team of journalists and board-certified experts, doctors, nutritionists, chefs, personal trainers, and dietitians who work together to bring you accurate, timely, informative, and actionable content on food, nutrition, dieting, weight loss, health, wellness, and more. Read more about Eat This