Image: Causey family
Bill Haber  /  AP
Meredith Both serves Bob Causey his lunch at Commanders Palace in New Orleans. Causey is joined by his wife Helen and sons, Andrew, left, and Scott, right. Helen ordered the "Good and Hearty" lunch.
updated 6/30/2005 6:26:37 PM ET 2005-06-30T22:26:37

Hearing the words “travel” and “diet” in the same sentence makes five out of seven tourists in this city of sumptuous restaurants burst out laughing, an utterly unscientific survey finds.

Those include Deborah Gray. “We eat whatever. We try to diet before we come. It doesn’t work,” said Gray, a social worker from Chicago who was heading into a T-shirt shop on Bourbon Street.

Nevertheless, an hour up the road in Baton Rouge, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center has come up with a list of 10 tips for not blowing your diet while on vacation.

There aren’t any hard figures, but the number of people following diets is considerably smaller than the number who ought to — and the number who follow diets on vacation is tiny, said Katherine Lastor, a research dietitian at Pennington, a campus of Louisiana State University.

It really isn’t any more difficult to diet on the road than at home, Lastor said, but people say, “’It’s not realistic for me to do that and I’m just going to eat whatever.’ If they would just plan ahead, it would be a lot easier than they think it would be.”

In the Garden District, Helen Causey of St. Gabriel, near Baton Rouge, was taking occasional sips from her bright blue (to match the restaurant’s turquoise paint) 25-cent Commander’s Palace Martini while her husband and sons finished their crab and corn soup.

“Lots of cream in this,” said Andrew, who just finished his third year at LSU’s medical school in New Orleans.

His mother had ordered the “Good and Hearty” lunch entree du jour — on this day, seared fish with roasted oyster mushrooms, local Creole tomatoes, grilled sweet onions and summer greens with a truffle-citrus vinaigrette.

She said she always checks for healthy entrees. “If it’s something really good — the ingredients really appeal to me — I’ll order the good, heart-healthy choice. If not ...,” she shrugged.

Which brings us to Tip No. 2: “Understand the menu. ... Ask questions.” Watch out for adjectives like: fried, buttery, au gratin, etouffe, sauteed, creamy, breaded. Inquire about sauces and toppings; ask for food grilled without basting and for sauces not based on oil or butter.

“Just for your information, that was not approved by Weight Watchers,” Gisela Smith, a toned and slender Californian, joked to a worker as she left La Madeleine, a pastry shop on Jackson Square.

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She’d had puff pastry filled with chicken in an “incredible mushroom cream sauce.”

“But I had a vegetarian omelet this morning, made with egg whites,” said Smith, of Healdsburg, Calif. She and her husband, Andy, are taking an eight-week cross-country RV trip with their children, Kirsten, 11, and Eric, 13. Breakfast had been at Denny’s.

Which bring us to Tips No. 1 — “Plan ahead. Scope out your dining options” — and No. 3 — “Think “outside of the box ... Many fast food places have added healthy options for main meals and even offer fruit as a side dish.”

And one tip not mentioned: If you eat carefully at other meals, you get room to, ah, fudge.

The Pennington folks do note a flip-side in No. 8: If you eat more than you plan, thinking of it as a catastrophe “will only set you up for failure. Get back on track at your very next meal.”

Tip No. 9 isn’t a problem on this trip for Smith: “Plan pleasures other than food or drink and incorporate increased physical activity into your summer plans.”

She decided to celebrate her 45th birthday by running her first marathon in October and began training 10 weeks ago. “I ran five miles in Houston yesterday in 103-degree weather. That’s testing the old spirit,” she said. “Ten weeks ago, I didn’t think I could run five miles. This weekend, I’ll be running eight.”

Frank Crouch from Millican, Texas, his wife, Minnie, and their friend Elaine Walker, had no plans for counting calories, fat, carbs or anything else.

“We don’t stay on a diet when we’re not on vacation,” he said. “Just ask my doctor.”

Walker added, “How can you talk about diet when all there is around here is food, food, food?”

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