Wisdom Wednesday: Airports and Cakes Don’t Mix

by | Dec 10, 2014

Photo by David Basanta

Recently I was traveling overseas and had a two-hour layover at LAX. Not excited about the idea of eating on the plane, I searched the airport for something resembling Real Food to keep me satisfied for the long flight ahead.

As has been happening at airports more often lately, I was pleasantly surprise to find several decent options and ended up with a tasty pile of beans, cauliflower and roasted squash.


You see, there’s absolutely nothing special about airports. 95% of the time the food is gross––the pizza is just as nasty as the salads. And sitting on my butt in an uncomfortable seat for the next several hours is nothing near a special occasion.

Normally I avoid eating at airports at all costs, but sometimes it’s just impossible not to.

When I am forced to eat in an airport I just try to find the healthiest, least disgusting thing I can get my hands on and anxiously await arriving at my destination and rejoining the world of Real Food.

To me, airports are like purgatory.

That’s why as I was finishing my beans and cauliflower I was so astounded to see someone walk past my table carrying a giant, four layer slice of red velvet cake.

Cake. At the airport.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I couldn’t even fathom how anyone would think this was a good idea. He seemed like a happy guy, and only about 20 pounds past his ideal weight. Maybe this is the best cake in the world?

I looked around the restaurant again. No way. I’m still at the airport.

I came to the conclusion that this guy was most likely a victim of good marketing. The cakes were prominently on display right next to the big piles of veggies.

It’s a perfect storm for a health halo: when the perception of good health justifies excessive indulgence.

In your head this sounds something like, “I am eating veggies, so why not treat myself to something tasty? I’ve earned it!”

This bit of specious reasoning overshadows several far more important points:

  • You’re at the airport, and will likely be sedentary for the next several hours
  • The cake is probably just OK tasting
  • This isn’t a special occasion, and not a wise time to indulge
  • You could use those calories for a much better indulgence at your destination

That’s when I had an idea for a new segment on Summer Tomato called Wisdom Wednesday, dedicated to exposing and debunking the psychological traps that sabotage our goals.

My guess is that if I explained my airport cake logic to everyone in line at the restaurant, cake sales would drop 75%. Sometimes all you need is a reminder to keep your own best interests in mind.

The goal for Wisdom Wednesday is teach you how to think more rationally and be less reactive to triggers in your environment. To give you frameworks for handling common traps that cause you to unconsciously make bad choices or overeat.

Today’s Wisdom: have a black and white rule to never eat dessert at the airport. Save it for when it’s worth it.

Wisdom Wednesdays will be every other week, alternating with Elyse Kopecky’s awesome Foodist Approved recipes.

Do you like the idea of Wisdom Wednesdays?

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38 Responses to “Wisdom Wednesday: Airports and Cakes Don’t Mix”

  1. AJ says:

    I agree! I try my best to avoid eating at airports, train stations, and bus stations. I just find them to be quite unappetizing despite all the visual cues telling me that I should be eating candy and bakery goods.

    I’m curious: LAX has some nice options. Which spot did you go to?

    • JAYE says:

      I totally agree. When I’m travelling by any mode of transportation I try to refrain from eating or drinking anything. I’d rather wait until I get to my destination to indulge. With me it’s mostly anxiety and with that comes being in the restroom a lot ! I always think people are watching me get up and sit down every half hour … especially on flights and when I’m driving I don’t stop unless it’s for gas…. is that weird?

      • Darya Rose says:

        Well, I can say with confidence that most people are far more concerned with themselves than they are with whatever you’re doing. So I wouldn’t stress too much 😉

  2. Tracy says:

    I think in this situation it’s a “I’m feeling sorry for myself that I’m traveling (which is almost automatically miserable)” so I deserve this dessert to make myself feel better.

    Of course it never actually does that. Quite the opposite. You end up feeling guilty and it didn’t even taste good. I’ve been working on identifying these situations (Darya’s advice of: Is this really a special occasion and is this really a special treat you can’t normally get, helps) and only indulging when it’s truly worth it. Hard to avoid auto-pilot but absolutely necessary, especially during the holidays.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Ha, I’ve fallen victim to that thinking at work, “I’m frustrated over ____ here at work and this junky sweet food will make me feel better! it’s my reward.” No, it never does make me fell better, definitely a whole lot worse. Thanks for helping me realize I’m not alone in this, and for providing a good strategy!

  3. Bethany says:

    I LOVE the idea of Wisdom Wednesday and I think this was a great example to kick it off! I am in airports at least twice a week for my job, and I can say that boredom wins out more often than it should and that’s when I end up ordering the unhealthy, not even tasty indulgences! This is a great reminder to not give in. It’s not going to be worth it!

  4. AJ says:

    P.S. I love Wisdom Wednesdays. I drop some good wisdom, Darya. =]

    • AJ says:

      Um, correction to that previous comment which had a bad grammatical error. I meant to say, “YOU drop some good wisdom, Darya.”

  5. rhonda Gauthier says:

    Airport food is not good and expensive for what they offer. Airplane food is worse (long flights). I never indulge in airport food. Last week Gilles and I had layovers in Amsterdam and Munich. On the flight they offered us a half sandwich, and it was enough with a drink. I agree 100% about not eating something just to eat. It’s worth the wait to eat something you enjoy and healthy. Bon voyage and Bon appétit !

  6. Lin Barrett says:

    I welcome an every-other-Wednesday shot of wisdom, though wisdom seems to me to be available on Summer Tomato on a pretty regular basis. Like health, it’s something you can never have enough of.

  7. Cathy Woolley says:

    I the idea behind Wisdom Wednesday: “to think more rationally and be less reactive to triggers in your environment.” Trying to avoid an unpleasant task is one of my triggers. Please address that trigger at some point. Thanks!

  8. Cathy Woolley says:

    I *LOVE* the idea . . .

  9. I love Wisdom Wednesday. It’s a regular on my blog, but more of a small bites health tip. http://www.healthyjourneycafe.com/2014/10/wisdom-wednesday_29.html

  10. donna says:

    Let them eat cake! Once in a while…..airport cuisine sucks, and perhaps cake is the least destroyed option in this enviornment taste wise. I have had hideous salads and gross fat ladden sandwiches of equal caloric value on the run in hospitals and airports!

  11. Anwen says:

    “Save it for when it’s worth it” – love it! Great advice and perfect timing! Thanks

  12. vivian says:

    “Only 20 pounds past his ideal weight…,” sounds judgmental and out of character for your blog. Maybe the happy guy with the cake is a foodist doing the best that he can and he just had a weak moment. Wisdom is great any day of the week. Judgment is not.

    • Adrienne says:

      I’m sorry the phrase “ideal weight” upset you. I think in a scientist’s mind, that phrase is an objective statement, not a judgment. A judgment would be commenting on the other person’s value, or saying what the person’s behaviors should be. Darya’s focus was on why the cake was appealing and what environmental triggers may contribute to a mediocre indulgence.

      • Vivian says:

        Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am always open to another interpretation. One thing I have learned in my journey toward self improvement is it’s a constant struggle that requires mindful thought. Some patterns are such a part of my core that being conscious about personal habits is work! And everyday I realize that it takes effort. So I keep trying-finding strength and encouragement in Darya’s blog along the way. Wednesday’s wisdom sounds great.

      • Adrienne says:

        Maybe our discussion will inspire Darya to create a new phrase for “weight which allows an individual to function physically without hindrance in the short-term and supports overall health in the long-term (low risk of future chronic medical conditions or diseases associated with excess weight, in the absence of genetic predisposition) for the given individual’s proportions.” The word ideal definitely has strong connotations. It’s hard to hear it and not think of photoshopped magazine ads, etc.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Indeed! Thank you both for being thoughtful. That’s why I love this community 🙂

      Totally agree that the term “ideal weight” is probably the issue here. I was just trying to illustrate that the guy was pretty normal, but that a doctor would probably tell him to try to lose a few pounds for health. The kind of thing that wouldn’t lead to poor health immediately, but another 15 years of airport cakes (or similar decisions) would lead to some serious consequences.

      I definitely didn’t intend to say he was weak or bad for making his snack decision. If that cake made his day I would never tell him to skip it. I was just hypothesizing that had the idea of cake at the airport been framed differently he may have made a different, more conscious decision. I just have a really hard time believing the airport cake was that good.

  13. Sam says:

    With both Vivian and Donna. Airports are miserable, so whatever gets ya through is fine by me. Judging the “ideal weight” of perfect strangers whom you know nothing about is not a habit I think should be part of a healthy food and wellness approach. (My dad is probably 30+plus pounds over his “ideal” weight and he has terminal cancer – he’s going to die from that before anything obesity related so I just want him happy, and cookies make him really happy.)

  14. MFred says:

    I have to say, I found this post so totally jarring and out of character for what I expect from this blog.

    By drawing a lesson from one man, and making broad characterizations based on his weight and his food choice, it comes across as judgmental and harsh. We don’t know anything about him!

    This doesn’t come across as article about the airport as an institution and it’s failings– to give us healthy options, to market them well, to provide us with safe and healthy spaces so that we are not so sedendary, etc. It also doesn’t come across as an examination of the poor choices we make in stressful or limited environments– because we have absolutely no idea what choice that man made, why he made it, or what led him to it.

    It’s really specious case to build “wisdom” from – a glimpse of a slightly overweight man with a slice of cake in a crowded airport?

    This article veers too closely to the extremely unpleasant attitude many people have of fatness- that you can judge the worthiness of the person (the unwise/poor choice to eat a single slice of cake) by how fat they appear to you (“20 pounds over an ideal weight”).

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hi MFred,

      Thank you for your thoughts. I didn’t mean to imply that this man should be judged by his appearance or decisions. I gave the descriptor to show that he’s pretty normal (not obese), and subject to the same triggers that we all encounter and succumb to regularly.

      Personally I don’t see the point in lamenting the state of airports or restaurants and how they choose to run their businesses. They don’t care what I think and are unlikely to change anytime soon. All we can control is our own behavior, yet our default is to go through our days blindly encountering triggers and reacting to them mindlessly.

      The point here it to bring awareness to those triggers, and realize that we can control our actions when we are aware of what is driving them.

      Nobody is a bad person for giving in to them. That’s normal. I’m just trying to help my readers do it less often, to live more consciously so they can get the most value out of life (whatever that means to you personally).

      This lesson was to raise awareness that regardless of stress and temptations, it is rarely worth it to indulge at the airport.

      • MFred says:

        Thanks for your thoughtful and quick reply!

        What I am mostly frustrated with is the idea that “there is a not-fit dude with a piece of cake” is somehow the spark for a conversation about triggers and choice. Had this been a post about you seeing the cake next to the veggies? Your realization of a marketing trigger and how you over came it? That is a different context.

        Instead, because we don’t know the man, this blog post actually invites judgement. He made a poor choice for his environment. He fell for the marketing hype. Etc. Etc.

        We all are faced with these triggers. We all succumb to them. But the post didn’t talk about “us” and “we”, it pointed at him. It is not a healthy behavior to look at another human being and reduce him to his total body fat and his food choices. Whether you intended to or not, you did exactly that.

  15. Alex says:

    Totally agree with the main point.

    On the other hand, the cake in that picture looks like Austrian sachertorte which ironically is the only cake I’ve ever eaten at an airport (Vienna airport), because it really is that damn good.

  16. RNPattiD says:

    Yes! Want more of your wisdom and strategies! Actually I want you to be in my ear 7/24/365 until I finish grad school, the stress makes me do stupid things sometimes!

  17. Joanne says:

    For some reason, this post made me think about this clip. Not really helpful, but hella funny!

    Louis CK on eating a Cinnabon at the airport (colourful language alert): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8NI1pcIeYI

  18. lin says:

    I love the idea of wisdom Wednesday and personally wish it was a weekly thing and not bi-weekly 😛 With that being said, I couldn’t agree more. I see more and more people equating “traveling” and “plane time” with a “special occasion” and would buy and Instagram the most horrible types of food (that on the surface appear “classy” and “decadent” but I’m sure the ingredients say otherwise). Just as healthy behavior can be trendy and contagious so can unhealthy ones! It seems more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon of treating yourself to crap food at airports because Instagram makes it trendy (but really, can anyone feel good after eating a slice of velvet cake, or bbq meat in a potato with sour cream, or an overly processed sandwich sitting elegantly next to an over processed muffin? the photos hide the truth: indigestion)

    thank you for this post, it addresses a potentially big issue when it comes to unhealthy behaviors.

  19. Dave says:

    Hey, Darya.
    The Wednesday Wisdom is a great idea, as we could all use some of that. Where do they sell it?
    Here is one thought to what you wrote:
    “Today’s Wisdom: have a black and white rule to never eat dessert at the airport. Save it for when it’s worth it.”
    Although it might not sit well on either the body (waist/hips) or the plane trip (stomach), it just might be your last piece of cake, which possibly makes it worth it…
    Just sayin’… :o)

  20. Dory says:

    Sometimes you just have to eat in airports. The problem is that trips often take a day or more, and carrying food through security is difficult, not to mention juggling a packed meal, even a nice one, with carryon luggage is a hassle. That leaves you with airport restaurants. I often end up with sandwiches from Starbucks. They are very expensive, and are not even as good as the boxed sandwiches they sell at the regular Starbucks– pretty faint praise– but most are under 600 calories (I know, but now that chain restaurants have to post calories I am amazed at how restaurants can pack 7,8 even 900 calories into one sandwich! ) and they don’t usually make me sick. As for the red velvet man, I took him as a metaphor more than a person. Although, I, unfortunately, have a sweet tooth, I don’t usually like cheap bakery pastries, and they are not worth the calories. However, if I did like them and if I was less overweight than I currently am, I might be tempted to eat one to make me less miserable about the trip. It is worth thinking about and planning in advance. As for those 4 layer cakes, if a medium sized sandwich at a chain restaurant can have 800 calories, I can only imagine the caloric load in one of those– not to mention the amount of sugar.

  21. Diane says:

    Well, I disagree and I find this post very judgmental.
    I still remember the cake (and tea) I had a Shanghai airport vividly as it made me feel so much better. It wasn’t the most amazing cake, but finding something nice to eat as a treat after 11hrs of flight, during an 8hrs of layover and before another 10hrs flight was well worth it. I feel for the poor guy that got judged to be “20 pounds over his ideal weight” because he dared get some cake but I am glad you kept “airport cake logic” for the blog and did not actually ruin his (already pretty crappy, since he was a the airport) day.
    I understand your point but I am sad that I know have to regret that cake because i was a “victim of good marketing” and made “poor food choices”. I do agree with avoiding eating at the airport when possible, because options are usually pretty bad.

  22. cassie says:

    Bring on the Wednesday Wisdoms! I can’t wait!

    PS Airport food is disgustola…I typically go for a liter of water, a bag of raw nuts, and a banana to tide me over to wherever I’m going. Or better yet – pack a Larabar (/ the like)and drink a green smoothie on the way to the airport! I will admit the both Houston airports do have decent options though, when you’re really in a pickle.

  23. Michele says:

    Wow…I was really excited that I thought I had just found this great new web site that I was going to bookmark and then I read this post. Very judgmental and not what I would expect from anyone trying to promote healthy lifestyles and motivate people. It’s really no one’s business what anyone eats or where they eat it and I think your writing about this guy eating a piece of cake is in very poor taste. If you want to eat veggies, eat veggies but if anyone wants to eat cake, they should be able to eat it without being judged for it.

  24. Ella says:

    Wisdom Wednesdays: YES. Wisdom any day ending in “y.”

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