How to Vacation Without Destroying your Body and Losing Your Mind
As a fitness professional, I’ve spent plenty of time coaching clients on how to get through vacation without gaining weight with BS tips like “plan your meals in advance”, or “research local restaurants and only eat at the ones that offer healthy fare”, and “stay strong, you got this”.
Some fitness professionals may be able to keep it together on vacation...LIARS! All of them!
Just kidding! I envy and admire the kind of commitment and willpower they have. I’m just not one of them.
Here’s how it usually goes down for me:
About a week before vacation, I “commit” to eat healthy. And this time, "I really mean it". I pre-plan meals, check out local restaurants at our destination, spend $3,000 on healthy snacks for the trip, meditate….
I do ALL the things.
On travel day, I’m good because it’s the first day away from home and I’m “staying strong”. I have my healthy snacks in my travel bag, and I’d honestly rather starve than eat most fast food. (If you ever saw what goes into fast food ground meat or chicken nuggets, you’d never eat that stuff again either. Spoiler alert…think pus. Sorry.)
On the first full day of vacation, I’m still staying strong. I smugly eat my canned sardines over a leafy green salad as I watch my family eat hot dogs on Hawaiian buns and follow up with ice cream sandwiches. I’m a little jealous, but they all have belly aches and I’m feeling like I could go run a few miles.
Day two and I wake up feeling good and strong. I might go for an early morning run. Come back and Mark and Alea are eating delectable donuts from the local artisan bakery. I walk past holding my breath so I don’t accidentally inhale half a dozen of them. I’m slightly less enthused about my hard boiled eggs and avocado. Lunch time rolls around and my BODY feels good...but my MIND is beginning to falter. I start arguing with myself: a little treat won’t hurt anyone…but dammit! You spent all that time (and money) planning!
I “stay strong” and “power through” lunch with more salad and a can of chicken. Who needs lobster bisque in a bread bowl anyway? Not I!
Still day two of vacation and dinner rolls around. Aaaaaand...it’s over. My willpower is DONE. F@CK THIS! I make sure Mark orders an extra large pizza and then inhale half of it, followed by more ice cream than any normal person would ever eat.
Now it's Mark and Alea who are smug because they ate a NORMAL amount of pizza and ice cream and have mini belly aches. I feel like I’m going to DIE.
Moral of the story: Forget deprivation and just enjoy vacation.
Don't misunderstand me: I’m not saying go totally crazy-off-the-rails and forget healthy eating entirely. I still think it’s a great idea to do some planning and set good – albeit loose – intentions for staying healthy on vacation.
But know thyself!
If you are one of the lucky few that can maintain your healthy habits while on vacation, more power to you! Keep up the good work...you probably have six pack abs. Congrats!
Through the school of hard knocks, I’ve learned that trying to rigidly adhere to my healthy eating while on vacation leaves me frustrated, resentful, deprived, and prone to a major binge. I am better off simply eating what I want in the first place, which leads me to eat a more respectable portion. This is as opposed to “white knuckling” through a few days of healthy eating and then making up for it in a single meal, which makes me feel both physically and emotionally terrible…which in my case usually leads to MORE poor eating decisions.
It’s called F@ck-It Syndrome…don’t let it happen to you.
I also want to make another point really clear: when I’m at home on a normal schedule, I do truly enjoy eating healthy! I never feel hungry or deprived because I’m eating the best foods nature (and my budget) has to offer! I feel great both physically and mentally about pumping my body full of nutrient-dense foods. My body literally craves spinach and carrots!
But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s unrealistic (for me) to be away from my normal routine, surrounded by enticing foods that everyone else is eating, and not take part. In my experience, this is also true for my clients. I can coach until I’m blue in the face about “keeping it tight”, “staying strong”, and planning meals…but it just doesn’t work!
So I say STOP worrying so much about it!
Be mindful but just enjoy your vacation!
If you’ve been cultivating healthy habits you can get right back to it when you get home.
Here are my suggestions for staying mindful on vacation and how to get back on track when you return home:
DO have at least a few healthy snacks with you.
DON’T force yourself to eat them if you’d rather have something else.
DO be choosy about your indulgences. If your kids are eating licorice as a snack in the car, but you don’t really like licorice, don’t eat out of boredom or waste your calories on stuff that doesn’t really matter to you!
DON’T go to your favorite vacation restaurant and try to order a salad when what you really want is their world-famous pasta carbonara. If it’s really worth it…eat it!
DO rent a room/villa/house with a kitchen or a fridge, and DO try to cook some meals instead of eating out for every meal. This is how my husband and I navigate vacations (and save some money). We hit up a local grocery store early in the week to pick up a few essentials, and we try to eat breakfast and lunch in our room. Dinner is almost always out.
DON’T sweat it if you don't have access to a fridge or kitchen. Simply be mindful if you’re eating out three times per day and try to get an extra side of veggies every now and then.
DO get active on vacation doing fun and enjoyable activities with your family. Try kayaking, biking, hiking, or swimming. Live it up!
DON’T hit the hotel gym if you don’t want to. A break from your regular workouts is not going to hurt you and may actually give your body a much-needed chance to recover!
When You Get Home
Upon returning home, you may feel a bit…yucky. It’s pretty normal to feel sluggish, achy, puffy, and “backed up”. Sorry for the TMI. I personally know that a week off of my normal eating schedule is a stark reminder of how I DO NOT want to feel and I’m usually ready to get right back on the healthy train when I get home!
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Here’s how I do it:
- Silence the voice in your head that’s saying you gained 10 pounds. Unless you are metabolically deranged, gaining 10 pounds of fat is very hard for the average person to do! Yes, it’s possible you gained a pound or maybe even two, but it’s never as bad as it seems!
- Stay OFF of the scale! If you’ve already made the mistake of getting on it, you may find you did indeed “gain” 10 pounds. Keep in mind that most of this will be water weight and inflammation caused by poor diet. Salt, sugar, and excessive carb intake can cause your cells to hold onto water. You did NOT gain 10 pounds of fat!
- Start drinking water and herbal tea like you’re trying to put out a fire in your body…because that’s exactly what you’re trying to do. Drinking water will help you flush your system and take care of some of that bloating and inflammation.
- As soon as you have the opportunity, go to the grocery store and restock your kitchen with healthy foods. Unless we get home very late at night, I usually go shopping the same day we get home. Even a quick trip to the corner store to pick up some eggs, a few bags of pre-cut and washed veggies, and some chicken breasts will get you through the rest of today and possibly the next day. If healthy food isn’t available you’re going to end up ordering pizza.
- Be prepared for some cravings and fight them with water, and extra servings of veggies and lean proteins. You may have a different experience, but it usually takes me about three days to overcome my intense cravings for sugar after a vacation. It typically takes three to five days to get over “the hump”, so be ready for it! THIS is the time to “stay strong”!
- Get right back to working out but go easy on yourself for the first week. You’re probably going to feel off your game and you may have a few poor workouts. Don’t let that get you down. You’ll be back to your bad-ass self by next week!
Pick up where you left off.
A vacation will only derail your progress and healthy lifestyle if you let a single week of poor eating turn into six months of poor eating. Most people make themselves feel so bad about “being bad” on vacation that they get F@ck It Syndrome for far longer than necessary….and that WILL cause a 10 pound fat gain!
When you get home, just say: “I enjoyed my vacation. It’s over now. I know how to eat healthy and exercise. I’m going to eat healthy and exercise. I’ll be back to my bad-ass self by next week. No harm done.”
Thanks for reading!