As March Break approaches and people are fleeing the cold weather for nicer climates, clients are asking me how they can stay on track during vacation. While there is no one size fits all approach there are tons of strategies that can be used. Below are some of the methods that my clients have used successfully over the years. What you can do is decide in advance on a few strategies that resonated well with you and try them out.
Create a nutrition strategy for your trip. Dr. Judith Beck, author of The Beck Diet Solution, is an advocate of creating a plan. About a week before your trip, decide how you want to eat. Think about how closely you will follow your diet and if there are any exceptions you will make. These decisions will vary from person to person, of course! There are no right or wrong answers. Some people do very well if they decide to follow their diet as closely as possible. However, for most people this is unrealistic and realizing this in advance is a good thing because if your eating rules are too strict you might get fed up and abandon your diet altogether. You might find that a middle ground works well. One of the following options, or something you come up with on your own, might be a better route:
- Allow yourself a little extra food each day (a couple hundred calories)
- Follow your regular plan daily but allow a few small splurges here and there
- Follow your plan every day except for a splurge on the last day
Pack your own food. Packing your own food to take on vacation or while travelling can vary to suit your needs and desires. It could range from throwing a few protein bars into your bag to pre-cooking and portioning out every meal of the trip. For the majority of people, falling somewhere in the middle can make their travel not only more healthy but also less stressful. If you’re willing to pack a small cooler with ice packs (which can be taken on planes) the possibilities are almost endless! You could pack regular meals with you — Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and even things like chicken. If taking a cooler is not feasible, there are lots of healthy options that don’t require any refrigeration such as protein bars, nuts and seeds, jerky, fruit, sliced vegetables, packets of instant oatmeal or canned tuna. These items can help you avoid less-desirable options, stay on track while travelling and can help you out in a pinch!
Remember that healthy eating can happen anywhere. There are very few cases where we have no choice but to eat something unhealthy. We can usually make a smart choice or even hold off eating if we need to (being hungry is not an emergency, it’s simply a physiological signal that your body is ready for more energy). If you do eat something unhealthy, it’s not the end of the world–but own it rather than blaming the circumstances. Even fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s have healthier options. Grabbing a salad and a bottled water from McDonald’s may not compare to the healthy salad that you can make at home, but it sure beats a Big Mac and a milkshake if you are pursuing health and fat loss goals. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing!
Track down grocery stores, fitness facilities and healthy restaurants. Once you know where you are staying, you may find it helpful to use Google Maps to search for the closest grocery stores, gyms and healthy restaurant options. We recommend doing this before your trip and saving some of the most convenient addresses in your phone or writing them down. That way, if you arrive starving and exhausted from travel you’ve made it easier on yourself to make a good decision.
If possible, book a hotel with a kitchenette. Having a kitchenette gives you the opportunity to make a few meals yourself which can be a great option for someone trying to keep their nutrition in check. Having the ability to make your own breakfast and lunch, for instance, and then going out for dinner would be a great middle ground. While you’re at it, find a hotel with a fitness center as well! Knowing where the closest grocery stores are would also be very helpful in this case.
Eat just enough. Vacationing often means enjoying some of the local foods and specialties. No matter where you are or what you are eating, “eat just enough” is one habit that will always be extremely helpful. This means eating until you are no longer hungry, but stopping before you feel any signs of fullness. Teaching your brain to be satisfied at the “just enough” point is one of the most powerful nutritional habits that you can develop for long term success.
Be a stellar houseguest. Are you staying at a friend or family’s home? Offer to take care of some of the meals while you’re there as a way to thank them for their hospitality! This doesn’t have to mean that everyone has to drink your green smoothies, but it can help you make a few meals that help you reach your goals and you get to give back.
Plan your indulgences, account for them and make them worth it. While you’re travelling there may be a few really special meals or occasions that you know you would like to indulge in. One great way to enjoy those special meals is simply by accounting for them during the other meals on the trip. For example, if you know you are going to an incredible restaurant with a world-class chef for dinner have a lighter breakfast and lunch that day. In addition, make your indulgences worth it! Choose them wisely. Do I want to indulge by getting fast food on the drive or would I rather wait for that amazing meal at my favourite restaurant?
Have brunch instead of breakfast and lunch. For many, vacation means sleeping later than usual, anyway! Instead of two medium sized meals you may want to opt for one larger meal. This may allow you to feel more satisfied after eating.
Approach the buffet wisely. Many people vacation on all-inclusive cruises or in resorts where meals are served buffet style. Over the course of a week or two, daily overeating can really take a toll if you have fat loss or health and wellness goals. Buffets can make it tempting to overeat. However, the great thing about them is there are usually lots of healthy options! Many people find that it is helpful to first select protein and veggies for their plate (options that aren’t smothered in cheese or sauces would be best) and eating this slowly first. Before you even think about getting up for seconds, ask yourself if you have “eaten just enough” or if you are still truly hungry. If you’ve eaten just enough, you don’t need to eat any more. If you’re physically still hungry (your stomach feels empty and you will be ravenous in a couple of hours if you don’t eat more) go back and get a small portion of whatever you want. After that, you will need to ask yourself again if you have “eaten just enough.” Chances are the answer is yes!
Drink lots of water. Did you know that the thirst sensation is often mistaken for hunger? Travelling can be very dehydrating. We avoid drinking so we don’t have to stop the car, become very dehydrated due to air travel or just forget! Keep a water bottle with you and remember to re-hydrate after a long day of travel.
Exercise more! There are a lot of different options when it comes to exercising while travelling. That might mean using a hotel gym, walking around while sightseeing or participating in activities such as skiing or swimming. Exercising makes us feel great and can often encourage us to make healthier choices when it comes to our food. Although we certainly don’t encourage “exercising off food” (it doesn’t quite work that well) it doesn’t hurt to burn some of that additional fuel.
Focus on the purpose of your vacation. The chances are you are travelling primarily for fun and relaxation. Although the enjoyment of special food may be a part of that, it is likely not the purpose of your trip unless you are a food critic. If you feel tempted to over eat or throw your plan out the window, consider how you will feel if you return from vacation feeling lethargic or having gained weight. That will probably feel like the opposite of fun and relaxing. We encourage you to enjoy all of the other wonderful things that come with travelling – sightseeing, time with loved ones, new scenery, reading, peace and quiet or exciting adventures. It’s really not about the food, is it?
Do you have any of your own strategies that you use to stay on track during vacations? If so, comment below and let us know!