Let's be honest- most summer getaways involve major food indulgences. "A vacation eating attitude typically means indulging in the moment and worrying about the consequences later," says Health Magazine's contributing nutrition editor, Cynthia Sass, RD. And research agrees: A recent study out of the University of Georgia found that some people who take one- to three-week vacations put on nearly a pound during their trip, while others gain as many as seven pounds. (Yikes!)
To help you avoid the same fate on your next summer vacay, here are eight expert-approved, no-hassle nutrition practices that keep any trip from turning into a gluttonous getaway.
1. Snack smarter
To avoid wasting calories on hotel vending machine food or unhealthy airport fare, bring your own nutritious snacks to keep on hand. Keep a stash of low-sugar protein bars in your luggage so you can resist the temptation of potato chips in airport snack shops. "Bring stuff that’s non-perishable, like little baggies of nuts and dried fruit, or fruit that can last a few days out of the fridge, like bananas and apples," says Brett Hoebel, professional trainer from NBC’s The Biggest Loser. "Keep them in your bag when you’re at the beach or sightseeing so you can eat every few hours; if not, you’ll wind up starving and may overdo it at your next meal."
2. Find creative ways to move
Capitalize on the “forced family fun” of vacations by scheduling as many active outings as possible. Think about renting bikes to explore the area, taking a hike, or enjoying the water by scuba diving, paddle boarding or kayaking. Pack a Frisbee or badminton set for beachside tournaments. You can avoid the vacation weight gain by just having fun!
Another good tip: Look at maps to see whether you can explore cities on foot instead of hopping on public transportation or cabs (as an added bonus, you’ll save some cash too).
3. Be strategic at the buffet (or avoid it altogether)
To navigate the buffet in a healthier way, first sip coffee or water before you get in line for food, which will help take the edge off your hunger. Then do a complete walk-around before you start piling up your plate, says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, and creator of The F-Factor Diet. Pick one treat you absolutely must try, and then choose healthy items, like fruit, yogurt, egg whites, and whole-grain toast.
4. Take advantage of hotel facilities
Don't assume the hotel gym is going to be a chore — you may be pleasantly surprised to find state-of-the-art equipment and televisions to help pass the time. Most gyms have extended hours, and some are even open 24 hours a day, seven days a week so you can work out when it's most convenient for you.
Pro tip: Call the hotel before you arrive to see if they have partnerships with local gyms (a great way to experiment with new classes) or can recommend other nearby opportunities, like yoga or Pilates studios or hiking or biking paths.
5. Indulge in moderation
A couple of alcoholic beverages can pretty much blow your daily calorie count. For instance, two jumbo margaritas could be overflowing with a total of 1,400 calories. These classic vacation cocktails can pack an entire day’s worth of sugar into a single serving, which is no bueno for your skin or your waistline. If you’re in the mood for merriment, pick lower-calorie, lighter alternatives like wine, spritzers, light beers, gin with lime or flavored vodka with club soda.
6. Choose when to splurge
"It’s difficult to be perfect all the time," says naturopathic physician Dr. Suneil Jain. "Aim to eat healthy 80% of the time." For the rest, you can cut yourself some slack.” A good rule of thumb when on vacation is to have one indulgent meal a day. For example, you may prefer to eat a healthy breakfast and lunch and enjoy more indulgent foods for dinner. What do we mean by “healthy?” Those two healthier vacation meals should include whole foods such as salads, fresh vegetables, healthy proteins and healthy fats.
7. Focus on how you want to feel
Instead of focusing on avoiding weight gain on vacation, focus on how foods will make you feel. This can be a more motivating way to make better eating choices. After all, you want to feel good while you’re on vacation! Rather than eating healthy because you are worried about gaining weight, eat healthy because you want to feel your best and feel energized to enjoy your vacation to the fullest.
8. Don’t confuse thirst for hunger
“Drinking enough water can seem cliche, but there's a reason for it," says McKell Hill, registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition Stripped. "Our bodies are mostly made up of water, and initial hunger can sometimes mask dehydration." In other words, feeling snacky is often your body's way of telling you to drink more H20.
Pro tip: Staying hydrated will also help reduce your bloating and water retention, making you feel more comfortable during your vacation and keeping you from stressing about your “gained weight.”
When trying to stay healthy on vacation, the biggest takeaway is to find balance. Indulging here and there won’t set you back too far, but remember to be smart and eat everything in moderation. At the end of the day, enjoy your vacation- don’t worry about gaining weight. Stressing about gaining weight can actually make you even more prone to overeating and consuming unhealthy foods. Remember- it’s okay to let go of your diet and workout routine for a week.