Life After Diets
How to Stay Healthy on Vacation
My busy season at work has finally come to an end, and I’m off to celebrate at the happiest place on Earth. For one week, I’ll be traipsing around Disney World, eating my way around the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, enjoying cookies and hot cocoa at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and generally living my best childless Millennial life.
This vacation, like most vacations (let’s be honest), will be spent moving leisurely from one activity to the next and eating far more food, especially dessert, than I usually do in my real life. For most people, this will add up to an average of an extra pound or two that’s likely to stick around, even weeks or months post-vacation.
But what’s a pound or two in the grand scheme of things, really? Well, it’s a lot, particularly if you’ve been taught to be extremely weight conscious for most of your life.
Vacation and resting should not be such a challenge, but for those of us recovering from disordered eating and diet cycling, letting go of often rigid schedules and allowing ourselves to relax can be a job all its own. I’m learning to be okay with disruptions to my routine and letting myself enjoy the rest and extra food that a vacation brings.
However, vacation doesn’t have to mean bingeing and sleeping all day either, nor does it have to mean that you’re “ruining” all the hard work you put in the rest of the year. There’s a healthy balance that can be struck (if you choose to find it). Below are some of my tips for feeling good and avoiding self-sabotage while away.
Walk everywhere you safely can while you’re away. This one is pretty easy for me because I love to walk. It’s particularly easy when your vacation mainly consists of walking around vast theme parks every day. If past trips are any indication, I’ll likely rack up an average of 20,000 steps per day while I’m away, which will go a long way toward offsetting the pretzels and Dole Whips I’m already daydreaming about.
While the type of walking you do in theme parks (slow, with lots of stopping and waiting) isn’t the type of beneficial exercise most experts have in mind, walking is actually a great form of exercise. It burns calories, increases your cardiovascular fitness, is easy on your joints, and, best of all, is free to do. Build in some walking time on your next getaway. It’s a great way to explore new areas, meet people, and find new and exciting things to do that you might miss if you’re just driving around or refusing to step foot outside a resort.
Make Use of Hotel Fitness Centers
Most hotels and resorts have pretty decent fitness centers. Even smaller hotel gyms will have a few cardio machines and a set of dumbbells available. Best of all, most people aren’t exactly anxious to hit the gym when they’re on vacation. Most times that I’ve used resort fitness centers, I’ve been alone, or very nearly so.
I use the Aaptiv and Sweat apps to plan workouts for myself, so I don’t have to waste any mental energy figuring out what I should do once I get there. Before I leave for my trip, I’m going to plan out what workouts I’ll do if and when I have the time to do them. I’ve purposely built some downtime into this vacation instead of packing every moment with activities. I’ll use some of that time to get away from the group and enjoy some time on my own. This way, I won’t need a vacation from my vacation once I get back home.
Drink Lots of Water
Staying hydrated, particularly if you’re active on vacation, is crucial. Water keeps you satiated for longer, clears your skin, and will help you space out drinks if you‘re having a few cocktails to end your night (or your morning, no judgment). This is especially helpful if you’re drinking sugary drinks or eating a lot of salty foods, which are common for most vacationers, especially in all-inclusive resorts and on cruises. The extra water will keep you from feeling too bloated to enjoy your trip.
As a general rule, you should always stay as hydrated as possible. Drinking water can also improve your mood, prevent headaches, and relieve constipation. All of which is pretty important if you’re trying to enjoy a stress-free vacation.
Load Up on Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Just because I don’t diet anymore doesn’t mean I don’t try to eat a healthful and well-balanced diet. The thing is, balance doesn’t look the same for everyone. It doesn’t even have to look the same from one day to the next. It’s way more important to focus on bigger picture time frames when assessing your eating habits.
What we can all benefit from, whether we’re on vacation or just living our normal lives at home, is adding more produce to our plates. This is the diet rule of addition. Rather than restricting yourself from eating certain foods, add more produce to each meal, while still enjoying the foods you’ve been taught you shouldn’t have. Add fruit to your pancakes at breakfast. Fill a whole plate with veggies at the buffet or add on a salad to your meal. You’ll likely consume fewer calories while also getting an added dose of vitamins and nutrients, and you’ll get to enjoy whatever you really want without feeling deprived or guilty.
A few years ago, I came down with strep throat while visiting Iceland on vacation. Luckily, Iceland has incredible healthcare, and I was able to find a clinic, make an appointment, and be seen by a doctor, all in less than an hour. The entire visit, including the strep test and medicine, cost me less than my co-pay back home. While that was a relatively positive experience, it’s still far better to avoid going through it in the first place.
If you’re going to be around large groups of people, particularly if you’re flying, consider taking steps to prevent getting sick. I always pack Zicam or Airborne on my trips and include travel-size hand sanitizer in my bag of liquids in my carry-on. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of products containing zinc, Echinacea, and high doses of vitamin C, but they seem to work for me and certainly haven’t hurt. Nothing will ruin your vacation faster than feeling under the weather while participating in all the fun activities you had planned.
Whatever you do, don’t restrict. If you want a decadent dessert or a big, greasy order of fries, go for it. You’re not helping anyone by depriving yourself of something you really want while on vacation, something we in the U.S. do far too infrequently, to begin with. This doesn’t mean you have to eat everything or even finish everything you order. It just means that you don’t need to deny yourself extra food or do anything special to “earn” what you eat.
It’s your vacation. You get to enjoy it.
Don’t Punish Yourself Once You Get Home
Maybe most importantly of all, if you over-indulge on your vacation, don’t worry about it when you get home. Restricting as “punishment” or exercising excessively to undo the effects of a week or two of high-calorie restaurant meals is only going to force you into a diet cycle you do not want to be in. Instead, just get back into your normal routine. Your body will adjust with a little time, but you’re far more likely to continue to gain weight if you try to lose any too quickly.
Try not to weigh yourself as soon as you get home. Your body will return to its normal state in a few days if you just give it time. Seeing a slightly higher number on the scale than you’re used to will only cause stress, and who needs that after a nice relaxing vacation?
If you’d like to follow along on my anti-dieting vacation next week (November 17–22), check out my Instagram page @life_after_diets, where I’ll be posting pictures and videos of all the amazing things you get to enjoy when you’re finally done with diet culture and weight obsession.
And, of course, if you’d like to read more about my quest to be healthy and destroy diet culture, check out these stories as well. Thanks for reading!