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3 Ways to Enjoy a Guilt-Free Vacation

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

Written by: Natalie Faella, MS, RDN, LDN | September 1, 2021

young woman sitting on a lake dock on a sunny vacation; Lake George

Whether it’s a beach destination, resort with a pool, lakeside trip, or weekend wedding, there is something about traveling that makes us question our bodies. Will we be in a swimsuit? Bridesmaid dress? Party outfit? Instagram photos? Something makes us feel like we need to prepare ahead of time to get ourselves “vacation ready.”

This mindset might seem helpful at the time — as if it is going to make us feel better once we get on vacation because we know we have prepared to “look good.” But like all forms of dieting, it can set us up for failure. It can set off that yo-yo dieting effect where we might restrict calories and exercise more than usual leading up to vacation, enjoy ourselves and get off this new eating and exercise routine while on vacation, and then come back feeling like we need to get back in shape or lose that “vacation weight.”

First, it’s important to note that “vacation weight” can happen regardless. We tend to eat and drink a little differently while away — like enjoy a little more alcohol, restaurant food, etc. These changes can make us retain fluid, which will show up on the scale. Though this water-weight isn’t permanent and will come off after several days, it can make us feel that "vacation-remorse." This weight change may also be in combination with that bloated feeling we get from flying and perhaps a change in our bowel movement routine (i.e, travel constipation), which commonly happens when away from home.

Together, these things can make us feel pretty crappy (no pun intended) physically and emotionally. The loss of that post-vacation-high and return-to-responsibility impending doom doesn’t really help, either.

So how do we prevent this cycle? There are a few things we can try:

1. Don’t “prepare” your body for vacation.

I remember when I was in my undergrad at UConn and the campus gym would be unusually packed for the 2-3 weeks leading up to Spring Break. It was like the whole campus felt they needed to get bathing suit-ready before their trips. Try to challenge those thoughts that come up and say you need to lose weight, tone up, shred, etc., prior to a vacation.

Planning for vacations (i.e., travel, lodging, packing, perhaps food/drink shopping, and so on) can be stressful enough. To add “lose 7lbs in 7 days” to the mix is not going to be helpful. Plus, it will increase the likelihood of overeating and over-drinking once on vacation. It’s OK to enjoy yourself and feel like you’re indulging when on vacation. But if you restrict yourself of enough calories and/or your favorite foods and drinks leading up to it, you’re more likely to overdo it, even past the point of enjoyment. You’re also likely to gain more water weight because of the restriction prior.

2. Keep some normalcy while on vacation.

If you’re someone who enjoys being active regularly, work that into your vacation. Find time to do the things you enjoy like going for a walk or run, doing yoga, etc. I like to bring a travel mat with me on vacation; even if I don’t get a typical yoga session in, I know sometimes my body just feels better after doing some stretching, so I usually try to work that in at some point while on vacation. If you feel the urge to be active but need a break from your usual outlets, try something that will help you explore and enjoy the area a little more like hiking, going on a walking tour, kayaking, or paddle boarding.

Be sure to check in with yourself that you are moving because you want to and not because you are trying to "burn off" the calories of last night's margaritas. You’ll actually enjoy it more and have a better workout this way.

When it comes to eating, I know personally I start to miss some of my typical meals/snacks like PB toasts, veggies and hummus, dark chocolate, etc. so I try to work those in, too. I might pack some of my banana flax muffins and a small PB container to have for breakfast in my hotel room or order a hummus plate as an app to share (or not :) ), and I almost always bring dark chocolate with me because I’m almost always in the mood for that.

3. Don’t punish yourself for enjoying your vacation.

Keep in mind it’s more than OK to rest on vacation and take a break from your usual exercise and eating routine. A vacation is meant to be just that — a break. You should enjoy yourself and indulge a little while on vacation! Even when just going out to a restaurant on the weekend, I view it as a treat or break from the usual day-to-day and try to choose something on the menu I don’t usually eat or know that I could never cook for myself at home (which usually includes 98% of the menu).

Upon return from your vacation, if your weight has changed, GI system feels a little sluggish, or you’re noticing your rings don’t fit like they did before, try to remember that these changes are normal and temporary. Drinking plenty of water and getting back into your routine will help. Incorporating extra fruits and vegetables will add some helpful fiber to the mix and replenish some nutrients. Asparagus is one of my go-to veggies, but I purposely try to incorporate a little more of it when I’m feeling bloated. This is because it’s been shown to have natural diuretic effects, meaning it increases urine production to release excess fluid and salt — making it especially helpful to deal with water retention. I also find digestive bitters and teas like peppermint, lemon ginger, chamomile, fennel seed, and others helpful for soothing GI issues while away (and while home!).

Above all, the best way to have a successful vacation is to enjoy yourself! Vacations are meant to be different from the norm. Eat delicious foods, savor happy hour drinks at sunset, treat yourself, explore, relax — take advantage of the change of scene and break from your typical day-to-day. And don’t feel like you need to change anything about yourself prior to doing so.

Stay tuned on all things nutrition and wellness by subscribing to my monthly newsletter here.

And cheers to enjoying your next well-deserved vacation!

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