At least one study has shown that people tend to gain weight on vacations - and that’s adults who take a vacation from work, not kids out of school for the summer. Even though people often walk around more on vacation, that doesn’t make up for all the extra food they eat. Other research confirms that people don’t compensate well for occasional splurges: most of us assume that the extra food will just kind of disappear on its own and they expect post-vacation weight loss to happen way faster than it actually does.
It’s not like a few days or a week of overeating has a huge impact on lifetime weight gain or loss - but a splurge vacation twice or three times a year can start adding up. And even worse, it's pretty common for people to go crazy on vacation and then never get back to their Paleo routine afterwards. The vacation splurge just derails all their progress and sets them way back.
For people who can just enjoy a “cheat vacation” and then get right back into it - if that works for you, go ahead and do it! But for people who do better with some diet structure while on vacation, this one’s for you. Check out these 5 tips for staying Paleo, or Paleo-ish on vacation:
1. Plan some amazing Paleo meals in advance.
It’s easier to turn down junk food if you already know you’re having something amazing for dinner. Before you leave, check out some Paleo-friendly restaurants or local dishes and make some plans for something really delicious that you want to eat. Or if you’re doing something like visiting relatives, plan for some Paleo foods that you want to make and share.
The key here is to focus on what you can have and are excited about, not what you can’t have. Don’t just go in thinking about all of the foods you need to resist - go in with specific plans that you’re excited and happy about. It’s a vacation; it’s supposed to be fun! The only difference on Paleo is that you have to put in a little more effort to make your own fun. A few minutes of planning beforehand can yield a surprising number of delicious things just about anywhere.
If you want to indulge in some non-Paleo treats, it can be helpful to plan those too, just to make sure the amount of non-Paleo food is still consistent with your goals and within the limits that you're comfortable with.
2. Bring your own snacks
It’s not always easy to plan mealtimes in a strange place, especially if you’re totally thrown off your normal schedule, and double especially if you’re in a hotel room without access to a kitchen. Don’t let logistical problems throw you off your Paleo game: bring lots of snacks (or stock up as soon as you get to your destination) and stash them everywhere. Channel your inner squirrel. Think: nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, Paleo bars, jerky (beef or turkey), hard-boiled eggs if you have a fridge, snack packs of salami, cheese sticks if you do dairy, etc.
Even if you do want to sample some non-Paleo local delicacies, don't waste those on random snacks you eat on the subway because it's still an hour and a half until dinner. Bring healthy Paleo snacks for those hunger emergencies and enjoy the non-Paleo treats when you have time to savor them.
3. Challenge yourself to find non-food activities.
Think about what you’re excited to do on vacation - what are all the really neat things you can’t wait to see or try? Can you find some other really cool hidden gems that you never would have discovered otherwise? Make it into a challenge for yourself - what can you discover that you might never have found otherwise?
Having activities that don’t involve food at all gives you a little mental break because you’re physically removed from any temptation, so no need to expend any mental energy resisting it or negotiating with it. Out of sight, out of mind!
There are endless things to do that aren’t food-oriented; just a couple of ideas:
- Go for a walk somewhere pretty (in big cities, think: public gardens, architecture tours, etc.)
- Tour a museum or historical site - weird local museums can be amazing.
- See a concert or a play.
- Get your hair/nails done.
- Go shopping or window-shopping
Anything that’s engaging and exciting and not food-related is a great way to focus on the fun parts of the vacation and keep your mind off food-related temptation.
4. Keep working out
This is not because workouts burn a lot of calories that make up for eating all the pasta in Florence. Exercise really doesn’t burn that many calories, unfortunately - it’s a lot easier to eat 1,000 calories for dinner than to burn 1,000 calories in the gym.
But what exercise can do is…
- Put you in a better mood - it’s actually backed by research that feeling down or depressed is a huge factor in bad food choices. If you’re feeling energized and strong, it’s just easier to stay at the top of your game with eating well.
- Help control sugar cravings - always super helpful.
- Improve metabolic health - just in case a plate of waffles or a piece of chocolate cake is irresistibly calling your name, it’s good to have your carb metabolism up to speed
If you need inspiration for vacation workouts, why not try…
- In cities: parkrun (free 5k runs), November Project workouts (free public workouts), running groups (usually free, mileage varies), day passes for local gyms (cost varies), bikeshare or rental bike services (cost varies). Or just go for a run or bike ride around the city and see the sights from a new perspective.
- In rural areas: hiking, trail running, swimming, canoeing/kayaking, bike rides - anything that gets you outside in a new and exciting environment
There are also hundreds of free online workouts that you can do in a hotel room or anywhere else, but it’s always nice to get out and see the place you’re visiting while you get your workout in!
5. Leave some freezer meals at home before you go
If you ended up not eating exactly the way you wanted to eat on vacation, the best time to break that pattern and get back into your routine is the minute you get back home. And if you did everything right and made great choices the whole time, the best time to keep up that momentum is...the minute you get back home!
One very simple step you can take to make this happen: leave a few frozen meals at home. Don’t come home to an empty fridge! If you get home exhausted from your vacation, and then you have to shop and cook right away, chances are HUGE that you’ll just be too exhausted, too stressed, or too busy to do it. This is a recipe for more takeout and/or restaurant meals, and probably not the healthiest options, since nobody makes their best choices when they’re tired and stressed.
If you have food in your freezer all ready to go, then the easy, lazy, “too-stressed-to-make good choices” choice is just shoving it in the microwave and heating it up. This really bumps up your chances of jumping right back into nutritious, Paleo meals as soon as you get back.
Here’s a super quick freezer-meal menu to prep before you leave. Choose from the below depending what you need:
- Easy post-travel meal: chili. Freeze in individual servings OR in larger containers that will feed the whole household.
- Breakfast the next day: try this frittata (keto version here)
- Lunch to pack for work/school the next day: slow-cooker curry chicken (keto version here)
- Random snacks, midnight munchies, etc. - just grab some Paleo-friendly trail mix or bars from the store and leave them on the counter. Packing for a trip is already hectic enough; no need to stress about homemade snack food unless you want to.
What’s your best tip?
Again - nobody is saying that anyone has to be 100% Paleo on vacation. Some people want to stay totally strict so they can feel healthy and enjoy their vacation more. Other people make planned indulgences and mostly stick to Paleo. Other folks just go hog wild and get right back into it when they get home. But that approach doesn’t work for everyone. Some people actually have a better time on vacation if they do pay attention to their diet