Not all vacation memories bring smiles. Do you want proof? Simply get on your bathroom scale after a week or more of absence.
Travelers typically return from trips heavier than when they left, and research shows those extra pounds tend to linger longer than your vacation tan, judging by findings from the University of Georgia.
But there are ways to make sure you're not carrying any unwanted weight home. Let's discuss some helpful tips with dietitian Beth Czerwony, MS, RD, CSOWM, LD.
How to control your weight on vacation
First, a harsh reality: Calories still count on vacation. Lounging on a sun-kissed beach doesn't give you a free pass to consume copious amounts of tropical food and drink without paying a dietary price.
But this trip is all about having fun, right? After all, a vacation is the dessert of life! "The key is to find a balance," says Czerwony. “Enjoy… but enjoy intelligently. Have a game plan.”
Keep the following tips in mind when devising your strategy:
Identify splurge meals
It's okay to delve into a few calorie-laden dishes when visiting a new place. (Think jambalaya in New Orleans or clam chowder in Boston.) But make these meals "special" and adjust your meals for the rest of the day to compensate.
Cruise the whole buffet line
Don't just grab a plate and start stockpiling food. Instead, examine everything available before you start eating to avoid impulse eating. "Don't waste your calories on one thing when you'd rather eat something else," Czerwony said.
Maintain good eating habits
Don't forget to put fruits and vegetables on your holiday plate. Look to eat lean protein, too.
"The same rules apply to eating well," says Czerwony. "Those don't change because you're in a different location."
Plus, day after day of gorging on fatty foods often brings another result: a rumbling belly and digestive problems. "You're going to feel like crap," Czerwony says, "and that's no way to spend a vacation."
Keep some healthier snack options on hand for when you feel hungry. Almonds, for example. Beef jerky, pretzels, and protein bars are also great. Basically, anything that is easy to store and eat on the go.
"Sometimes you're just hungry and need a bite," says Czerwony. "It's better to have something available than just grab what you see."
Drinking plenty of water on vacation offers you many benefits, starting with the fact that it's not a sugary soda or alcoholic beverage. That H2O will also keep you full, which can help you eat more slowly.
Limit alcohol intake
That idea that it's always 5 o'clock on vacation? It's a funny thought, but your body tastes different. Stretching a cocktail hour into a cocktail day can multiply your calorie count in ways that require a calculator.
And consider those fruity umbrella drinks, too: "They're delicious, but they have a lot of extra calories," says Czerwony. "It adds up fast."
Keep fit on vacation
Many trips offer built-in opportunities for exercise. Maybe it's a hike to explore the forest or a snorkeling visit to an underwater world. Whatever the activity, it will burn off some of your vacation calories.
But maybe your plans involve little more than walking over to a chair to read and relax. If that's the case, it might be good to spend a few minutes on a treadmill or lifting weights before going into relaxed mode.
"Most places have a gym," Czerwony says. "Whether you use it is up to you."
There are also many exercises that you can do in your room, such as yoga or Tabata.
Focus on the vacation experience
Pulling out forks and spoons will be a part of any trip for one simple reason: you need to eat. But don't overemphasize every meal, Czerwony warns. Treat yourself here and there, after all, you are on vacation, but try not to make the food the center of attention.
“Make the experience a special occasion,” she says. "That's what you'll remember."