How to go on Vacation and Still Lose Weight!Jun 01, 2022
By: Tedi Nikova MPH, RD
Edited by: Brianna Bavota, RD
Have you ever considered that vacations can be a perfect opportunity for weight loss?! For many of our clients, the words vacation and weight loss in the same sentence sounds like an outrageous concept! Many of you are probably thinking, “but I always feel out of control on trips, how would I be able to lose weight!”. We got you!
Let’s start by highlighting the top three mistakes that a number of women make when on vacation. Then I will share with you how to pivot and avoid these mistakes so you can feel in control of your food choices while travelling.
Mistake #1: Not having a plan
I remember one of my clients describing her first day at an all-you-can-eat buffet as a “free for all”. With all the temptations available, and no plan to follow, she ended up overeating to the point she felt physically unwell for the rest of the day.
Are you holding onto the belief that food choices on vacation should be “unplanned”, and “spontaneous”. The truth is, not having a food plan actually works against your body, causing a less relaxing vacation experience! Let me tell you why … going into a vacation with no planning can leave a lot of room for the reward pathways in your brain to take the lead in your food choices (ie. think of a toddler with the gimmes). This is the part of the brain that seeks pleasure from food, especially those highly refined foods such as flour, sugars, and processed starches. This often leads to food choices that are driven by seeking instant pleasure, leading to feeling out of control with your food choices, overly full, and maybe even unwell!
Here’s What Can You Do
Have a flexible plan. I know what you are thinking, “but I want to relax, the last thing I want to do is plan!”. Let me propose to you that having a plan will allow you more freedom with food, and less in-the-moment food drama, and save you from any guilt, shame or regret that may happen afterwards. When you go in with a food plan, you use your pre-frontal cortex, (ie. the planning brain), ahead of time. This leaves a lot less room for the toddler with the gimmes to run the show, and a lot more room for food choices aligned with your health goals!
What does a flexible plan look like?
You want to focus on foods that are filling, satisfying, and in line with your health goals, but also plan for foods you enjoy as well. You can do this by checking the menu in advanced at a- la-cartes restaurants, or scanning to buffet tables to choose what you are going to eat before adding the food to your plate. I encourage you to choose plenty of proteins and vegetables with meals, and to reduce the amount of highly processed foods.
An example of a flexible plan may look like this:
Breakfast: Omelette with local fruit on the side
Lunch: A protein-based salad with plenty of vegetables
Dinner: A local protein, with plenty of vegetables, and ¼ of my plate with an unrefined starch (eg., potato) + 1 piece of my favourite dessert
Drinks: 2 cocktails (ask for ½ of the syrup)
Mistake #2: Viewing vacation as a ‘cheat’ from your diet
Many people make the mistake of working really hard on their weight loss prior to vacation, so that they can go on vacation with the mindset of “I can cheat now”. Maybe you are one of them. Your mindset around food on your trip is most likely driving a lot of feelings of over desire for food. Yes! Your thoughts about food can create stronger urges that drive you to overeat! The “cheat meal” or “I can cheat now” mindset is rooted in diet mentality. It comes from the belief that in order to lose weight successfully you have to be either “all in” with your diet, or, “all out”. The truth is permanent weight loss is about a permanent lifestyle shift; you cannot “cheat” on your forever lifestyle.
Here's What You Can Do
Ditch the “cheat meal” mentality, instead, adapt the mindset of flexible restraint. Flexible restraint allows you to never feel restricted from any food - and wouldn’t that be nice. It gives
you all the power to make a choice for yourself, rather than telling yourself “you can have it”.
You either choose to have the food or not to have the food. Let’s use an example, when you see that yummy dessert at the buffet, you can tell yourself, “there is nothing special about this cookie, I can have a cookie any day but I choose not to indulge because I like how I feel when I don’t eat high sugar foods”. Ditching restriction reduces the novelty of food on vacation and allows you to make more mindful food decisions without feeling deprived.
Mistake #3: Holding onto Limiting Beliefs
Do you believe that you gain weight on vacation? If so, you are most likely holding onto the belief that vacation leads to weight gain. You may have even gathered evidence from your previous trips to support this. This belief may leave you feeling nervous about travelling on your weight loss journey.
Here's what You Can Do
Change your beliefs about vacation weight gain. You don’t have to continue thinking you will gain weight on vacation even if you believe it for a long period of time, or even if it’s what you have been taught to believe. Instead, you want to reframe your belief. You can start by telling yourself “vacation is the perfect opportunity for weight loss”. Yes, you read that correctly! It’s totally possible. Think about it, vacation is a time where you get to relax, destress from the real work, sleep better, maybe make more time for movement. Imagine if you viewed vacation as an opportunity to lose weight. This is a solution focused perspective, allowing you to see what you are capable of rather than what you aren’t capable of. This may look like making it a point to plan a morning walk on the beach before breakfast, savouring every bite of the local cuisine, or stop eating when you are physically full.
You may not always have control over what foods will be available during your vacation, but you do have control over the decisions you make. We encourage you to reflect on the following question: how would you show up differently on your trip, if you viewed it as the perfect opportunity for weight loss? When you shift your beliefs into a solution focused mindset, your brain will offer you creative solutions towards the person you are wanting to be. Remember, this mindset shift is not about restriction; restriction only leads to more desire for food. It is about making food choices from a loving place that will serve your body, and be in line with your long term goals.
Tedi Nikova, MPH, RD