Don't leave your good eating habits behind when you get away from it all
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
A vacation is a time to unwind, to celebrate, to rejuvenate, to see new places and try new things. But it can also make you very uneasy about eating -- if, for example, you are trying to eat healthy and maintain or lose weight. Here are 10 ways to stay on a healthy eating plan while on vacation and still enjoy yourself!
1. Resist the Urge to SplurgeAccording to a study led by Linda H. Clemens EdD, RD, of the Consumer Science and Education Department at the University of Memphis, women tend to splurge when they eat out, then eat normal amounts during their other meals that day. This means they end up with an abundance of calories and fat that day -- much more than the body needs!
Clemens believes we should no longer think of eating out as a special treat and thus give ourselves carte blanche to overindulge.
"Most of us grew up thinking of eating out as an event that didn't happen too often," she explains. But today, many of us eat out on a daily basis.
What has happened to women nutritionally because of this trend? In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 1999, Clemens and other researchers found that the more often women ate out, the higher the total calories, grams of fat, and milligrams of sodium their diets contained.
There are probably three main factors that contribute to this overabundance of calories and fat coming from restaurant meals:
- We tend to splurge by choosing higher-fat and higher-calorie menu selections,
- Restaurants are serving us large portions,
- And we are eating it -- all of it.
According to a recent survey by the American Institute for Cancer Research, 67% of Americans say they finish their entrees always or most of the time. Sometimes, it isn't what you are eating as much as how much you eat that gets you into nutritional trouble.
Melanie Polk, RD, nutrition director at the American Institute for Cancer Research, recommends exercising portion control even in restaurants.
"Some Americans are now ordering half-sized portions, sharing entrees, taking home leftovers, and ordering appetizers as meals," she says.
2. Have It Your Way
When it comes to table-service restaurants, customers are asking to have it their way more and more, according to a recent National Restaurant Association report. Some 80% of restaurants with meals averaging $25 or higher per person, and 70% of restaurants with meals averaging under $25 per person, say customers are more interested in customized menu items now than even two years ago.
What, in particular, are customers asking for? They often want menu items prepared or dressed a different way than is listed on the menu. People also like to have a range of portion sizes to choose from, and many diners are asking to have part of their meal "doggy-bagged."
3. Enjoy the Scenery and Enjoy the Food
You are on vacation, for heavens sake. It doesn't make sense to deprive yourself of an enjoyable food; the trick is carrying "moderation" in your back pocket. Sample these delectable foods, instead of feasting on them.
4. Walking Is Your Secret Weapon
I personally never deny myself any foods I want when I travel, and I rarely put on extra weight. I'm usually sightseeing, which means I'm walking all day, every day, and this seems to offset any extra calories I might consume. So go ahead and take that stroll after dinner, swim in that beautiful hotel pool, take your kids up on that early morning hike!
5. A Treat a Day
How do you pass up strawberry crepes with cream if you are in Paris? How do you manage to vacation in Hawaii without tasting pineapple cheesecake? How can you resist stopping at Dairy Queen with the kids and having a chocolate-dipped Frosty?
The answer is: you don't. Just try to keep your treats to one a day. After that, opt for a healthy choice instead.
6. Better Choices on the Menu
Make healthful choices that appeal to you at fast food and restaurants whenever possible. Why is it important to order more healthful choices only if they appeal to you? Because if they don't, you're going to feel like you are depriving yourself and resent it.
Sometimes you can make a fast food or restaurant choice instantly better just by ordering it with a different condiment or sauce (say, Dijon mustard instead of mayonnaise, or marinara sauce instead of a white sauce).
7. Hide the Mini-Bar Key
You know that little refrigerator that comes with your hotel room that is filled with all sorts of beverages and candy? Hide the key, it can only lead to no good -- physically and financially.
8. Water Is Your Friend
Keep all systems going by drinking your daily water requirement. Traveling can dehydrate you, and so can being out in the sun more than your body is used to. If you can, stock your car, backpack, or hotel room with ice-cold bottles of water. Bring water everywhere you go.
9. Take "Five a Day" on Vacation with You
Now, more than ever, make an effort to get five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. It will make meals seem more filling and satisfying. It will provide enough fiber in your diet, and keep your intestines regular. And it will keep your levels of antioxidants and important vitamins high so you are less likely to get sick.
10. Eat When You're Hungry and Stop When You're Comfortable
It sounds simple, but many of us have gotten out of the habit of paying attention to whether we're truly, physically hungry. Eating opportunities and celebrations are all around us when we are vacationing, and we're in the "I'm on VACATION!" mindset. That's when we will be the most vulnerable to eating even if we aren't hungry and not stopping when we are comfortable.
Originally published May 9, 2003.
Medically updated June 30, 2006.
SOURCES: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1999, 99:442-444
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