Vacationing Without the Bulge

Bring home souvenirs, not unwanted pounds

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In summer, especially August, the pace slows down so much it's as if the entire country breathes a huge sigh of relief (I know I do). Who cares if business is down a bit? It's expected this time of year—and besides, it gives you a chance to take a well-deserved break and, if you feel like it, hop on a plane to the islands or drive to a nearby resort.

Katherine Tallmadge
Katherine Tallmadge
But vacations offer many opportunities for indulgences that can add up to extra pounds if you're not careful. I have two philosophies regarding vacation indulgences:

Option A: Enjoy yourself with abandon the whole time, just be prepared to gain a few pounds. If you do choose to go this route, be sure to resume your healthy routine as soon as you get home; if you don't, you risk those pounds staying with you long after your trip ends.

Option B: Avoid gaining vacation pounds altogether. And it's not as hard as you think. In fact, many of my clients enjoy themselves even more on vacation when they stay active and eat less heavily.

"My husband and I had a better time when we weren't just sitting around eating during our annual visit to Greece," says Vicky, a 40-year-old lawyer. "We made a point of taking walks together and doing more sightseeing than in the past. This gave us more energy and we were surprised at how good it felt!"

I hear this from clients like Vicky regularly. You can actually enjoy your vacation more if you just plan and prioritize a little. Here are some strategies to think about:

Ask yourself what's most important to you about the vacation. Is it looking and feeling your best? Feeling energetic? Wearing your most beautiful, form-fitting outfits and bathing suits? Visiting with loved ones? Or is it eating every tempting food in sight?

Always eat at regularly scheduled intervals. Have a large breakfast and stop for a healthy lunch. Don't starve yourself during the day so that you irrationally overeat everything in sight whenever you're around food.

Set dining priorities. Suppose, for example, you've booked four dinners out. You will gain weight if you eat with abandon each time (plan on 1 pound per day). Decide in advance that one of those nights is going to be your "splurge night." Order anything you want. Enjoy every bite. Savor each and every one of those calories. On the other three nights, order more carefully. You'll still enjoy the experience of dining out, but you won't take in more calories than your body can handle.

Do your homework. Before you go to a restaurant, check out its website and menu. Take note of the courses that look tasty yet healthy. That way, you won't be as tempted by the sights and smells of fattening options once you get there. Of course, as in any restaurant, the no-brainer healthy selection is a salad-like appetizer, a simple seafood preparation, such as grilled fish, fruit for dessert, and by all means…a glass of wine.

Stay active. Don't waste time in a gym: Sightsee! Many of my clients get unbelievable amounts of walking during sightseeing vacations: 20,000 to 25,000 steps per day isn't unusual (roughly 2,000 steps make up a mile, and the standard steps-per-day goal is 10,000). That's why you often don't gain weight on trips to Paris or Rome even when you eat in fabulous restaurants every night. (Without the walking you would, though!) Bring a pedometer to track your steps. If you're at the beach, swim—or walk along the ocean between chapters of your trashy romance novel.

Bring a picnic. This is a no-brainer when staying with friends—it's simply a polite and generous thing to do—or in a rental with a kitchen.

When I stayed at my friend Bob's place in St. Michaels, Md., recently, I brought one canvas bag of groceries and an insulated bag for perishable items. Knowing most people don't eat the kind of healthy breakfast I like, I brought two kinds of whole-grain cereals, a bag of roasted slivered almonds, 2 pounds of berries, some fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a gallon of 1 percent milk. Guess what? Everyone enjoyed eating my big breakfast each morning and even carried over the habit once they got home. They felt better for it, and began losing weight to boot.

I also brought vine-ripe tomatoes and a huge pasta salad filled with farm-fresh vegetables, mozzarella, and my delicious basil vinaigrette. It ended up serving four people for lunch one day. Everyone was happy and all this healthy eating gave me room for my weekend splurge: beer floats!

The goal of traveling is to take a vacation from stress and boredom, not from the hard-won healthy practices that you've begun to employ—and that make you look and feel so great.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, LD, is the author of Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations, and President of Personalized Nutrition, where she custom-designs holistic nutrition and weight loss programs for individuals and companies. Katherine is passionate about helping people transform their health and their lives through counseling, writing, speaking engagements, and regular appearances in the national media.