You want to come home from vacation with souvenirs and memories—not extra inches around your stomach. Still, sixty-one percent of Americans gain weight on vacation, according to a University of Georgia study earlier this year. The average is everywhere from one to seven pounds—but any number of extra lbs in just one week is too many when you’ve worked so hard for your rock hard vacation body.
The culprit: Drinking and eating your way through a new city or poolside. But you don’t have to forgo the culinary culture just to keep your diet on track. You just need to have a plan. “The number one way I see clients lose ground while on vacation is by flying by the seat of their pants with no plan, or just a blanket assumption that they will be able to eat and exercise normally while they’re away,” says British Columbia-based nutritionist Michelle Shepherd, R.D., founder of Westcoast Nutrition.
Why shouldn’t you just press pause and live it up while away? Snacking healthy can actually improve your experience. “You’ll have more energy and feel better on vacation, and won’t get pulled too far behind for when you get back,” Shepherd adds.
Here are 12 tips to keep your vacation from derailing your diet.
Book a Room with a Kitchen
“One of the things I recommend to clients when booking vacations is to book hotel suites or rooms that have a kitchen,” says personal trainer and certified nutritionist Franci Cohen, founder of Fuel Fitness in Brooklyn. You’ll probably be eating most of your meals out—and you should. Enjoy the local offerings. But having your own sink, stove, and fridge gives you the luxury of preparing and storing healthy snacks and at least a few meals. Most hotels have a suite option you can upgrade to, or consider an Airbnb which almost always come with kitchen access.
Stock Your Fridge
Don’t waste precious vacation hours at the supermarket. When you book your room, ask the hotel concierge if they will stock your fridge ahead of time. Marriott's Residence Inn and Hilton's Homewood Suites both deliver groceries to guests with no mark-ups, and some hotels even have special partnerships, like Affinia Hotels in New York who works with grocery delivery service FreshDirect for their guests. What should you stock your fridge with? Yogurt, fresh fruit and veggies, and hard boiled eggs are all great foods to have on hand so you don’t get caught off guard by hunger, Sheperd says.
When you’re swimming all day or touring the city, it’s easy to forget to eat—but then you want to gorge when you make it to the dinner table, Manuel Villacorta, RD, founder of the Whole Body Reboot App, points out. Stashing snacks like fresh fruit, KIND bars, Clif Builders bars, and nuts and dried fruit (dates, apricots) which will help stabilize your blood sugar so you don’t go overboard on one meal. Poolside, opt for raw veggies and hummus, which will keep you full and energized without weighing you down, Cohen suggests.
Weigh What’s Worth It
When you’re on the plane to paradise, take a few minutes to decide what indulgences will give you the most value, Shepherd suggests. Drinks by the pool? A really juicy steak? The resort’s famous key lime pie? Knowing what you’ll enjoy the most will help you avoid indulgences not worth the calories—plus it’ll give you something to look forward to.
“Sitting on a beach in the scorching sun does wonders to induce the appetite, which is a nightmare for your diet,” says Cohen. The extreme heat dehydrates you quickly, setting off pangs that you’ll probably interpret as hunger but are often just thirst cues, she explains. The solution is simple: Drink, drink, drink—water, that is. The traditional recommendation is to fill up on at least 2 liters a day, although Cohen recommends doubling that for active guys spending the day in the sun.
Let Yourself Sleep In
Researchers from the University of Chicago found that sleep deprivation boosts a signal that makes the act of eating food more pleasurable and satisfying—which explains why skimping on sleep has long been associated with overeating and caving to cravings. Minimize your chances of stopping at every gelato stand by scoring a solid eight hours a night while away.
Wake Up and Work Out
Exercise in the morning before you get distracted by town tours or 2-for-1 margaritas. Unless it’s an independently-owned B&B, your hotel probably has a fitness center. But by double checking before you book and asking what the offerings are, you’re less likely to hit the weights in a gym the size of a closet. Opt for a high-intensity workout, which studies have shown helps guys eat less later in the day. No gym? No problem. Try any of our at-home workouts!
Plan an Active Excursion Every Day
You don’t necessarily need to hit the gym when there’s an ocean to swim in, a mountain to climb, a city to walk. If you know you’re not going to make it to the weight rack, consciously put something active on the itinerary every day, Sheperd suggests. “Paddleboarding, hiking, learning to surf, or taking bike tours of a new city are all great ways to get your body moving without losing the vacation vibe.”
Always Have Breakfast
Okay, we’re not here to debate whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But starting your day off with a healthy, filling breakfast will help jumpstart your metabolism, give you sustained energy for the activities to come, and help control your appetite over the next few hours, says Villacorta. Plus, most of us like to splurge on lunch or dinner, so having a healthy breakfast will help minimize the damage to come later in the day, Sheperd adds. Focus your efforts on protein. A study in Nutrition Journal found that those who ate breakfast with 40 percent protein saw less cravings later in the day than those whose meal was only 15 percent protein as well as those who skipped early morning fare entirely.
This is advice you’ll be happy to heed: Eat frequent meals throughout the day, recommends Cohen. It’ll keep your blood sugar levels stable (read: less cravings, more energy) and your hunger pangs in check. Plus, if you’re day drinking, having something in your stomach will help you drink at a healthier pace. But the meals should be modest, rather than splurging solely on a giant lunch or dinner, she adds. Aim for five to six small meals throughout the day, focusing heavily on protein which has been shown to keep you full longer.
Control the Chaos
We’d never suggest you go to Italy and avoid all pasta or land in London and not have fish and chips. “Enjoy the local cuisine—just try not to make every single meal an event,” Villacorta suggests. For less epic meals, opt for grilled meats and fish, and shy away from fried foods and sauces. ”By ordering clean grilled proteins and skipping the sauces often laden with heavy creams, sugar, and fat, you're saving hundreds of calories and fat grams,” Cohen adds. Try to get at least one serving of leafy greens a day and choose the veggie-heavy options (like salad) whenever possible, Sheperd advises. The goal is to make two thirds of your meals and snacks everyday choices, she adds—and then spend your calories on what you can’t have at home.
All three experts agree: Alcohol is the biggest diet derailer. People drink more than double the amount of booze on vacation than they normally would—an average of 16 drinks a week while away, according to the University of Georgia study. But unless you’re an abstainer, you’re going to drink on vacation—probably a lot. Forgo the festive pina coladas and mojitos which are loaded with sugar (you don’t need the extra calories or energy zapper) and instead opt for wine, champagne, or hard liquor on the rocks, VIllacorta recommends. In between every cocktail, have a glass of water.