Are You Battling Post-Vacation Weight Gain? Try These Tips Next Time You Travel

September 3, 2013 · 0 comments


I know that summer is officially over, but I wanted to share some healthy vacation and traveling tips that you can keep in your back pocket for whenever you may need them.

I recently came back from a twelve-day whirlwind “European tour,” visiting Bosnia (for a friend’s wedding), Croatia and then England to visit Luke’s family and to attend another wedding. (Wedding season was a blast for us this year!) Twelve days of traveling, boozing and eating could have easily packed on pounds, but I am proud to report that my weight is just about the same as it was when I left NYC! This is the first time in Ellen Collis history that I have returned from a big vacation feeling good. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t say I feel quite as light and fresh as I did a few weeks ago, but the scale barely budged and any bloat that was lingering is now gone. I’ll take it!

Naturally, food plays a big role during any vacation; however, these tips will show you how to enjoy yourself without abandoning your health and weight loss goals:

1. Make smart choices at the airport. C’mon, is Panda Express really how you want to kick off your trip? Is that chicken lo mein ever as tasty or satisfying as you think it’s going to be? No…it’s not. But I get it. As soon as you get to the airport, it’s finally time to relax. Ahhhh. Mindful eating just doesn’t rank high on the priority list at that moment, does it? In fact, I always loved being at the airport because for some reason I felt like it gave me a free pass to “cheat.” (Although in hindsight, inhaling French fries and a large McFlurry never ended up being as “fun” as I thought it would be.) So think about it: Do you really want to waste an indulgence at the airport? If you can hold off and make an intuitive decision once you get to your destination, you will be SO glad you did. The food will taste that much better. I promise.

(Pictured: Airport eats – the beer was not for me!)

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that healthy eating at the airport can be frustrating. If there is not a Starbucks available (I’ll eat the oatmeal and a banana for any meal if it’s the only good option I have) or an Au Bon Pain or Pret-a-Manger to pick up a salad, then I find making good choices to really be tricky. Most times, the “healthy” fare at the fast food places often are so unsatisfying (or not actually healthy at all) that you likely would have been better off just grabbing that slice of pizza, drinking some water and moving on. It’s tough.

If you really are unsure about what decision to make and don’t like the food that is available,  wait to eat until you have better options. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of hunger is especially helpful when you are traveling because there are so many unknowns and curveballs that can come your way. So when you feel yourself starting to get hangry, stop, pause, take a deep breath – and as Bethenny would say, Check yourself before you wreck yourself!

2. Eat a healthy breakfast. I love breakfast because it’s so easy to make good choices that are also tasty and satisfying. Breakfast reigns supreme in my book, so you can imagine my disappointment when I realized that breakfast foods aren’t really a “thing” in Bosnia and Croatia. Omelettes, oatmeal…forget about it!

One of the most common dishes in Bosnia is a flaky pita filled with spinach, potatoes or meat. You could find it morning ’til night. It was tasty, but I wasn’t in the mood for something heavy first thing in the am, so I decided to stick with fruit for breakfast, which I found at various produce stands around Sarajevo. (I always grab extra bananas when I’m traveling; you never know when it will come in handy!)

I was hoping for something different in Croatia, but after going to a restaurant that had only three things on the breakfast menu: Eggs (just eggs, nothing else), toast and jam and CORNFLAKES, I decided to go back to basics once again. Luckily, there was a cute little cafe across the street from our “apartman,” and I had a smoothie two out of the three mornings we were there. On our last morning in Dubrovnik, Luke and I split a Nutella-filled doughnut and a ham croissant – it was tasty!

Unless you are in a city that offers delicious, calorie-worthy breakfast food, keep it simple. Don’t overindulge or eat greasy foods just because it seems fun to be “bad” on vacation. (It won’t be worth it when you get home!) No matter where you are, enjoy yourself, taste everything, but don’t overdo it and stuff yourself to the point of being uncomfortable. Vacations are supposed to be fun and feeling uncomfortable in your own skin…is not.

3. Maintain a positive attitude with small efforts. Take the stairs, eat veggies when you can, drink lots of water, do a few yoga stretches or pushups in the morning. Do SOMETHING. Anything. I’m telling you, small efforts yield BIG results. Individually, these practices won’t torch hundreds of calories or help you fit into your skinny jeans overnight, but they will keep you in your happy place. I know I’ve said this many times, but a positive attitude is SO important in reaching your health and weight loss goals.

It helps you put one front in front of the other. One good action leads to another, and then another. These tiny efforts – especially on vacation – keep you consistent. Consistency is more important than anything else because you aren’t constantly stopping and starting again, undoing hard work and then trying to make up for it later. Consistency keeps you in a forward motion, and even if you fall off track a bit, you will have a much easier time getting back on course if you are maintaining healthy habits *most* of the time.

I exercised a lot during this trip (you’ll see below), but I also took every opportunity to make as many small, conscious efforts that I could. Case in point: I walked around and around in circles, up and down stairs as we waited to board our plane from Croatia to England. I passed the same people with each lap, and while they likely thought I was crazy, I couldn’t help but to keep a little smile on my face with each step I took. It’s amazing to me that a simple movement – walking – can create such a sense of satisfaction. (And this is coming from a girl who can run a 10k in 54 minutes!) In a moment when I could have been hunkered down with a bar of chocolate and a magazine, I was moving. Now, that IS something to be proud of.

4. Make your own rules. There is not an ice cream shop in Dubrovnik that is going out of business anytime soon. Everywhere you look, someone is lick lick licking an ice cream cone. (I’m sure this is a tourist thing and not a local practice, but it was interesting nonetheless.) When I saw people with two-scoop cones at 10am, I was shocked! The Old Ellen would have followed suit and had dessert every single day, but on this trip I indulged in ice cream – my favorite treat – three times, which really, was plenty. I always remind myself that “treat foods” stopping feeling special if you eat them too regularly!

So my point is, there is no “rule” that says you must have dessert every single day on vacation. Have it when you really want it and pass when you feel like you can do without it.

There are also no rules regarding how many meals you should eat a day. Three meals a day, two snacks, one dessert – who comes up with this stuff?! Most of my breakfast meals during the trip were small and simply served the purpose of putting something in my stomach. (I was bummed at first about not being able to be excited about my favorite meal of the day, but after I gave myself a little pep talk, I got over it). Luke and I were so active most days that really, the meals weren’t the main focus.

After kayaking in Croatia for three hours, we enjoyed a relaxed “lunch” at 4pm that consisted of a pint of beer, this cheesy, creamy caesar salad a a couple slices of pizza. That was my last – and main – meal of the day. I enjoyed my well-deserved meal, but balanced out this indulgence by not having anything else to eat before bed. We went to sleep fairly early, so it really wasn’t hard to do, but I know of sure the Old Ellen would have ended the night with dessert or another meal just because it’s a vacation!

And I know you see that cheeseburger and fries! I had this for “breakfast” (at noon!) in England the day after our friend’s wedding. There was really nothing else on the menu that was appealing, so I ordered the only thing I wanted. However, in true Wannabe Health Nut fashion, I started the meal with a side salad and only ate half of the burger. My point: Eat intuitively. Be reasonable. Make your own rules.

5. Taste local cuisine without going overboard. The first meal I had in Sarajevo was Bosnia’s most popular fare: Cevapi. The meat was flavorful and juicy, the pita was warm, and with a cabbage and tomato salad on the side, I had a nice meal. (See bottom right corner below). I ordered the smallest portion (which of course was plenty) and left a few big bites of pita on my plate. I participated in trying something new without feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. Success.

I also ate the most delicious homemade bread I have ever tasted completely guilt-free at a restaurant called Dveri in Sarajevo. I added cheese and a dab of butter and I didn’t even attempt to be mindful or leave a few bites behind. It was so worth it. But you know what I did do? I ordered salad and veggies for my meal despite the rich, enticing meat-based offerings on the menu, and felt completely satisfied with my choice.

The photo in the lower left corner is sponge cake and pudding I had with Luke’s family in England. It was yummy! Although, I realized during that visit that I still have a tendency to “eat to please.” Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to twist my arm to eat a piece of cake, but I did find myself indulging quite a bit more on this leg of the trip, and I have a feeling it partly had to do with wanting to go with the flow with what everyone else was doing. When you’re eating with a group, just try to remember it’s the full experience that really counts and no one is as focused on what you’re putting into your mouth as you think!

6. Stay active.I am proud to say that I exercised just about every day while I was away on my trip. And I’m not just counting the walking I did while exploring the sites. I’m counting the times I put on a sports bra and sneakers and did a little something extra to get my heart pumping. Sea kayaking in Croatia was a fantastic workout. I also did stair runs a couple mornings, went on lots of power walks and did strength exercises and yoga stretches a handful of times throughout the trip.

I welcomed the never-ending stairwells in Sarajevo and Dubrovnik – you got in a little exercise while also seeing the town and discovering something new. Luke was pleased by my seemingly unusual amount of curiosity in these cities, but I later admitted  that my adventuresome spirit was largely motivated by wanting to keep moving and get in extra steps. Ha – whatever works – it was a win-win!

I’ve been nursing a nagging hamstring and sore Achilles’ so I only went running once – a 5-miler in London. It felt great and my father-in-law made me a smoothie afterward which was a nice and thoughtful treat. I drank more alcohol in London (that always seems to happen!), but I kept it reasonable so that I could still make my healthy habits a priority. Don’t worry about missing out in fun or food during your travels – there is always plenty to be had! You can soak up any experience by simply being present in the moment and appreciating it. During my trip I never once thought, “Oh man, I wish I had had a second piece of cake!” or “Why did I say no to that vodka shot?!” Ha! Remember, you will never regret making mindful, healthy choices…not even on vacation.

7. Don’t consume unnecessary calories snacking. I used to pack endless supplies of protein bars and nuts in my suitcase so that I could be prepared just-in-case!I got hungry at any point during my travels. But what I have l learned over the years is that you are most likely going to shovel handfuls of that Trader Joes trail mix into your mouth if it is readily available — whether you are actually hungry or not. (Especially when you experience plane delays or any other emotionally frustrating travel-related misadventure).

To be honest, I kind of hate the idea of snacking. Sure, some days I’ll have a piece of fruit for a snack, but I don’t make a big thing about it. French people don’t snack. Snacking can be confusing and I am convinced it is one of the biggest culprits that keep people from their weight loss goals. A handful of whole grain tortilla chips here, a nibble of a gluten-free cookie there…it adds up. And calories are calories, folks. I don’t care what ingredients or seemingly healthymessage the package is promoting!

Snacking goes against intuitive eating for the average person who is an emotional eater in any form. (Eat when you’re bored? Yep, that’s emotional eating).  Sure, sometimes a little snack is necessary, but I try not to snack much so I can eat more of the foods I really want with a clear conscience…when I am actually hungry. Same goes for vacations. Out of the twelve days of traveling, I can recall two snacks I had: A banana and bowl of berries in England (that I bought at the grocery store as soon as I arrived), and a cheesy panini-type sandwich on our 7.5 hour flight back to the NYC. (Don’t judge, I was nursing a hangover – the ONLY one I had the entire trip!) Sure, it’s always a good idea to be prepared, and if having a little snack will help you make good choices later, then go for it. Just know yourself and whether or not having snack foods handy will do more harm than good!

And if you have a few post-vacations pounds to shed, don’t sweat it. Bounce back from a bad eating dayby making slow and gradual changes – don’t try to do it all at once!

*Need help with your health and lifestyle goals? Want to lose weight without obsessing about every bite you put into your mouth?I’m a Board Certified Health Coach + Emotional Eating Expert; contact me for a free consultation and let’s get started!

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