When I was in Hawaii last year, I went on a whale-watching cruise, where our tour guide told us that baby whales gain about five pounds per hour. "Like vacationers!" he joked. Everybody laughed. Because goodness knows travel weight gain is all too real.
And who can blame us? When we go on vacation, we want to relax. We want to drink cocktails and eat dessert. But nobody likes returning home to find out that our jeans no longer fit, so one has to wonder: Is it possible to have fun on vacation without gaining weight?
In a word? Absolutely. We know this for sure, because we consulted a committee of nutrition experts who dished on their personal tricks for staying happy and fit on vacation. Keep scrolling to discover their diet and fitness secrets!
Lounging in the sun and traipsing around a new city make maintaining your water intake all the more important. But on vacation, we often forget to drink enough. This can result in overeating.
"Drinking enough water can seem cliche, but there's a reason for it," says McKell Hill, registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition Stripped. "Our bodies are mostly made up of water, and initial hunger can sometimes mask dehydration." In other words, feeling snacky is often your body's way of telling you to drink more H20.
So pack yourself a cute bottle, like UO's Contigo Purity Glass Water Bottle ($18). Take it to the bar with you as well. Hill recommends drinking two cups of water per every alcoholic drink you consume to avoid dehydrating and binging later.
Keeping active is better for your Instagram account and your body. "If you're in Aruba, go for a hike and sign up for as many water activities as you can, so you can burn calories while making a ton of great memories," says registered dietitian Jenny Champion. "If you're in London, walk everywhere versus hopping on the Tube. You'll cram in a whole lot more sightseeing while earning that pasta dinner." Add that to a night of dancing and you'll have a full day's worth of cardio under your belt.
Keep track of your steps with a FitBit Flex ($90).
"Don't let yourself get ravenous," cautions Karen R. Koenig, nutrition expert and author of The Rules of "Normal" Eating ($14). Instead, plan ahead by packing a bag of guilt-free snacks like Navitas Naturals's Organic Citrus Chia Superfood Power Snack ($7), Rx Bars ($17 for a seven-pack), and some almonds or bananas. This prevents you from becoming so hungry that you grab whatever junk food becomes available later.
"I make sure I am prepared and always have some snacks on hand whether it be on the plane, at the hotel, or when I'm out and about." says fitness guru Lorna Jane Clarkson, founder of Lorna Jane activewear. "Eating a little less on a more regular basis boosts your metabolism, keeps you focused, puts your body into fat-burning mode, and helps keep those pesky sugar cravings at bay."
Many classic vacation cocktails can pack an entire day's worth of sugar into a single serving, which is no bueno for your skin or your waistline. "Sure, we all love that first frozen piña colada after unpacking, but once the initial vacay celebration ends, so should the crazy sugary drinks," says Champion. Of course, you're on holiday, so no one expects you to stay completely sober. Instead, Champion recommends sticking to lighter drinks. Consider wine, spritzers, vodka sodas, gin with lime, light beers, and martinis.
Nobody wants to wake up early and spend their whole vacation in the gym. But starting your day with 10 minutes of high-intensity interval training will create an "oxygen debt," helping you burn more calories long after you're done working out, says food coach Michele Lian.
Your ideal vacation workout plan looks like this: Create circuits that combine total-body cardio and strength moves, like push-ups, squats, and burpees, says Lian. Aim to move your body continuously for four minutes per circuit, keeping your breaks in between no more than a minute long. These morning exercises can be done in your hotel room (meaning you have no excuse to skip them), and they take so little time that you can still sleep in.
"If you're staying at a hotel, you'll likely run into a buffet line at some point," says Lian. With so much food to choose from, you can find yourself feeling overwhelmed and making meal choices you'll later regret. "I use what I call the 'yes!' principle when I find myself in situations like this," says Lian. "This means I only eat foods that make me go 'Yes!' when I look at them on my plate." Stale croissants, boxed cereal, soggy fries? When they're right in front of you, it's tempting to grab them.
But if you're not excited about what's on your plate, don't eat it. "Following this principle helps make sure that the calories on my plate are worth every bite, that I'm satisfied with my meal and less likely to eat mindlessly," Lian says.
"It’s difficult to be perfect all the time," says naturopathic physician Dr. Suneil Jain. "Aim to eat healthy 80% of the time." For the rest, you can cut yourself some slack.
What do we mean by "healthy" exactly? Here's a good template to go by: For most meals, try filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables first, then a quarter with protein, and the last quarter with fat and carbs. "This will make sure that you fill up primarily on low-calorie vegetables, as well as protein and fat, both of which will help you stay fuller for longer," says Lian. As long as you compose four out of five meals this way, you can feel free to indulge in whatever you want for that fifth meal.
After all, what's a vacation without a little wine and dessert?
Want more easy diet secrets? Check out seven legitimate nutrition tips we learned from extreme diets!