Weight gain on vacation is a popular topic
Sometimes it feels like weight gain on vacation is all anyone wants to talk about, which can really put a damper on vacation plans or holiday festivities.
If you dread your time off because you’re worried about how it will affect your waistline or you’re exhausted at the idea of having to diet before, during, and after your vacation, you’re in the right place!
Let’s break down 6 of the biggest vacation weight gain myths and what you can do instead to make vacation—and vacation eating—enjoyable once again.
Myth: The more rigid your eating plan is, the less out of control your eating will be
Rigid eating plans are usually impossible to follow. Strict diets don’t allow for adjustments to be made based on your hunger, your energy levels, your taste preferences, or what food is actually available. Having an all-or-nothing mindset around food leads to cycling between periods where you are either “completely in control” or “completely out of control” around food, with no in between.
You may find an eating plan that encourages you to listen to your hunger and fullness while also striving for balance is easier to follow. Flexibility challenges all-or-nothing diet thinking so you’ll never have to be “on” or “off” your vacation diet again. Learn more about creating an intuitive eating meal plan here.
Myth 2: There are specific foods you must avoid on vacation
Just like no one “healthy” meal can make you lose 5lbs, no one “unhealthy” meal can make you gain 5lbs. Vacation eating is not going to significantly impact your weight in the long term. This is supported by studies that show that the average holiday weight gain from Thanksgiving to New Years is less than a pound.
Instead of trying to avoid specific foods, focus instead on achieving pleasure and satisfaction with your meals (something that guilt over eating can detract from). When eating mindfully, you are likely to find that food not only tastes better, but that you are more likely to stop eating when you are comfortably full.
Myth 3: Even just one indulgence puts you at risk of weight gain on vacation
If you’ve been on a strict diet in preparation for your vacation, it might feel like even so much as a single French fry could ruin the whole thing. And maybe you’ve even got the scale to prove it! However, the reality is most weight fluctuations that you experience on vacation are going to be related to water weight gain, not fat gain.
Fluid weight can be attributed to eating salty or sugary foods, alcohol consumption, sun exposure, sleep routine, and (duh) water intake—all of which might look a little different on vacation. Returning to your usual eating and drinking routine will naturally resolve any fluid shifts.
Myth 4: If you go overboard, just burn it off in the gym later
Exercise is never going to “cancel out” foods that you eat—sorry, but that calorie math just isn’t mathing. Plus, believing that you can “earn” certain foods by “burning” calories at the gym is putting you in an unhealthy mindset. You never have to “earn” what you’re eating, nor do you need to punish yourself to make up for them.
Exercise does have a slew of benefits, including but not limited to reducing stress and anxiety, increasing bowel regularity, and improving sleep quality. If your vacation allows for it, and you enjoy it, you might find it pleasurable to move your body while on vacation—but you should never feel guilty for not doing so.
Myth 5: It’s always better to choose the “healthy” versions of your favorite foods
Sure, there are plenty of “healthified” recipes you can make for the holidays, or “skinnylicious” dishes you can order off the restaurant menu—but cauliflower can really only do so much. Constantly depriving yourself of the satisfaction of eating the actual foods you love can leave you feeling deeply dissatisfied and set you up for a binge sesh later down the road.
Food is more than just fuel. It’s connection, pleasure, heritage, and tradition. It’s ok to love food—ALL foods, not just the “healthy” versions.
Myth 6: You should plan to go on a diet or a detox when you get home
The “diet starts tomorrow!” mentality could be doing you more harm than good, especially on your vacation. Your body doesn’t benefit from detoxes and cleanses, nor are these sustainable weight management tools. Crash dieting when you get home from vacation or in the new year is the perfect set up for binge eating later down the road.
Instead of doing “damage control,” consider adding in what your body might be craving, be that more fruits, vegetables, water, movement or sleep. Maybe just getting back into your usual eating routine would feel best. If you struggle with incorporating gentle nutrition into your every day, explore how in our gentle nutrition blog.
Kristin Jenkins, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Kristin specializes in eating disorders and intuitive eating, and is an advocate for weight-inclusive care for all her clients.