Everything You Need to Know to Stay Healthy on Vacation and Stop Obsessing
This past week, Jordan and I went on vacation in Italy. It was amazing – filled with pizza, pasta, bread and gelato, a lot of walking, and not a lot of planned exercise. Was this different than my usual eating and exercise? Of course. But was it a big deal? Absolutely not.
While we all know travel is amazing, I also know it can be tough to be so removed from your usual routine. The last thing I’d ever want is for you to waste any minute of your precious time on vacation worrying about food or your body. I’d so much rather you enjoy every minute of vacation. But, because I also know that’s much easier said than done, I’m sharing some tips on how to make that happen.
How to stay healthy while traveling is seriously one of the top questions I get from both clients and friends. Really, that and healthy snacking (maybe I’ll share a post that next…?) are the top two. So, I wanted to use this post to share everything you need to know: how to stay healthy while traveling, enjoy the foods you love, and do it all without feeling guilty or obsessing.
1. Eat the foods you love.
This might sound like common sense, but sometimes, we just need a liiiittle nudge to get us there. So, when you’re on vacation, eat the foods you love. This trip, I was loving caprese salads with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. I got one – and sometimes 2 – probably every day. Sure, it was more than a “serving” of mozzarella, but I thoroughly enjoyed it every time I ate it. Tomatoes and mozzarella are both so good in Italy!
There’s nothing fun about going to a destination and avoiding a food the place is known for that you also love just because it’s not “healthy.” Eat the foods you love and enjoy them. If you have a favorite or something you’ve been looking forward to, enjoy it! You have unconditional permission to eat what you want. By knowing this, you let yourself enjoy the foods you do want, instead of saving up or avoiding them, and unnecessarily putting them on a pedestal.
A client who was traveling for the 2nd time to Paris recently told me that she loved the croissants there. We talked about making sure she eats them and enjoying them. If there’s a food you love and really want to eat, it’s just like any regular craving. The only way to satisfy a craving is to eat the food that you’re craving. Eat it as mindfully as you can, appreciating the flavors, textures and the way it tastes, so that you can truly enjoy it.
2. Leave the foods you don’t.
Even in the Intuitive Eating book, the authors talk about eating what you love and leaving what you don’t. I talk about this concept with clients even in everyday life to. If a country is known for a food but you don’t necessarily love that food, you don’t have to eat it just because they’re known for it. You won’t be missing out by not eating it – you don’t even really like it in the first place.
For example, I’m not a big prosciutto fan. It’s just not a food that I like. While Italy apparently has amazing prosciutto, I didn’t feel the need to eat it just because of that. I don’t love it, and I’d rather eat the foods I do love – like more tomato and mozzarella, or pizza, or gelato.
Similarly, I found that most restaurants had bread baskets at the table. And to be honest, this might be an unpopular opinion, but I never felt like the bread was that good. Instead of eating the bread just because it was there (unless I was starving and needed something to hold me over), I usually skipped it. This was not to save calories. But rather, it was to save room in my stomach for all the food I do love and would enjoy much more. You have unconditional permission to eat whatever you want, and you also don’t need to eat something just because a place is known for it or just because it’s there.
3. Listen to your body.
There it is: the ambiguous “listen to your body” phrase. I try to use this phrase sparingly because I know it can be hard to interpret and is much easier said than done. So, instead of throwing around more vague phrases, I’ll explain this one with a story: when we first got to Italy, we got a lot of pasta at pretty much every meal. By the 3rd day of eating pasta, Jordan and I both couldn’t even look at it. We were both seriously craving some fresh veggies. He even told me that he always kind of doubted me (thanks, Jord) when I said that after eating something a lot, you’ll start to crave other things. He always felt like he’d never get sick of eating pasta (he’s a true Italian food lover!), but finally could not eat it and was in the mood for a salad.
Lesson learned: always trust your dietitian wife. I’m kidding, but really, our bodies are smart when we start listening to them. In this case, we went without pasta for a day or 2. After that, we were ready for it and in the mood for it. We each ordered it when it sounded good and were able to thoroughly enjoy it. And, we enjoyed it much more than we would have if we kept ordering it when we didn’t want it, just because we were in Italy.
Your body is really good at knowing what it needs. If you’re eating a little more bread, pizza or pasta – or any cuisine – more than usual, I promise, you will also start to crave more nutritious foods too. Try to let that happen and listen to your body, instead of giving yourself subtle or subconscious rules like “I should eat a salad” or “I shouldn’t have pasta for the 2nd day in a row.” When you quiet those rules and let your body dictate your meals, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how balanced your days end up being – pasta included.
4. Know that one meal, one day, and one vacation will have zero effect on your health.
A mantra that I repeat over and over in All Foods Fit is this: one meal or one day will not make or break your health. And it’s true. Our health, and even our weight, is based on the big picture: what your diet looks like in general, how active you are overall, how much you sleep on average, and so much more. One meal, one day, and even one entire vacation will have no effect on your overall health in the long run.
Even if you’re eating more carbs than you normally do, or exercising less than you usually do, it really won’t have that much effect on your life overall. Put it into perspective: one week of more bread and less exercise doesn’t mean a lot in the scheme of your entire life. Please, don’t feel guilty for these things. Not only is there no reason to, but also, feeling guilty takes away from other feelings you could have on your vacation: feeling relaxed, content, grateful, and so much more.
Instead of focusing on food and exercise, try to focus on enjoy the special time away from work and home. Be present and try to enjoy every minute of vacation as much as you can for all that it has to offer: seeing new things, experiencing another culture, and even getting to try new food.
Think of this way: when you look back on your vacation, are you going to wish you had spent more time micromanaging your meals, or that you spent more time enjoying time in a new place? Think about that whenever you start to feel guilty or feel obsessive thoughts about food creeping in. You’re allowed to eat what you want, and on vacation especially, don’t let thoughts about food get in the way of just enjoying.
By eating the foods you love, leaving the ones you could do without and listening to your body, you’ll not only be able to enjoy your vacation, but I think you’ll find that you’ll also feel your best both physically and mentally. And, when you feel your best, you’ll also know that there is nothing to feel guilty about.
PS. If you’re going to Italy and want to obsess about anything, obsess about the shopping. It’s really good.
There is so much to say on this topic: from snacks to pack, to ways to figure out what you’re craving, to ordering at restaurants, etc. If you’re looking for more about healthy travel, there’s an entire lesson on it in All Foods Fit, my membership program with 12 lessons designed to teach how to eat healthy and enjoy your favorite foods without any guilt.