Can you take a vacation from your diet?

Jun 22, 2017 | 3 comments

When you go on vacation, do you leave your “diet” at home?

When you hear the word “diet” do you automatically think, “weight loss”?  Words matter, and how you interpret diet can definitely make a difference in how you manage your weight, and ultimately, your health.

If you look up the word “diet” in the dictionary, you’ll find that the primary definition is “the kinds of foods that a person habitually eats.”

The origin is from Greek diaita ‘a way of life.’

But the word “dieting” couldn’t be more different.  Most people will use the word “diet” as a verb, as in “to diet” in order to lose weight.

In the USA alone, the weight loss market is worth in excess of $66 billion. This includes commercial weight loss programs, pills, potions, food delivery services, diet foods and drinks. The weight loss industry also includes surgical interventions, medical weight loss programs (in-patient and out-patient), and, of course, weight-loss books advocating the diet-du-jour.

Fish in Copenhagen

Are any of these weight loss diets better than others?  By definition, a diet is doing something different than the usual. You’re changing from the “diet” that made you overweight to begin with (your “usual diet”) to one that is restrictive in some way, be it calories, carbs, fat or something else.

Research shows that they all “work”… temporarily. But what happens when you return to your typical eating patterns?

My husband and I once went on vacation, meeting up with friends we hadn’t seen in five years. ‘Carl’ (not his real name) looked great! He told us he’d lost 40 pounds and I complemented him. He said, “Susan, I went back on that diet worked for me in the past. I know what to do — I just have to do it.”

His “diet” was to banish fast food and stop snacking on junk. He drank water instead of soda. At home, instead of pasta with meat sauce, buttered bread and creamy salad dressings, he and his wife broiled salmon or chicken, replaced sauces with tomato salsa, and enjoyed home-made dressings made with fresh citrus, vinegar and olive oil, and herbs…they used this delicious marinade for salads and vegetables. He stopped eating ice cream after dinner, and ate fresh fruit…mainly melon, and berries.

Carl sought out restaurants where he could reliably eat healthfully. He made time for daily activity, not just a stroll, but deliberate activity, walking at a pace daily on the track or on his treadmill, his goal was for 30 minutes but he soon was doing more. He took the stairs, up and down. He bought a resistance band and maintained a 20-minute routine three times a week. His new lifestyle was a success! He felt great.

But over the course of our vacation week I noticed that what Carl was eating didn’t reflect what he’d said was his new healthy diet.

Biking in Haarlem

We were eating out for lunch and dinner every day. He ordered cheeseburgers and fries for lunch, and at dinner would choose cream sauces, extra cheese, and when the waiter brought bread, he’d slather on lots of butter or dip the bread into oil with each bite. If we passed an ice cream shop, he had to stop.

And each dinner ended with dessert, regardless of how much he ate, or how full he said he was. And he drank so many calories…juice at breakfast, regular soda, cocktails, beer, wine, and after-dinner dessert drinks too.

Our last evening together, we all enjoyed our dinners.  When it was time for dessert, Carl looked and me and said, “I know, but I decided that I wanted to take a vacation from my diet.”

The question is…can you take a vacation from your diet?  
When I leave my home, I take my diet with me — I’d miss it if I left it behind! My “usual diet” has allowed me to maintain my weight over all of these years, since I changed my diet when I was in my mid-20s.

When vacationing, I will enjoy some foods not normally on my menu, but that’s what makes vacations fun! But since I’m dining out often, I don’t abandon my diet, and I make choices that support my health wherever I happen to be.

Relaxing in Minerve Languedoc-Roussillon, France

I’d much rather enjoy my vacation and not return home carrying extra baggage. I’ve heard about folks who bring two sizes of clothes with them on vacation. They are planning on “pigging out” (their words, not mine!) and need larger sized clothes to wear on their way back home. Not me. I may have seconds if I want to, but I won’t overeat to the point of gaining too much weight — because losing weight by “dieting” is a drag, and it’s not easy. A single bad meal or skipping your resistance band training for a few days won’t undo your life or your health, but if you do it daily…

It’s not a secret — as we age, it’s harder to lose excess weight. And yo-yoing up and down the scale isn’t good for you either. A “quick weight loss diet” is a recipe for health disaster — you lose muscle mass along with fat, which makes it likely you’ll regain more quickly too. So, when you go on vacation, instead of abandoning your healthy habits, why not enjoy your adventure and good health too?

I once saw a t-shirt that said, “Been There, Done That.” That’s how I think about food. Sure, fat and sugar, especially in combination tastes good. But hey, been there, done that. Been overweight, tired, and frustrated.  I found that traveling can be fun without making it all about overeating.  I stick with foods that make you look and feel great too. Here are some suggestions, and feel free to add your healthy traveling tips in the comments below:

My Diet Travels With Me

Breakfast & Brunch: Make breakfast healthy, and enjoy the rest of the day. If you have a kitchen, or even if you’re in a hotel, it’s easy to eat healthfully.  Egg omelets with lots of veggies, or poached eggs, whole grain toast, and fruit are high-energy choices. I like hot oatmeal or cold (low sugar) cereal with fruit, plain yogurt or 1% milk. On our recent vacation in Barcelona, I had the best Greek yogurt I’ve ever tasted. Waffles and pancakes are typically made with bleached flour, and are vehicles for added fat, syrup and calories.

Somewhere in Europe.

Lunch: We’re just home from vacation in France, Holland, Denmark and Spain, and everywhere the fresh food was terrific. We typically ate breakfast at home (home exchange or Airbnb) and kept restaurant meals to dinner. For lunch, there’s no shortage of fresh sandwich shops. My favorite walking sandwich is a fresh baguette layered with salmon or stuffed with tuna, tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, drizzled with olive oil — heavenly. In Haarlem (The Netherlands) where we did a home exchange for two weeks, we found that the local Albert Heijn supermarkets had a variety of delicious and fresh take-away sandwiches and salads. I am hooked on their smoked salmon broodjes for less than $4 euros!

Dinner:  Learn the lingo — in every language, and make healthy choices while dining out.  In Spanish, grilled is a la parrilla or a la plancha, baked is horneado, and broiled is asado — and my three favorite words to avoid being disappointed if the fresh fish comes drowned with sauce — on the side — en al lado. Think about sharing, because portions are so large! Check out the appetizers, and maybe have one to start, and one for your entrée.  We loved Barcelona tapas bars, where you order, eat, talk, and if you’re hungry, you order another small plate.

Desserts: Check in with yourself at the end of the meal. How full are you?  Is there something that’s really special? Share and enjoy.

Living well means eating well, not “going on” a diet, or leaving your healthy life behind while vacationing. Bring your diet along, and don’t forget the fun things you do to keep fit. Take an occasional detour and enjoy a rich dessert or saucy steak. But this is your one and only life. Live it — fully and healthfully — and have more fun because you’re able to walk the streets of fascinating cities comfortably and with energy. Buy that new bathing suit…and don’t forget to pack your walking shoes!
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