We know the deal: You’ve been good all year long, and now that you’ve finally earned that well-deserved PTO, you want to relax and enjoy all of your favorite foods — burgers, hot dogs and ice cream included. You’re on vacation, after all. But as anyone who’s attended a few gluttonous family barbecues, weddings and cocktail parties can attest, staying healthy this time of year is no picnic. But that’s not to say it’s impossible to stay healthy and fit while on holiday. No, you don’t have to be on a “diet,” count calories or even work out at the gym every day, but you can still make smart choices, setting yourself up to get back into the swing of things when summer is over. Already been a bit too indulgent? We’ve got tips for recovering post-vacay.
RELATED: 8 Ways to Actually Unplug on Vacation
How to Avoid Vacation Pitfalls
First, the honest truth. “It’s tough to do much about the external challenges that come with vacations,” says Jennifer Major, RD, a Noom health coach. “You can tell your friends and family that you’re trying to be healthy on this vacation until your face turns purple, but things are still unlikely to change that much,” she says. The good news is there are things you can do ahead of time to make healthy choices easier, and it starts in your head.
When we go on vacation, Major says, we tend to fall into one of two traps. We either think things have to be all or nothing — we go crazy with indulgent foods and take a complete break from exercise — or we believe weight gain is unavoidable. Instead, she suggests setting a goal for how you’d like the vacation to go, accounting for the challenges you’ve encountered in the past. For example, if you have a habit of loosening your goals from Memorial Day to Labor Day, set new expectations for yourself. While you might not be in a position to lose weight, you can aim to maintain it instead.
RELATED: 9 Travel-Sized Fitness Essentials
Here are a few more practical tips Major and fitness expert Sarah Ann Kelly, founder of MomTrainer.com.
Pitfall #1: You let yourself go hungry.
The Fix: If you have a full day of activities planned, be sure to pack a few healthy snacks so you’re not reaching for empty cals mid-afternoon. Think: whole-grain crackers and natural peanut butter, low-fat string cheese, a bag of trail mix, or some hummus and veggie sticks.
Pitfall #2: You make exercise a chore.
The Fix: Hotel gyms make exercise more convenient, but if you don’t have access to one, there are other ways to easily squeeze in a sweat session. For starters, research activities you can do with the rest of your group at your destination. Some ideas include yoga, SUP, kayaking, hiking, swimming and biking. “You’re less likely to bail on your workout if you can get it in with friends,” says Kelly.
Pitfall #3: You don’t make time to work out.
The Fix: Make exercise an appointment that’s impossible to back out of. Check when the hotel gym opens, and set your alarm clock to wake up before your vacation mates (or convince them to join you!). You can also lay out your workout clothes the night before, so when you see them in the a.m. there are no excuses. If your prefer evening workouts, make an exercise date with yourself before dinner to hit the gym. A couple mojitos by the pool may sound more appealing than that run you planned, but if you think of it is an unbreakable appointment, you’re more likely to do it.
RELATED: The 10 Best Healthy Meals at the Airport
Pitfall #4: You go overboard on unhealthy foods.
The Fix: “Approach your food choices on a trip like you do your budget,” says Major. “Most likely, you choose a couple of meals — or maybe just one — to eat at a more upscale joint (and have the rest of your meals at more affordable restaurants). You can treat your food choices similarly.” Set your default mode to ‘healthy,’ and splurge sparingly.
Pitfall #5: You set high expectations for your workouts.
The Fix: Even if it’s just going for a walk on the beach, 10 to 15 minutes of activity a day is better than nothing, Kelly says. “You’ll be more likely to hop back in the gym after you return, and you won’t have too much to bounce back from if you never left your routine,” she says. Keep in mind that your vacation workout doesn’t need to be as fancy as your usual gym routine. Kelly recommends rotating through a few simple bodyweight exercises for 3 sets of 20 reps each.
RELATED: 3 HIIT Workouts to Take to the Beach
How to Break Through a Vacation Plateau
Whether you’ve been stuck on a plateau for weeks, or you just had one indulgent weekend, getting back on track doesn’t have to be impossible. First, take stock of where you are. That can include weighing yourself, but “don’t freak out,” Major insists. “You certainly aren’t the first person to overdo it on vacation, don’t assume all is lost,” Kelly adds.
Next, set yourself a short-term goal. While you may ultimately want to drop 20 pounds or bench press your bodyweight, establish a goal that just pertains to your vacation recovery. Maybe it’s getting back to your pre-summer weight, or being able to run a couple miles without feeling winded. Find someone who can keep you accountable to this goal, whether that’s a professional, like a nutritionist or fitness trainer, or just a supportive friend.
RELATED: Weight Fluctuation: What’s Normal, What’s Not
Once you’ve established your action plan, there’s nothing left but to go after it. Start taking steps like returning to your favorite workout class and stocking your fridge with fruits and veggies. Both of our experts pointed out that patience, here, is a virtue. It may take a week or a month to feel back to normal, depending on how long you’ve been away from your usual healthy routine.
But most importantly, Major suggests using these slip-ups as a learning opportunity. Think about what you might do differently in the future. Moreover, consider whether your diet and exercise regimen is sustainable. You might even want to ask yourself ‘Why am I following a diet or exercise regimen that I need to take a vacation from entirely?’