Improving your health is like climbing a steep mountain
You’ve worked hard all year to improve your eating habits – use these 12 tips for eating on vacation.
You’ve given up favorite foods, cut back over-indulgence, and eaten enough green leafy things to open a farmers market.
You have scaled the nutrition challenge, one switchback at a time.
Now vacation is looming and you’re afraid that successful climb is going to turn into a pile of sand and send you rolling to the bottom of the hill.
But there’s no way you will pass up authentic tamales in Mexico, pasta in Italy and pastries in France – food is a big part of the joy of travel.
No backsliding allowed
We’ve been following a Ketogenic diet for 10 months. I’ve lost 20 pounds – and I’m sure not trying to find them!
Joint pain is gone, energy is high, and our tummies are happy and healthy.
However, we had no intention of giving that up as we traveled around Southwest USA.
Is it possible to enjoy eating on vacation without sabotaging your health?
Yes, it is.
The morning after we returned I removed every ounce of clothing – even my ponytail holder – let out my breath, and stepped on the scale.
My husband does not have a close personal relationship with bathroom scales – he can jump on fully clothed – with shoes. Imagine?
The results? Even after a moderate amount of indulgence, neither of us gained an ounce.
Read on to see how you can eat on vacation without sabotaging your health.
12 Tips for eating on vacation without sabotaging your health
1. Decide on your strategy ahead and make peace with food
What does ‘eating healthy on vacation’ mean to you?
Decide on a philosophy of food for this trip – what you will and won’t eat.
No way was I going to New Mexico without eating all the special, iconic, and local favorites.
Tamales, green chile cheeseburgers, Guy Fieri’s Motley Q sandwich, French food at the Paris hotel…
What I didn’t need to do was nosh all day in the car, eat tasteless bread and fill up on ho-hum foods.
2. Avoid known food triggers
Absolutely stay away from any food you are allergic to.
But also consider what causes you to feel blah, bloats your tummy, or makes you cranky?
We want to feel great on vacation, so will eating those foods be worth it?
Sugar is my trigger food, it does bad things to every part of my being.
I would venture that sugar is not an optimum choice for most people.
Therefore, I avoid it as much as possible – and when I do eat a sweet treat it’s going to be special, and at night, so I can sleep off the dazed coma-like trance.
Whatever food makes you feel less than your best, you’re in luck.
We are living in a time when food sensitivities and quirks are accepted and accommodated. It’s possible to cut out entire food groups and still eat well.
3. Split a meal
Best decision we made.
Restaurant portions are huge.
At first, we told ourselves we would order more if one plate wasn’t enough. Every single time we shared, we came away pleasantly full.
This worked especially well at lunchtime when we did not want to roll out of the restaurant and nap away the afternoon.
Besides cutting calorie intake, we saved money and avoided the hassle of leftovers.
Closely related are situations where you have control over your portions – start small – you can always go back for seconds.
4. Save it for later, enjoy it twice
If splitting a meal doesn’t work in your situation, set aside half your food and save it for later.
Most hotel rooms provide a mini-fridge and often a microwave. If you have a kitchenette available, all the better.
On a road trip, bringing (buying one if you have to) a small cooler will pay for itself.
Everyone has room in their suitcase for a few Ziploc baggies. These come in very handy.
5. Eat out once a day
It helps prevent over-eating and makes dining out a treat to savor.
Our pattern is to eat breakfast in – either the hotel breakfast buffet or foods we pick up at the grocery store.
Then I pack a meal in our cooler – this can be lunch or dinner, depending on the day’s activities.
It is very convenient to have food with us. If we are at a national park, hiking, or in a remote location we don’t have to leave to find food.
Pick a special spot to dine – find a beautiful view, a picnic table in a local park, overlooking the Grand Canyon – and make your picnics into memories.
6. The grocery store is your friend
In a foreign country, shopping can be an event in itself. If an open air market is nearby considered yourself fortunate.
I keep a list of potential grocery store eats on my phone so I don’t stand in the store with glazed over eyes – there are enough decisions to make while traveling.
Grocery stores have many healthy options. Granted, everyone will have a different definition of ‘healthy’, but a few of our go-to’s are; chicken and tuna in pouches, fruits, salads, lightly prepared foods in the deli case, nuts, yogurt, and soups.
Higher-end grocery stores, like Whole Foods, have an extensive selection of prepared options.
Dining in restaurants can get tiring. Some evenings we just want to pick up a roast chicken and salad and eat in our hotel room.
Check out our snack/road trip posts:
Road Trip Snacks – Packing Healthy
Ketogenic Hiking Snacks: Fueled by Fat
Hiking Snacks from Thrive Market
7. Eat salad in a bag
Salad bags deserve special mention. The variety at most grocery stores is incredible.
Buy a package of disposable bowls and grab a few forks from the deli counter.
You can mix all the ingredients right in the bag if necessary.
To make the meal more substantial, buy a piece of chicken or cooked salmon at the deli.
Eating a salad every day is a simple way to get a hearty serving of vegetables (and fiber).
Important on the road.
8. Navigate the breakfast buffet
We find that steering clear of sticky/sweet food in the morning makes for a better day.
At breakfast look for protein sources with a serving of healthy fat. This will sustain energy better than simple carbohydrates.
9. Liquid calories are sneaky
This is no different at home, but drinks of every kind seem to be a minefield on vacation.
Weigh your enjoyment carefully and make a conscious decision. If there’s something special you want to try, consider splitting it.
Most vacations involve activity, heat, and possibly high elevation – water is vital to avoid headaches, lethargy, and constipation.
Pack an empty water bottle and keep it filled.
If the water is not drinkable out of the tap, making it a priority to find safe, bottled water immediately when you arrive.
The more water you drink the less appealing sugary drinks will be.
10. Embrace a one-bite economy
Continuing to eat something, after you’re satisfied because you paid for it, is a false economy.
We don’t gain any more value from it except weight and unhappy digestion.
This is one of the hardest principles for me to follow. If something tastes good, I think I want more of it.
My birthday was near the end of our last trip. We spied a chocolate peanut butter piece of gooey goodness at the bakery. It seemed so right.
After savoring a small square, we threw the leftovers straight in the garbage.
Did we waste money?
No, we got our full money’s worth.
More would have literally stolen our enjoyment by making us sick.
If I could always remember that feeling…
11. Don’t like it? Don’t finish it
You paid for it, it’s on your plate, now you feel an obligation to eat it.
I ordered mole sauce one night, expecting the deep, rich sauce of a Mexican restaurant.
I didn’t realize mole roughly translates ‘any sauce the chef dreams up’. This chef thought raisins and slimy banana goo would improve a chicken enchilada.
After my initial shock, I scraped off as much of the banana as possible, trying to salvage my dinner.
I’m sorry unless you are an infant, it should be illegal for chicken and banana puree to touch each other.
I choked that meal down.
Adults are under no obligation to clean their plates.
In some cases, you are justified to send the food back. The mole assumption was on me, the cooking itself was not at fault, so I made the best of it.
Another option is to pick out the best parts, eat light, and enjoy something all the more later.
If you find yourself at a buffet, the grand-daddy of mediocre food, take small portions and only finish the dishes you truly enjoy.
12. Pick what’s special, leave the everyday
There is nothing unique about iceberg lettuce, white rolls, candy bars, and soda pop.
If you have the resources to read this blog post, thousands of foods are available to you every day of the year.
When traveling, focus on the rare treat, your absolute favorites, and things that are iconic or unique to the area.
Part of the joy and value of travel is memorable meals, new experiences, and expanding our palettes.
Make daring choices.
The chain restaurants will be there when you get home.
Don’t be bullied by food
Yes, vacations can throw up hazards on the path to healthy nutrition.
But eating on vacation also provides enjoyment, memories, and community.
Create a plan, employ a few strategies to keep eating in check, and savor every bite you do choose to put in your mouth. Don’t let eating well on vacation sabotage your health.
Quality over quantity.