Sunday, August 11, 2013

Surviving Vacation

When trying to lose weight or just trying to start a new set of healthy eating and exercise habits, the prospect of going on vacation can be nerve racking.  Many a cruise or cross country drive has seen the end of people's good intentions and resolutions to become a healthier person.  Routines are demolished, temptation is everywhere, and the "hey I'm on vacation" mentality comes home to become "I've ruined my diet again, why bother."  It doesn't have to be that way.  A vacation is supposed to be a fun time to relax, recharge and have new experiences.  That doesn't have to translate to eating everything in site and filling up on regret.  There are two ways I look at vacation survival tactics and unfortunately to choose what works best for you requires a bit of self analysis.

Sloppy Joe's in Key West
The first tactic is to go a little bit crazy; I emphasize little.  You've been diligently working on eating healthy, cutting out processed junk, exercising and counting calories; you deserve a bit of a reward.  Believe it our not, there's pretty good science behind why this may even be a benefit if your goal is fat loss.  Vacations, presumably, don't last forever and this week of splurging a bit isn't going to derail all the good work you've done.  Bring along some healthy options for breakfast to start your day off right, and then enjoy your lunch and dinner.  Even treat yourself to a couple deserts.  It is important to be prepared with what's going to happen when you get home.  You will gain weight.  Sometimes, depending on your body type and muscle mass, your level of fitness and just how crazy you get, up to 10 lbs.  "Wow," I can hear you saying.  "How is this a good plan?"  Well, the thing is, a lot of that weight is water weight.  Processed foods hold onto water and certainly don't have the healthy cleansing benefits of whole natural foods.  If you've started a weight loss or healthy diet, think back to that first week when the scale plummeted and then seemed to screech to a slow crawl.  That was water weight.  The remainder of those 10 lbs won't be around long either.  Increasing your calorie intake for a short period when consuming a calorie deficit diet provides sort of a shock to your body, revving your metabolism and helping to shed more fat in the period following.  Keep in mind that your body is built for survival and in the face of caloric deficit it will eventually start to slow its metabolism in an effort to conserve energy for whatever dire circumstances it believes you are living through.  Along with exercise, an occasional increase in calories sends the message that it's okay to use its stored energy; the apocalypse is not in fact here.  And don't forget, your weight is only the most basic of tools when determining a healthy body composition.  Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson are really heavy guys, but I wouldn't call them overweight or fat. 

Hike at Yellowstone
The second tactic is where we get into those tough questions I mentioned in the beginning.  While everything I wrote above might sound great, the brutal truth of obesity is that many people are overweight, not because they have been lazy and ignoring their health, but due to compulsive, addiction fueled behavior and disorders.  According to the National Eating Disorder Association, over 30 million Americans suffer from eating disorders.  That is a big number.  It is important first of all, if you believe you have an issue get help.  Talk to someone and see your doctor.  You are certainly not alone and eating disorders come with a myriad of health problems that can lead to very serious consequences.  This blog is meant to be inspirational and informative, not a replacement for actual medical advise.  To someone with an eating disorder, or even with just a problem with self control and willpower, the first tactic for vacation survival can be disastrous and the costs far outweigh the benefits.  If you find yourself turning a cheat meal into an all out binge.  If you decide that you're going to have a single piece of cake, for instance, but find you can't stick to that decision after the first slice.  If you frequently tell yourself that your diet is ruined because of an indiscretion and then use those thoughts as an excuse to eat poorly.  If you frequently find yourself extending a cheat meal by the telling yourself that another cookie or bag of chips won't hurt.  Then you need to take a different tactic: plan, prepare, persevere.
You need to plan the eating portion of your vacation just as you would the hotel, travel and activities.  Use the old Google machine of your choice and find out what restaurants are around your hotel.  Look them up and find what healthy options are available.  Know, before you arrive, where you are going to eat and what you are going to order.  Actually write your plan down.  Pack healthy options for snacks along with your bathing suit and underwear, or if that is not practical, visit a grocery store after you get settled and purchase some.  Even if your room doesn't have a refrigerator, fruits, nuts, air popped popcorn, they can all be kept in your room for the duration of your stay without a problem.  The important mental trick here, is to separate the idea of vacation and food.  The truth is, food is fuel.  That's its entire purpose.  The fact that it tastes good is only a happy side effect of evolution.  It's time to sever the idea that fun events are accompanied by eating.  It's not easy.  It is ingrained in many of our cultures.  Food is almost always the social, familial, and celebratory center of any event.  It doesn't have to be and if you know that you have issues with will power, it is really important to work on changing that aspect of your outlook.  Make a plan and don't deviate.  When you get home, you'll find that the memories you made on your vacation will still be there.  You'll just be missing the guilt and the compulsion to keep eating like you're on vacation.
End of Run at my Alma Matter

The last thing I'll mention is exercise.  Even on vacation, you can't possibly need to sit on the beach all day long in order to recharge your batteries.  In fact if you plan some physical activity, not only will you find yourself less likely to overeat and less reluctant to start up again when you get home, but you will find that your vacation in general will be much more successful.  Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain, engages the body's natural endorphins and helps regulate our hormones.  This results in elevation of mood and brain cognition,  relief of stress, and a decrease in depression.  So add some walking tours, hikes and physical adventures to your vacation.  You will come home even more relaxed and recharged, and maybe with even a few great stories to tell.    


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