Your ultimate guide to eating on vacation

Quick note from Katie: Welcome to my site -- I'm so glad you're here! If you're feeling frustrated about your eating and like you're in a total food funk ("Why do I keep doing this to myself! I know what I should be doing around food!") and could use some support in a specific, actionable way, check out my exciting new Food Crisis Care Packages. 

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And now back to regularly scheduled programming...


Ah, summer vacations.

We look forward to it all year.

And yet, if we’re unhappy about our eating or our weight, vacations can be so stressful! There are new people who we don’t usually see, who can criticize our appearance. There are new and tempting foods, and since we’re on vacation, we often feel like we deserve to eat anything we want. And our schedules are totally off!

To combat that problem, I wanted to make you a vacation + eating survival guide. I even made you a fun worksheet (at the end of this post) that you can print out and stash in your bag, so you can have it with you on vacation.

I hope you enjoy! And send me pictures from your tropical island or your grandparents’ farm or wherever you happen to go!


The Vacation + Eating Survival Guide, 2015

 

1. Set an intention

We often have goals when we go on vacation:

I want to go to the Louvre and see the Arc de Triomphe!
I want is to sit on the beach and read magazines and not go anywhere!
I want to hike every day and binge watch Netflix every night!

But too often, we don't think about goals for our eating on vacation. (Or if we do, it's something totally unrealistic like "I won't eat sugar." Yeah, I've tried that. And even though I managed to stick to it for the whole vacation, I left feeling deprived. My mother still talks about that vacation, and how it was a bummer for her, too, that I wasn't eating sugar. So let's not do that to ourselves). 

I find that setting an intention is a much gentler form of goal setting; it’s a way about being thoughtful about how I want to take care of myself. And if food + vacation are sometimes a very dicey pair, it can be a smart move.

What could an intention look like for you? Here are some options:

I want to have a chocolate crepe whenever I want them, but mostly end my meals feeling gently satisfied, not overly stuffed.

I want to have a pina colada every night, but also end the trip not feeling gross in my body.

You may have noticed that my example intentions all seem to have food in them.

That’s because I freaking love food, and you can bet that if there’s amazing food on a vacation, I’m going to want to have some (see #2 below). But it is equally important to me that I end a vacation not feeling completely gross in my body, frustrated with myself, and panicky because my pants are tight and maybe I should go on a cleanse the week I get back.

You know?

Setting an intention helps you focus on what your food-related goals are for vacation. It helps you remember to both enjoy yourself and keep yourself feeling balanced.

 

2. Enjoy yourself.

This might go without saying, but you are on vacation! I believe that you should enjoy your eating 365 days a year. But particularly when you are on vacation, are you seriously not going to have pasta in Italy or a pina colada at the beach?

That’s just not how I want to live.

Remember: Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Be willing to be surprised about what you should eat.

 

3. Do what you need to do to help yourself feel safe.

Yes, it’s important to enjoy food on vacation. But you also may have some fears or anxieties that come up around vacation food:

If I don’t eat now, I won’t get to eat again for hours.
I’m so nervous I won’t find anything to make myself feel good at the restaurants here.
What if my family/friends/partner don’t want to stop, but I’m starving? Maybe I should eat everything in sight now.

Yes, all of these concerns are real, understandable issues, and I want to write more about them in future blog posts. But for now, I want to say that it’s fine to do what you have to do to feel safe.

To give a personal example: bringing a bag of almonds, a few pieces of fruit, and (let’s be honest) a chocolate bar in my bag when I head out of town makes me feel safe. I know that I don’t have to overeat at meals because if I get hungry, I have a snack on hand. If the meals that are available are more junk-y than my body needs, I can even stop far before I’m full, and make up the rest with a healthy snack. And, most importantly, I don’t have to gorge on sweets that I see when I’m out, because I have something tasty at home if I want it later.

But you do you. You know?

 

4. Make sure that you get enough time to veg and relax.

This one might not seem like it’s about food, but it’s definitely about food.

Vacations can involve a lot of wonderful, exciting, and stimulating people and experiences – things you just can’t get at home.

But all of this wonderful and exciting and stimulating stuff can also be…well, tiring. That can be particularly problematic if the normal ways that you recharge – by being alone in the evening, for example – are disrupted by the rhythms on vacation. And sometimes vacation involves spending a lot of time with people who, though they love us, may stress us out.

Why is this about your eating? If you are drained and overwhelmed, you may look to food to give you some juice back, or numb out your anxiety.  But if you take care of yourself first, you make it so much easier to eat in a way that cares for yourself.

So now is the time, more than ever, to be proactive about your boundaries and making sure you get quiet relaxation time.

I know this can feel awkward or weird to tell to your family or friends or traveling companions, especially if you’re in an amazing new city with many sights to see, but I find that everyone around me is often surprisingly willing to cooperate with my need to decompress when I ask for it directly. It can be as simple as saying something like, “You know, I am so excited to do {activity} with you, but just to make sure I have enough juice for the afternoon, I’m going to need to recharge for a bit. I’ll see you again at {time}.”

They might even be thankful that you suggested it.

 

5. Plan ahead for the transition back to regular life.

The transition back from vacation is just as important as the vacation itself. If your first day back you are frantic and exhausted and stressed, it will feel like your vacation never even happened.

And it’s so easy for that to occur. After all, work has piled up at your job, and your friends may have been trying to make plans with you, so you schedule hang-outs for the day you get back.

But if you can, I’d strongly recommend that you be thoughtful about the transition. If you can, plan to have an extra day to be home and rest and buy groceries before going back to work. If you can push back plans with your friends for a few extra days, do that too.

Think of yourself like the cruise director of your own life: a good cruise director puts in lots of fun activities, but also makes sure that the transition back to the mainland is smooth, and that everyone has time to take naps and get snacks and doesn’t feel rushed.

Well, I’ve never been a cruise director, so I don’t exactly know. But that’s the kind of cruise I’d like to be on.

 

6. Stay aware while you’re on vacation

It’s easy to turn our brains and body-awareness off while we’re on vacation, and feel terrible about ourselves once we are back at home.

It’s like suddenly I woke up and realized that I was eating dessert four times a day for the past week. I feel terrible and my pants are tight.

The only solution to this is a bit of a boring one, I’m afraid.

You have to stay aware.

You can’t desert yourself.  

But it doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be arduous. In fact, I made you a handy dandy printable for just this purpose!

Download it here. It has a few simple questions that you can ask yourself each night to reflect on how your eating (and day) went, and what you can do the next day to take good care of yourself. Print out a few copies and stash them in your suitcase so you can fill them out each night – just bringing awareness can be invaluable.

 

I’d love to hear from you! Which of these ideas would you like to try? Do you have anything else that you’d suggest?