Avoid Vacation Weight Gain: 5 Simple Rules

You can enjoy your vacation without packing on the pounds.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 30, 2007
4 min read

When you're on vacation, it's all too easy to abandon everything you know about eating healthfully -- and then return home unable to button your pants. But, experts say, it is possible to indulge in your favorite foods and beverages while on vacation without the resulting weight gain.

It's true that vacations are no time to try to lose weight -- but they don’t have to put an extra notch on your belt, either.

"Maintaining your weight is a realistic goal during your vacation getaway," says Dawn Jackson-Blatner, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

So before you order that extra pina colada at the swim-up bar, consider these five simple strategies to avoid vacation weight gain:

Vacations should be an opportunity to re-energize, refresh, and relax -- not an excuse to take a break from health. When planning your vacation, opt for locations that will allow you to engage in physical activities you enjoy. Keep in mind that physical activity is the ticket to enjoying extra calories without weight gain.

For example, Jackson-Blatner and her family look for locations where they can enter 5K races. "It’s fun, we love it, and we build our vacations around activities we can do together," she says.

If running is not your style, consider places where you can take walks or hikes, ride bikes, do water sports, or use the hotel tennis courts or gym.

Without work schedules making demands on your time, you should be able to fit in fun fitness activities every day. Walk the golf course, play basketball, swim, walk, kayak, bicycle, play tennis -- you name it, just do it for at least an hour each day.

When you travel, whether by plane, train, or automobile, be prepared with healthy food so you won’t have to eat whatever is available. Start the day with a nutritious breakfast, then pack easy and satisfying snacks or a small meal, such as a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato on whole-grain bread, a piece of fruit, and some cut-up veggies with hummus.

Delays and boredom are inevitable on the road, but these situations are not a reason to eat around the clock.

"Stick to a regular eating schedule so you are less likely to be tempted to eat high-calorie snacks and treats between meals," says American Dietetic Association president-elect Connie Diekman.

Eating out may pose the biggest challenge for avoiding vacation weight gain.

"At home, you know exactly what goes into the food you prepare. But in restaurants, it can be a mystery, and the only way to be sure it is prepared in a healthful manner is to ask questions and make special requests," says Diekman, also Washington University’s director of nutrition.

The key is to order simply prepared foods, such as baked, broiled. or grilled meats and fish.

"It is easy to control calories if you stay away from fried, crispy, or creamy foods; hold extras such as cheese and mayo; top salads with low-fat dressings; drink water instead of sodas -- simple things that can shave calories and make room for the special treats," says Blatner.

Another strategy is to rent a house equipped with a kitchen (or at least a barbeque grill) and access to a grocery store so you can prepare your own healthy foods and snacks.

Prefer not making beds or cooking? Request a refrigerator for your hotel room so you can store healthy snacks, such as low-fat yogurt, cheese, fruit, low-fat milk, smoothies, and veggies. Healthy snacks will help you manage hunger between meals so you won’t be ravenous when you go out to eat.

Even without a refrigerator, you can snack on healthy, shelf-stable foods like:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Trail mix
  • Cereal
  • Dried fruit
  • Low-fat crackers.
  • Single-serve containers of fruit
  • Peanut butter
  • Popcorn
  • Granola or cereal bars
  • Rice or popcorn cakes
  • Graham crackers

Deprivation is no fun when you're on vacation. Instead, "the name of the game is moderation when it comes to controlling calories from treats and alcohol," says Blatner.

So have one scoop of ice cream instead of the sundae, or split that decadent dessert with a dining companion.

When you drink alcohol, the calories add up fast, especially if you are downing those fancy drinks that come with an umbrella. So make a plan for when you'll drink alcoholic beverages and how much you will consume.

Diekman suggests alternating alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic, noncalorie beverages, so you'll stay well-hydrated and reduce your total calorie intake. And when ordering alcoholic drinks, opt for lower-calorie choices such as light beer, wine spritzers, wine, champagne, or spirits mixed with water or diet mixes.

Even when you're on vacation, portions count if you want to avoid weight gain.

"Enjoy small portions of whatever you like, [and] eat slowly so you taste the food and feel a sense of satisfaction, enjoyment, and relaxation of the vacation," suggests Diekman.

But keep in mind that lingering around the table can lead to overeating. She suggests moving the gathering away from the dining area to a porch, balcony or another location where you can enjoy the beauty of your vacation destination.

If you are among the many folks who like to sit around the table for hours, "remove the plates and food and keep the water glasses full so you are in control instead of the food and beverages controlling you," says Diekman.