9 Ways to Take Your Diet on Vacation

Food and travel don't have to add up to diet disaster.

6 min read

When you take a trip, does your diet go on vacation, too? Many people use vacations as an excuse to live it up by eating rich foods they don't normally eat, or eating supersize restaurant portions all day long.

There are three reasons why eating in restaurants, as we tend to do most of the time while traveling, is so dangerous for your diet:

  • Restaurants often serve large portions, and we tend to eat more when more food is in front of us.
  • Restaurant menu items are often high in calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and low in fiber.
  • At restaurants, you usually have no idea how many calories or grams of saturated fat are in the dishes you order.

But it is possible to enjoy your vacation and the local food without packing extra pounds for the trip home. The secrets: choose foods wisely, make "moderation" your vacation mantra, and stay as active as possible during your trip.

When you arrive at your destination, ask the hotel concierge or local residents what restaurants are nearby and what type of food they offer. Or, check out the local tourist restaurant guide; hotels often have these as do airport information booths.

Better yet, investigate your eating options before you go. Email or call the concierge of your hotel and ask for restaurant suggestions. If possible, look these restaurants up online to see what their menu choices are. (Of course, if you've got Internet access via your phone, you can look this up during your trip.)

Here are more tips to help you take your diet on vacation:

To save both calories and money during your trip, try "eating in" for one meal a day. Pack some tried-and-true breakfast options in your luggage, like lower-sugar instant oatmeal, whole-grain breakfast cereal, power bars or breakfast bars (look for brands lower in sugar and saturated fat but high in protein and fiber). You can also find a local market and stock up on fresh fruit to have in your hotel room for breakfast and snacks.

You don't need hundreds and hundreds of calories from beverages on top of the extra calories you'll be consuming from food. The good news is there are usually plenty of no-calorie drink options at most restaurants. Ask for lemon or lime for your glass of ice water or order unsweetened hot or cold tea, coffee, sparkling water, club soda, or diet soda.

The bad news is that alcohol can be a diet disaster when you're on vacation. Many of us tend to drink more while on vacation -- perhaps frozen margaritas by day and a few glasses of wine by night. Each alcoholic drink can tack on about 150 to 450 calories.

It doesn't make sense to deprive yourself of enjoyable foods while you're on vacation. Instead, downsize your portions by ordering from the kids' or junior menu, or ordering an appetizer instead of an entree. You could also split an entree with your dining partner, or save half for another meal and stash it in the hotel refrigerator.

1. Ask how a dish is prepared and served. Then, you can request that your selection be prepared or served differently, if necessary. For example, meats that are fried can often be ordered grilled instead.

2. Ask for sauces, gravies, and dressings to be served on the side so you can use a modest portion.

3. Ask that your entree be served with fresh vegetables (no butter or sauce, please) or a side salad instead of the usual french fries.

4. Request whole grains whenever possible. Some restaurants offer 100% whole-wheat bread and buns, whole-grain blend pasta, tortillas, and steamed brown rice.

Look for opportunities to order dishes that include high-nutrient, high-fiber fruits and vegetables. Entree salads or side salads made with spinach or romaine lettuce are a fun way to get your vegetables. If you're ordering something like a shrimp or chicken quesadilla, you can ask the restaurant to add some grilled vegetables.

Consider this: Half of the fat grams in Arby's Southwest Chicken Wrap or Ultimate BLT Wrap come from the ranch sauce or mayonnaise.

Some types of condiments are super-high in calories and fat, especially creamy sauces and spreads like mayonnaise. Opt for condiments that contribute less than 25 calories per serving, like catsup, marinara, mustard, or BBQ sauce.

Make it a point to enjoy seafood when you eat out. It's a great way to get your weekly dose of fish and their heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But there is a catch -- avoid battered and fried fish dishes. Instead, look for grilled (and non-buttered) selections. If the fish dish comes with a sauce, just order it on the side.

If you're famished when you sit down at the restaurant, those table munchies -- like bread, crackers, or chips -- will be looking really good. But these little bites can add hundreds and hundreds of calories, and fill you up before your meal ever arrives. So tell your server you don't want any or order a no-calorie beverage and a salad or healthy appetizer instead.

Part of being on vacation is enjoying life, and part of enjoying life is ordering dessert when you really want to. If your meal has left you satisfied, you can take your dessert with you and enjoy it later when you are hungry again. You can also share your dessert with one or more dining partners, either at the table or later on.

Often it's the first few bites that we most enjoy anyway. So aim for satisfying your dessert craving with a handful of bites that you take the time to savor.

Whether you're on the road or in the airport, it seems like just about anywhere you go, you'll find fast food. This can be a good thing; where else can you feed a family of four with a $20 bill? Plus you know what to expect from familiar fast-food chains.

Here are some of the more healthful, low-calorie menu choices at some popular fast-food chains. Keep in mind that most fast-food chains have web sites, so it's easy to look for healthier options before you hit the road.

Calories Fat Sat. Fat Protein Fiber


Jack in the Box Breakfast

Jack 287 12 g 4 g 6 g 1 g

Burger King Ham Omelet

Sandwich 290 12 4.5 g 13 g 1 g

McDonalds Egg McMuffin 300 12 g 5 g 18 g 2 g

McDonalds Hotcakes

(no syrup or margarine) 350 9 g 2 g 8 g 3 g

Calories Fat Sat. Fat Protein Fiber


Chick-fil-A Chargrilled

Chicken Sandwich 260 3 g 0.5g 27 g 7 g

KFC Tender Roast Sandwich

(no sauce) 300 4 g 1.5 g 34 g 0 g

KFC Honey BBQ Sandwich 310 4 g 1 g 23 g 1 g

KFC OR Filet Sandwich

(no sauce) 370 12 g 2.5 g 25 g 2 g

Burger King BK Big Fish Sandwich

(no tartar sauce) 460 13 g 2.5 g 23 g 3 g

Calories Fat Sat. Fat Protein Fiber


Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Garden

Salad (no dressing) 170 6 g 3.5 g 22 g 4 g

Arby's Chopped Farmhouse Grilled

Chicken Salad (no dressing) 229 11 g 6 g 20 g 2 g

Chick-fil-A Southwest

Chargrilled Salad 240 9 g 4 g 25 g 5 g

McDonalds Bacon Ranch Salad

w/ Grilled Chicken (no dressing) 260 9 g 4 g 33 g 3 g

Carl's Jr Charbroiled Chicken Salad

(low-fat balsamic dressing) 285 10.5 g 2.5 g 29 g 4 g

McDonalds Southwest Salad w/

Grilled Chicken (no dressing) 320 9 g 3 g 30 g 6 g

Taco Bell Fresco Style Zesty

Chicken Border Bowl

(no dressing) 350 6 g 1.5 g 19 g 10 g

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for WebMD and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.