Q: While I’m glad I get to vacation during the summer months, it really throws my diet off-track. How can I have fun without regretting it later?
A: You’ve worked hard and earned a vacation, and you want to enjoy it. At the same time, you’ve worked hard to develop a healthy lifestyle, and you don’t want all that effort undone by a few weeks of frenzied eating. You can have your vacation and eat, too. It just requires a shift in your thinking.
Many of us see vacation as a time to eat whatever we want and worry about the consequences later. But if you’re looking to maintain a healthy weight in the long run, dieting consistency is what counts. In other words, if you consistently follow a healthy diet—including on weekends, vacations and holidays—you are more likely to avoid gaining and regaining weight.1 So how do you eat well consistently on vacation when faced with mountains of restaurant food or calorie-laden airport snacks?
You simply need to approach eating on vacation the same way you approach the rest of your trip. You wouldn’t just show up at the airport or jump in the car without planning your destination, checking fares or looking up activities. Similarly, you need to do your healthy lifestyle research before you leave for your trip.
Developing a specific plan of action in advance is a vital step in achieving goals. Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer’s research shows that being specific about what you intend to do helps you stick to a goal—and makes that behavior more automatic.2 According to research by Helen W. Sullivan and Alexander J. Rothman, this works when it comes to healthy eating; in their study, people who planned to “eat more healthy snacks” (a specific goal) versus those who planned to “eat fewer unhealthy snacks” (a more vague goal) ended up having healthier diets.3
Consider how many days you will be on your trip and what your food options will be while you’re there. Use these suggestions to prepare for your food game plan:
• Research before you leave for your trip what healthy options are available. Thanks to the Orthodox Union’s far-reaching efforts, more than 500,000 kosher products are available in eighty countries. Most restaurants will be happy to fax or e-mail a menu. If you can pick out a few wholesome options, you’ll be ahead of the game when you get to the restaurant.
• Learn the lingo in advance. Foods that are baked, steamed, broiled, roasted or grilled are typically your healthiest bet. Stay away from those described with words like creamy, au gratin, fried, crispy, cheesy and super or deluxe—they’re usually loaded with extra calories and fat.
Healthy Foods to Bring on Vacation
• Whole-grain cereal (3/4 cup): 100 calories, 0.5 grams fat
• Oatmeal packets (1-ounce packet): 100 calories, 2 grams fat
• Low-fat and nonfat yogurt (6 ounces): 100-180 calories, 0-3 grams fat
• Hard-boiled egg (1 large): 75 calories, 5 grams fat (Make several before you leave home and keep them in your cooler for up to five days.)
Snacks:• Fruits (1 medium): 60 calories, 0 grams fat
• Vegetables (1 cup): 25 calories, 0 grams fat
• String cheese (1-ounce stick): 80 calories, 6 grams fat
• Low-fat granola bars (1.5-ounce bar): 180 calories, 6 grams fat (Check the sugar content!)
• Whole grain crackers (2-4 crackers, about 0.5 ounce total): 70 calories, 3 grams fat
• Whole-grain bread (1 slice): 80 calories, 1 gram fat
• Peanut butter (1 tablespoon): 90 calories, 8 grams fat
• Canned tuna, packed in water
(2 ounces): 60 calories, 1 gram fat
• Turkey breast or other lean deli meat (2 ounces): 60 calories, 1 gram fat
• Canned mixed vegetables (1/2 cup): 35 calories, 0 grams fat
• Canned beans (1/2 cup): 80-100 calories, 1-2 grams fat
• Restaurant portions are often large enough to satisfy more than one person, so before it is served, ask for half your entrée wrapped up to go. You can enjoy it for lunch the next day.
• Ask for your dish prepared the way you want it—sauce or dressing on the side, baked or steamed instead of fried, et cetera.
Bringing food from home:
• Many of the healthy foods you eat on a regular basis can be brought on your trip, so your diet doesn’t have to change much. If you bring simple breakfasts and lunches, you’ll only have to worry about dinner—which will save both calories and dollars!
• If you’ll be staying at a hotel, call ahead to request a refrigerator in your room. It’s a worthwhile investment. As a last resort, fill the ice bucket and store perishables in it overnight. If you’re traveling with a large group of people, consider renting a vacation home where you can have access to a kitchen—then brush up on your
• Don’t feel like shlepping food? Put together a full order of healthy foods and have it shipped to your destination so it’s waiting for you when you arrive.
But what if you didn’t plan ahead? We’ve all had those days when we pull into the rest stop starving, with no healthy food in sight. Which foods will do the least damage?
Since we live in the era of nutrition labels, this can be a no-brainer—as long as you keep the three most important criteria in mind:
Balance: Say no to licorice and other candies that are essentially plain sugar. Small packs of nuts, which are great for protein and have healthy fat, too (and they’re usually pareve, which is a nice bonus), are available at most rest stops and airports. If you’re lucky, there may also be a few kosher granola or protein bars.
Total calories: As a rule, keep calories from snack foods between 200 and 250—even if they’re loaded with healthy protein and fat.
Portion size: Resist the urge to buy the “value pack” chips or pretzels—stick to single serving (or at most two-serving) packages. Think of the extra cost as an investment in your health. As food researcher Dr. Brian Wansink has found, you will eat more if you buy the larger bag.4
Remember, the goal of vacations is to relieve stress, not to make your life more complicated. So take the extra time to plan your food beforehand—and then kick back and relax!
1. Amy A. Gorin et al., “Promoting Long-Term Weight Control: Does Dieting Consistency Matter?” International Journal of Obesity 28, no. 2 (2004): 278-281
2. Inge and Peter M. Gollwitzer, “Implementation Intentions: A Look Back at Fifteen Years of Progress,” Psicothema 19, no. 1 (2007): 37-42
3. “When Planning is Needed: Implementation Intentions and Attainment of Approach Versus Avoidance Health Goals,” Health Psychology 27, no. 4 (2008): 438-444
4. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (New York, 2006)
Shira Isenberg is a registered dietitian and writer. She has a master’s degree in public health nutrition from Hunter College in New York. Send your food- and nutrition-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.