Eating Well and Staying Healthy on Vacation

When on vacation, we often go into “vacation mode eating” which can mean eating whatever looks and tastes good. If you’re in a situation where rich, decadent food is present, and is culturally unique, it’s easy to sample everything because the same food-tasting opportunities may not be available at home. I thought I would share some observations mainly about eating habits during a vacation, rather than specific foods because that will differ based on where you are staying.  Keep in mind, during any vacation, try to aim for foods that aren’t fried and/or heavily processed. Keep portions sizes on the small side, since you’ll probably be dining out quite a bit (share your meal with your dinner pals or ask if you can have a half order of your meal), and be sure to follow these tips for a healthy vacation experience:

1.    Distinguish between whether you are tired from traveling, or actually hungry

Spending time in transit can be exhausting, especially if you’re waking up to catch an early flight.  If you are indeed tired, use that time spent on the plane to take a nap and if possible, hold off on eating a meal until you feel somewhat rested. If you still feel hungry after resting, eat a protein-rich snack, which unlike a carb-filled one, won’t make you feel even more tired.  Luckily, food concessions at airports are improving so look for a healthy snack before you board. Protein-rich snacks include yogurt, nuts, ½ a turkey wrap, a protein bar, or crudités with hummus.

2.    Avoid buffets or have a game plan.

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This was one breakfast I had while sampling the buffet. I had a heavier breakfast the following day, but prefer to not feel overly full from a heavy morning meal.

This may sound extreme because what fun is staying at a resort without dabbling in an all-you-can-eat food fest? But, buffets can be difficult for anyone who finds it hard to exercise portion control. Having a game plan of what you’re going to eat when at a buffet is a smart way to avoid feeling overly full and uncomfortable afterwards. Try to take small portions of the foods that most appeal to you. Don’t worry about sampling everything, the food will still be there when you’re done and if you’re physically not satisfied, then you can sample something else at a later time or at a later buffet visit.  If and when you want to sample dessert, try getting a few different things and sharing with your dinner companions.

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Dinner buffet pickings. (Clockwise) Top left is chicken fricassee, pastelon (a plantain topped-lasagna), a mini empanada, and grilled mahi mahi with mango topping.

3.    Treat yo self…in other ways besides food.

Vacations in general come with a feeling of indulgence, but eventually they come to an end and it’s not fun looking back at a trip and feeling guilty over food or feeling like you have to make up for what you ate. Some ways to experience enjoyment and relaxation are by laying out in the sun, getting a massage, taking a quiet walk by yourself, sitting in the hot tub or Jacuzzi, or buying yourself a souvenir.

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Relaxing poolside with two hotdogs (just kidding, those are my legs).

4.    If you drink, do so in moderation

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This was rum, mango and pineapple juices.

If you’re staying somewhere where frozen fruity alcoholic beverages are available, set a limit to what you’re going to drink beforehand. This will help minimize liquid calories (which aren’t filling) and also help your wallet (assuming you’re not at an all-inclusive resort). If you do decide to sample a bunch of tropical cocktails, you can alternate between the heavy cream and frozen fruit-based options (like a pina colada) and lighter choices (sangria or mojito).  Additionally, always have a cup of water between imbibing your cocktails to limit dehydration and avoid a hangover.

5.  Keep active

Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean you have to spend all of your time lying in a beach chair (although, I do love a good lounge day myself.) If your hotel has a fitness center, use it! Better yet, enjoy the sights and sounds of your vacation spot by having an outdoor exercise session.  A morning run, walk, or hike is one way to stay active while getting acquainted with your surroundings during your stay. If offered, find out what recreational activities your resort or city has to offer.

6.    Be realistic and stay flexible

You may not be able to eat 100% healthy but that doesn’t mean you should stuff yourself silly with an excessive amount of food or unhealthy food in general. Stick to whatever fresh, whole foods are available and if something less healthy appeals to you, enjoy it in moderation.

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Octopus salad and cod ceviche. If available, stick to fresh whole foods like these.

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Sweet potato fries, which are just slightly healthier than regular fries, and grilled chicken skewers are a good way to indulge a bit while keeping health in mind.

How else do you stay healthy on vacation?

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