The average American gains 0.7 pounds while on vacation, according to a 2016 study by researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens published in March in the journal, Physiology & Behavior.
While that doesn’t sound like much, the news when you drill down isn’t so great. Some of the 122 adults in the study gained as much as seven pounds. And that itty bitty three-quarters of a pound hadn’t gone away when the study participants were weighed six weeks after they returned home. It likely became another factor in what scientists call “creeping obesity,” the one to two pounds or more that you put on during holidays and vacations that sets up permanent residence and grows every year. It can push someone who’s just overweight into the obese category, upping health risks significantly.
So, how do you deal with vacation weight gain? It’s easier than you think. In fact, you can even avoid it. While two-thirds of the University of Georgia holiday-goers gained weight, a third didn’t. Here are eight strategies for following in their footsteps (plus help on how to lose weight after vacation if you don’t stay on the trim-down track):
1. Watch your alcohol intake.
In the University of Georgia study, many of the extra calories the participants were consuming came from alcohol. People who normally had eight drinks a week nudged it up to 16 over their vacations. The body doesn’t recognize liquid calories when it’s doling out appetite-suppressing hormones so you don’t generally cut back on eating to balance things out.
2. Stay active.
Don’t let your exercise routine take a holiday when you do. Most hotels and motels have fitness centers and pools. Cruising? Some cruise lines list the amount of time you need to walk around a deck to make a mile. Check yours out. Heading to the ocean? Walking on the beach burns almost twice as many calories as walking on a less giving surface because it requires two times as much energy to trudge through resistant sand. Walking around a new city to see the sights can burn more than 200 calories per hour, depending on your speed (which will more than take care of that extra glass of wine).*
3. BYO snacks and meals.
Take advantage of motel fridges to keep low-fat yogurts, cheese sticks and veggies handy so you have healthy options at your disposal. Invest in a cooler to keep in the car for road trips. Make your own healthy lunches so fast food isn’t your only option.
4. Order what you want—but only eat some of it.
No one wants to feel deprived when they’re on vacation, but it’s possible to indulge without overindulging. Whatever you order, whether it’s high-calorie steak or low-calorie lobster, eat slowly, savoring each bite, to give your body a chance to register the calories. It takes about 20 minutes of eating and drinking before your brain picks up the appetite and satiety chemicals that eating releases. Too tempting not to eat it all? Pass your plate around to your companions until there’s nothing left. If you’re staying in a rental home, enjoy the fun and intimacy of lingering at the table after a meal, but don’t let the dishes linger with you. Remove all food after you’re finished so you won’t be tempted.
5. Make special requests.
Dining out may be your biggest pitfall so making some smart and healthy requests may save you some major calories. Ask for salad dressing on the side or, better yet, request balsamic vinegar, which is a tasty dressing on its own. Avoid fried platters; most restaurants serve the same foods, like fish and shellfish, broiled or baked. If the menu item says it’s “creamy,” avoid it. Ask for simply prepared vegetables that aren’t floating in sauce or butter.
6. Weigh yourself the minute you get back.
One reason for “creeping obesity” is that you usually can’t see or feel a small weight gain of a pound or less. The only way to get rid of it is to be aware that it’s there and to jump back on the wagon until it’s gone.
7. Have a post-vacation plan ready.
If losing weight after a trip is a priority, have a week’s worth of meal ideas ready for when you return from vacation. Pick some of your favorites so you feel at least a little of that vacation indulgence. The important thing is to stay on the straight-and-narrow from the minute you get home. This will keep you from feeling guilty, which can lead to emotional eating (which will just lead to post-vacation weight gain).
8. Stay busy.
Figure you’re going to miss the daily ice cream treats, shipboard buffets and tropical drinks you enjoyed on vacation, so find something to distract yourself. Studies have shown that distraction—thinking or doing something other than eating or thinking about food—is an effective way to sidestep food cravings. It’s helpful to do a creative project with your hands, though just weeding the neglected garden might be enough. Or it could be even simpler: One study found that obese patients who tapped their forehead or ear with their index fingers when they were feeling cravings didn’t have them anymore.
*Calories burned estimates taken from www.health.harvard.edu on 6/22/2016, and are based on a 155 pound person.