How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain (And Still Have a Great Time)

avoid holiday weight gain

How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain (And Still Have a Great Time)

If you’re worried about gaining weight like a baby blue whale on your next holiday, listen up! I start to feel bloated and sluggish just thinking about poolside cocktails and five-star hotel buffet breakfast pastries. Really, who wants to spend their holiday feeling ‘blah’ and needing a serious detox, or new wardrobe, every time you get home? Not me, and hopefully not you either. So here’s how to avoid holiday weight gain (and by weight, I mean body fat), while still having a great time.

And no, it’s not all green smoothies, sunrise yoga and raw vegan restaurants (although that will definitely help). I’m talking basics to maintain your healthy lifestyle on the road. While I was partial to a classic diet fad in my early twenties (who wasn’t?), now that being healthy is a lifestyle, I tend to treat holidays in much the same way. Unlike the ‘all or nothing’ crowd, I don’t think of vacations as a time to fall right off the wagon.

I know that traveling outside of your natural environment and maintaining the same healthy habits can sometimes be a challenge. That’s where this posts fits in. My top tips for returning home without the excess baggage. Here’s what you can do:

1. Pack healthy snacks.

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If you’re tired, hungry and struggling to read menus in foreign languages, healthy snacks might just save you from thinking chicken nuggets and chips from McDonalds is a good decision. It never is. I would know. I like to have some healthy snacks in my bag, especially when in transit on planes, trains or buses.

Here are some of my favourites: superfoods, nuts and seeds mixes, 70-80% dark chocolate, coconut oil in a small 100ml bottle to mix into hot tea, health food bars, fruit, a green juice, tinned fish (not good for flights because of the smell but great for eating a really healthy snack in the park – canned tuna and a few macadamia nuts anyone? It’s delish!) and packaged salads. I like to also bake vegan gluten-free muffins, superfood balls, etc that don’t need to be kept in the fridge.

And I can’t talk about snacks without discussing the importance of (healthy) fat bombs for emergencies. These are a staple in my travel bag and really help you avoid crazy orders when you get starving and feel like you can eat everything in a restaurant. Fat bombs are high fat snacks, like the ones mentioned above: nuts and seeds or 1 tbsp of coconut oil tipped into a cup of tea or coffee. They curb hunger slightly so you can clear your head and make good food choices from a menu when you’re on the road.

One more snack tip: have a travel spork (spoon and fork combo) and tissues in your handbag. It makes life soo much easier when you’re on the move and need to tuck into a salad or fish can.

2. Choose accommodation with a kitchen.

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Eating out three times a day doesn’t normally work well for us (or our waistlines). And the cost can also really start to add up if you’re eating well and avoiding fast junk food in Western countries. That’s why we love staying in apartments that allow us to make and prepare our own healthy meals at least some of the time. Even if you have a quick breakfast each morning before heading out to explore you’re giving yourself a great start to the day, and you will save a little cash.


Sites like AirBnb or hotel apartments are our go-to options (if you’re not on AirBnb, you can use our referral link HERE and save $AUD50 off your first booking). I always look for a fridge and a microwave or stove top when on the hunt for accommodation. If there’s an oven then that’s a bonus.

3. Find grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

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If you’ve followed the advice above (see #2) and are staying in a self-catering apartment, local markets and grocery stores are the perfect place to stock your holiday apartment pantry with fresh and local products. It’s another great way to keep your bank balance up and your waistline down. You may also discover fruits and veggies you’ve never heard of before, like Grenadilla in Peru, or jujube in China.

Here are a few of my staples:
> Breakfast: we love a quick breakfast of fresh local fruit, nutty paleo granola or porridge, coconut yoghurt/milk and plant-based protein powder (for longer stays). You may like to mix some chia seeds into your coconut yogurt the night before. Or you can get your cook on and whip up some bacon, eggs and avocado or other veggies in a frypan on the cooktop if you have one.
> Lunch and dinner: a staple for us is pre-cooked BBQ chicken, or of you have a BBQ or cook top you can cook up some steak, fish or mince/burger meat, microwave frozen veggies or DIY salads, fresh soups that are reheatable, healthy microwavable fresh or frozen meals for emergencies and a small bottle of olive or coconut oil for cooking oil and as a healthy dressing.
> Essentials: clingwrap, microwavable containers and/or ziplock bags to keep leftovers fresh if you’re staying in the one place for a few days. Some accommodation provide these for you to use.

Sail Croatia Holiday Weight Gain

Local produce market in Split, Croatia.

4. Research restaurants.

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Do some research before you arrive and have a shortlist of restaurants you’d love to try. Most cities don’t have top rated healthy restaurants on every corner, so the risk of ending up in a fast-food chain increases drastically without an idea of where to eat.

A quick Google search for ‘healthy restaurants in [City]’ is the first place I start. If that doesn’t turn anything up, you can try ‘organic restaurants in [City]’. If you follow a way of eating, like paleo or vegan, searching these usually turns up something. Yelp, TripAdvisor and HappyCow are also great resources. Google Maps is awesome too. You can search in the map and all the local eateries with ratings will show up. If you’re in a developing country, it’s also wise to scan the reviews for reports of food poisoning and hygiene practices.

5. Stay hydrated to avoid fake hunger.

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We often feel hungry or crave sweet foods when we’re dehydrated. This becomes particularly important to understand when traveling as airplanes, hotel rooms and walking around ancient ruins in the midday sun can all be very dehydrating. So before you go emptying your wallet in an Italian pizzeria for the third night in a row, bring a water bottle and drink up!

My 1L water bottle goes with me everywhere and is perfect for staying hydrated and weighing down my handbag/backpack for an unwanted incidental workout on the run. I use a Bobble bottle which has a filter. Just empty it out and remove the filter top from the bottle while moving through airports and other places where you’re not allowed to carry large quantities of liquids. But if you’re worried about needing to remove dodgy bugs from your water in developing countries, then the Seychelle Fill2Pure stainless steel water bottle, or more comprehensive filtration products from LifeStraw  are brilliant options.

6. Explore on foot.

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I find that the extra amount of walking I do on holiday more than makes up for the indulgences along the way (see #8 below). Whether it’s skipping the tube and walking from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben or jumping on a walking tour with a local, nothing beats exploring the streets of a new city on foot. See more sights, burn more calories… it’s win win.

7. Get active for a better experience.

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Beyond walking the streets, lots of places offer unique opportunities to get active and explore more of what’s on offer. And I’m not talking long sessions in the hotel’s pool bar. Think kayaking in Noosa or cycling through Central Park. Not only does this type of exercise help your metabolism, it also gets you outdoors and exploring. And as a bonus, the chemicals released by your brain during exercise will make you feel awesome. So it’s win, win, win.

Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Cycling in Central Park – Fall, 2013. It was freezing!

8. Indulge mindfully.

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Just because you’re a healthy traveler, doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in macarons on the Champs-Élysées or turkish delight in the Grand Bazaar. That is, in fact, one of the many benefits of eating healthy 80% of the time – for the rest you can cut yourself some slack, guilt-free and without worrying about your waistline.

The trick when traveling is to indulge mindfully. That means choosing your local delicacies intentionally and enjoying every bite. These meals are to be savoured, not rushed. When a place is famous for a dish or drink, it’s not about calories, it’s about the experience; the history, the preparation process, the taste, texture and smells. Quality, not quantity.

We’re not big alcohol drinkers but when in Porto… We did do a tour to learn about the history and sample some of their vintage Port, which was super smooth and delicious. We were basically connoisseurs when the night was through!

If you’re going to be in the one location for an extended period of time, then I space out my eating indulgences. One day we might try out something from a bakery, the next we’re into the gelato, then the markets, and the next we’re testing out a 3-course meal from a restaurant that serves traditional food. If you have any sort of stomach issues this really helps to not place too much stress on the system in one day.

Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Those macarons on the Champs-Élysées I mentioned…

9. Order smart.

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Just like at home, follow the basics of healthy eating when traveling. Find your vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains and avoid fried foods and processed junk. Don’t be afraid to be a little high maintenance when you can and order what will work for you and your health.

When eating out, I generally order a side salad or some grilled veggies to make sure I am getting some healthy stuff in there. Jesse and I usually choose two meals that we can share to try more options off the menu. It works really well because he tends to eat a little more that I do and I get to try two things and have a side of healthy.

I also make sure that the side veg/salad I eat in addition to sharing the meal doesn’t impact my dessert stomach. It’s a whole separate place for decadent, sugary goodness that I honestly live for trying (in small amounts – see #8 above).

10. Choose your alcohol wisely.

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If your cocktail days aren’t quite behind you yet, keep in mind that many classic vacation cocktails can pack an entire day’s worth of calories and sugar into a single serve. Which is basically no bueno when it comes to avoiding holiday weight gain.

I personally don’t really drink alcohol anymore (it just doesn’t make me feel good). So I tend to think of booze in a similar way to other local indulgences (see #8 above). That’s why I tried a Pisco Sour in Peru, had my head blown off by a sip of Scotch in Edinburgh and looked six months pregnant after a glass of Guinness in Ireland. I rarely finish them but it’s the experience, not the buzz, I’m after.

If you’re not interested in staying sober, my only advice would be to avoid the bright coloured, sugar-filled drinks and any dark coloured spirits. Clear spirits and soda water or wine based mixes are generally a slimmer option. Jugs of sangria to wash down an excessive amount of seafood tapas down in La Barceloneta anyone?

11. Find a healthy travel partner.

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Having a travel partner who is into healthy living helps. You can motivate each other and be supportive with the healthy choices (and indulgences) you make. Because it really is a lifestyle that you can live and love wherever you are in the world.

And having to justify your choices or preferences to someone who doesn’t share the same healthy mindset as you, just doesn’t make for a fun holiday.

Me and My Travel Bugs

My healthy travel buddy.

Healthy Travel Tips To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

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1. Pack healthy snacks so you don’t end up making any hangry-bad decisions.
2. Choose accommodation with a kitchen to make your own healthy meals and reduce the cost of eating out.
3. Find grocery stores and farmers’ markets to stock your holiday apartment pantry.
4. Research restaurants to find the best healthy cuisine in town.
5. Stay hydrated to avoid fake hunger.
6. Explore on foot to see more and burn bonus calories.
7. Get active for a better experience.
8. Indulge mindfully with zero guilt.
9. Order smart by following the basics of healthy eating, just like at home.
10. Choose your alcohol wisely and avoid bright coloured, sugar-filled drinks and dark coloured spirits.
11. Find a healthy travel partner.

If you have any of your own tips on how to avoid holiday weight gain, let us know in the comments!

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