Research has shown that adults often gain between 0.9 and 2.0 lbs (0.4 and 0.9 kg) during the holiday season, with overweight or obese individuals gaining even more than that. Likely a result of increased energy intake, buffet meals, greater access to energy dense, hyper-palatable, delicious foods combined with a reduction in activity levels.
It is also important to realize that some will often gain much more weight than this, perhaps around 7 lbs (3 kg) but that weight is likely water weight, not actual body weight or fat that is referred to above. It is important to distinguish between the two, to avoid confusion and undue stress. Water weight increases as a result of increasing carbohydrate and salt intake, but will be reversed in a matter of days when you return to your normal diet.
That weight gain in itself is not a major issue. However, the major issue is that having gained that weight those individuals will rarely lose it afterwards. So body weight and fat gradually creeps up each year during these holiday periods and it’s not just summer vacations, it also includes festive holidays such as Christmas, Easter and even birthdays. This gradual creep significantly increases the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
With that in mind, what you do after your holiday is very important. So knowing how much your weight has changed during that period can be useful as you will then have to make the necessary alterations to diet (energy intake and macronutrient composition), exercise and lifestyle to lose that weight and continue your progress.
- Step on the scale
In one study published in the journal of Obesity, individuals that weighed themselves regularly during vacation or the holiday periods were better able to maintain their weight, with some even losing weight. Those that did not weigh themselves regularly gained weight.
Now this is not absolutely essential as you are ultimately on vacation to enjoy yourself so if weighing in each morning is going to detract from that enjoyment then absolutely skip this step. But for some the accountability can help in avoiding the “let it all go, free for all” mindset which can be incredibly damaging.
- Think protein and plants
We have discussed this in many of our previous blogs and posts, but as a reminder it is important to prioritize low fat proteins and plants at all meals and snacks as both will fill you up without overloading calories.
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which means it fills you up the most. Increasing protein intake can actually reduce your energy intake by 44% per day, which is quite remarkable. It also increases metabolic rate by as much as 212 kcal. So opting for eggs, low fat Greek yogurt at breakfast, lean chicken salads at lunch and fish for dinner is a wise move.
Fruits and vegetables are packed full of fibre and phytonutrients that will also fill you up and help maintain a healthy gut, while also providing those all important vitamins and minerals to keep the cogs responsible for health and wellness in the background turning. Aim for a variety of different colorful fruits and vegetables at each meal, attempting to create a rainbow of color at each meal.
- Carb backload
Carbohydrate backloading is a diet that was popularized a few years ago, developed by John Kiefer who went on to publish a book on it.
The basic premise is that you eat small meals during the day made up of lean protein and vegetables only, keeping carbohydrate intake to an absolute minimum, so no bread, pasta, rice, oats, fruits or juices etc. in the early part of the day. Then some kind of exercise or workout late afternoon followed by a larger meal with more carbohydrates in the evening, where you can add your favorite pasta, rice, bread or even dessert options.
Now the research on this diet itself is a little sketchy, but for short periods of time such as when you are on vacation the carb backloading plan could work well. With some research showing greater weight loss and less muscle loss and greater levels of satiety and satisfaction in those eating larger meals in the evening.
Carb backloading could be a useful consideration while on vacation. All you have to do is eat small meals during the day, that prioritize protein and plants, and then enjoy a bigger meal in the evening. That could be a large egg white omelet with lots of vegetables for breakfast with a coffee, a big mixed salad with chicken breast and olive oil, a quick workout or brisk walk after a day at the beach, shower, change and enjoy a bigger meal of pasta or even a dessert.
- Go short and light with drinks
When it comes to alcohol on vacation simply go short and light. It is actually incredibly easy to drink 1000 kcal of alcohol if you are not careful. So you may follow all of the other recommendations in this post, but then mess up as a result of some bad choices at the bar.
Avoiding full sugar soft drink mixers and unfortunately most beers. Short drinks like vodka, tequila or rum mixed with soda, sparkling water, lime or diet coke are the lowest in calories. White wine can also be a option and where possible light beer too.
- Stay active
First, let’s be realistic, you went on holiday to chill out and sit by the beach with a cold Margarita (which hopefully has now been replaced by short and light drink) not to hit 10,000 steps each day and bust out daily runs and workouts. But that being said, maintaining slightly higher than sedentary (ie. not lying on a lounger 24/7) activity levels will help maintain a higher metabolic rate and allow you to continue burning more calories each day.
Some simple steps to consider include leisurely lengths in the pool, long walks along the beach with a loved one or great audiobook, bike rides, hikes or paddle board trips, pre-dinner workouts in the hotel room consisting of body weight squats, hip thrusts, press ups and sit ups on rotation. Thankfully the Reverse Health app has plenty of these workouts for you.
Research has shown that the minimum effective dose for maintaining health is just 1 hour of aerobic exercise and 2 weight training sessions per week that target the major muscle groups. So in reality it is very easy to at least maintain your health while on vacation.
But perhaps set standards a little higher and aim for 1 hour of exercise, 30 minutes of cardio (walking, swimming etc.) and 1 x 30 minute workout in the hotel room per day.
- Sit back and relax a little
Research unanimously concludes that taking a vacation can reduce stress, enhance motivation and wellbeing . In fact, regular short breaks may be even more beneficial to mental health than longer, less frequent vacations.
The harsh reality is that regularly working for 55 hours or more per week is associated with a 35% increase in the risk of stroke and 17% increase in the risk of dying from a heart attack. The US is known as the “no vacation nation” as it is the only developed nation in the world that does not legally require a single paid vacation day.
Chronic stress and anxiety can increase susceptibility to weight gain and make losing weight more challenging. So taking the opportunity to go on a vacation in an effort to reduce stress and particularly the stress hormone cortisol should be seen as a real positive in your long term progress.
That being said, recognize that vacations are incredibly beneficial for you and your long term health, so go, enjoy yourself and avoid micromanaging while you are away with these 6 simple steps or this quick read.
And when you're back, join us in the app to get straight back on track.
The content in this app is provided as lifestyle recommendations for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For any medical concerns, always consult with a healthcare professional. The sources that informed our meal plans and recommendations are available at: reverse.health/research.