Last fall, Suzana Zayed headed to Austria for a week-long vacation and came back with more baggage than she bargained for. Literally. In between catching the sights in Salzburg and Vienna, the 24-year-old New York stock analyst freely indulged in strudel, Sacher Torte, wine, and Wiener Schnitzel, a traditional breaded and fried meat dish.
“We ate a hearty breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus took at least three coffee breaks a day at cafes where we would order rich pastries,” she recalls. “We were walking a lot, but I still ate a lot more than I do at home, which is basically three simple meals and one snack a day of fruit.” The result? Zayed came home with lots of memorable photos and a not-so-memorable five extra pounds that she is still struggling to lose.
When it comes to over-indulging on vacation, Zayed isn’t alone. In fact, nutritionists and fitness experts say it’s common for vacationers to adopt an eat-and-drink-with-abandon mentality when they’re away and return home with extra padding. “You can easily pack in over 4,000 calories a day on vacation without even realizing it,” says Jen Andrus, R.D., a nutritionist in New York City. “That translates into five pounds of weight gain for a one-week trip.”
What’s a vacationer to do? Stop splurging and follow a diet of undressed salads and no desserts? Not necessarily. Andrus and Annette Lang, a personal trainer and expert on travel and fitness, offer tips on how to travel and enjoy the gelato in Italy, paella in Spain, and wine in Napa without gaining a pound.
Pack Snacks. According to Andrus, most vacationers start losing perspective on their diets the minute they get to the airport. “Since there isn’t always healthy food at airports or on planes, people start eating junk food and don’t stop until their trip is over,” she says. Andrus suggests starting off on the right foot by carrying a stash of energy bars and raw nuts to beat hunger pangs. These also make for a quick breakfast or nutritious snack on your getaway. For energy bars, choose an all-natural brand that isn’t loaded with sugar and has a combination of fiber and protein. Gnu, Kashi, Balance Bars and Zone Bars are all good choices.
Keep Moving. Lang suggests planning your trip around activity. “You don’t have to hit the gym to move,” she says. ‘Biking and walking are terrific ways to see cities and burn calories without you even thinking about it.” That explains the popularity of Butterfield & Robinson and Country Walkers, two travel-planning companies that can organize walking or biking vacations anywhere in the world. If you don’t want something that ambitious on your trip, check out half-day or full-day walking or biking tours in your destination. In Savannah, for example, A Walk Through Savannah has nearly a dozen walks including one that hits the Civil War sights. Check with the local tourism office in the city you’re visiting to find similar companies.
Splurge Wisely. A trip to Italy wouldn’t be complete without savoring hearty pasta dishes and creamy gelato, and France wouldn’t be half the fun without the croissants and decadent cheeses. The trick is knowing how to limit your intake. Instead of eating everything in sight all day long, just pick one indulgence per day and enjoy it guilt-free. “If you plan for one splurge a day, you’re also more likely to choose wisely and think about the foods you really want rather than just stuffing yourself with anything in sight,” she says.
Work Out Hard Before You Leave. If you’re going on a beach vacation where walking to the beach is likely to be the biggest physical activity, Lang says it’s a good idea to boost your workouts and drop a few pounds before you leave. That way, if you gain while gone, you won’t notice. If you usually run three miles three days a week, for example, add two extra days of running, or go for five miles on each run instead of three. Or supplement your cardio workouts with strength training. “The extra working out will rev up your metabolism, and your body will need a rest from the increased intensity,” Lang says.
Watch the Alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are the downfall of many vacationers, according to Andrus. “Cocktails by the beach sound so relaxing, but they don’t fill you up, and fruity drinks are packed with calories,” she says. A pina colada, for instance, has 800 calories, so putting away three a day means 2,400 calories without eating a bite of food. What’s more, too much alcohol clouds good judgment, which can result in unhealthy food choices. Limit yourself to one high-calorie beverage a day and supplement your libation urges with 80-calorie wine spritzers or a Bloody Mary, which has 200 calories.
Commit to a 10-minute Workout. Lang says that if you take a few minutes in your hotel room first thing in the morning, you can do a quick and effective workout that will keep your metabolism going and help you have a healthier trip from a mental point of view. Create your own 10-minute program with a combination of lunges, squats, jump lunges and jump rope. To learn more about on-the-road workouts, check out the effective vacation workouts on travel guru Peter Greenberg’s Web site.