You come home from your vacation declaring a 10 pound weight gain. But a week later you feel back to normal. Diving into the math behind vacation weight gain (or holiday weight gain) will help you realize it’s not as dramatic as you think. Enjoy your trip knowing that your regular healthy eating patterns matter much more than a few days of indulging.
I still dream about that amazing 10′ sprinkle cake from the Nest County Fair!
The Math Behind Vacation Weight Gain
More than a decade ago when I had just finished losing my college weight, I used to weigh myself daily. But the scale started to control my emotions and I knew it was no longer serving me.
I gave up the scale years ago.
These days, the only time I hop on a scale is at the doctor’s office. My goal is to feel good in my body and in my clothes. A scale tells me my force against the earth, but it can’t tell me how I feel.
Using a scale
A scale can be a useful tool to track long-term trends and motivate someone to lose weight if they have received medical advice they need to.
I don’t think that all scales need to be banished from society, as they serve a purpose for those whose health would benefit from weight loss.
But if you’re healthy and happy at your current weight, a scale will likely cause more frustration than cheer.
As I have made peace with my body over time, I realized that the number on the scale discouraged me more than it helped.
Stepping on a scale after a vacation was one of those times. I have overheard folks report back from a week-long vacation, “I gained 10 vacation pounds on my trip to Italy!” I want to tell them to weight it out. Extra water, food in your system, and alcohol consumption can all be contributed to weight gain that isn’t necessarily going to stay with you.
It takes two days for me to lose some water weight
I’ve learned that it takes about two days into a vacation of eating more than I usually do, in both portion size and richer foods and alcohol, to notice that my body feels different.
And upon my return it takes me about 4 to 5 days of regular meals and my exercise routine to feel normal again. Most of this extra weight is in the form of water.
Remember that to gain a pound of fat you have to eat 3,500 calories more than your body needs to burn to function. (Just like you need a calorie deficit of 3,500 to lose a pound of body fat.)
The Math Behind Vacation Weight Gain
Consider a vacation to a big city where you might walk five miles a day sightseeing, visit a hip new fitness studio once during the week, and go for one run while you’re there.
You are likely burning 2,200+ calories per day.
That means you’d have to eat 2,200 PLUS 500 calories more every day to average a single one-pound weight gain on your trip.
If you came home from your vacation 5 or 10 pounds heavier on the scale, you likely didn’t eat 17,500 calories above your needs in a week – that would be an average of about 4,850 calories per day!
Now I know I’ve probably come close to eating that number in one day before, but not seven days in a row.
I find that my body usually wants to eat less the day after I eat a lot. #balance
You are thinking: How did I gain 10 pounds on a vacation?!
All those pounds are mostly water weight. The reason for the five-pound “gain” is water retention.
Not only do certain rich foods leave you retaining water, but you also have the physical weight of the excess food traveling through your system for at least 48 hours or so. Kind of gross, but it’s in there!
Once you’re home, just slip back into your healthy routine (you’ll probably want to!), stock the fridge with fresh produce, and wait it out.
The squiggly line effect will take care of the rest.
Do not weigh yourself right after a vacation.
Wear your stretchy pants (so as not to get discouraged by tight jeans) and see how you feel a few days later.
I bet the jeans fit perfectly.
I used to feel more self-conscious about my post-vacation bloat, but then I realized that no one else can tell. It’s more about how you feel than how you look.
Tips to FEEL Your Best on Your Vacation
Aim for three meals per day.
If you’re like me, you tend to eat more at each meal while traveling than when at home. But I find that because I’ve had a bigger lunch, I don’t really need a snack! My body is smarter than I think.
Curb the booze.
I know, I know. Drinking beer all day at the lake might be the best part of your summer! But at least for me, nothing makes me feel worse than dehydration or a hangover.
Definitely enjoy some drinks, but just don’t get hammered, ok?! You can probably easily drink a lot more calories than you can eat. Over-drinking is the number-one way to feel terrible.
Bring just one part of your workout routine with you.
That could be just a run along a new city’s river or a power walk on the beach. Or yoga via podcast in your cozy cabin one morning. Or a trail hike in a new part of the world.
Breaking a sweat will help you feel your best. And walking totally counts!
I find after the first day or so I actually want to go for a run or visit the resort fitness room for a little sweat session.
Focus on foods that you can’t get at home.
When we were in Anguilla I was all over the tropical fruit! Green juices, fresh pineapple, mango, kiwi, papaya. I had their delicious chia pudding and some eggs for protein. I chose to skip the waffles, pastries, and french toast that I can easily get at any American buffet.
For lunch I chose Caribbean fish tacos and opted out of the burgers and french fries I can get at any restaurant anywhere.
Add in a little mindfulness.
I am ALL FOR enjoying your trip and indulging in the most delicious foods you come across. But just make sure they are good ones.
Don’t gobble down a gas station donut on your car trip. Visit that local ice cream shop that is known for their birthday cake ice cream and use your five senses to devour it.
How To Have A Healthy and Happy Vacation: Don’t Worry So Much About Weight Gain!
As a Registered Dietitian, I’m telling you to relax during your vacation. Knowing the math and how my body operates helps me truly embrace the trip.
Remember that just a few days of healthy eating is all it takes to counteract a few days of overeating.
Your long-term eating habits in your regular daily life are way more important than those you adopt for a few days away.
My Wellness Program
If you’re interested in learning more about an intuitive eating approach to wellness, check out my wellness program, Bloom. You’ll get 6 weeks of lessons on mindful eating, preparing balanced meals, nutrition foundations, and finding exercise you love. All for just $67!