A summer getaway is time to relax, re-energize, see new sights and try new things - including food. But if you're trying to maintain or lose weight, your holiday plans might make you anxious. When you're enticed by foods you don't normally eat, often served in larger portions, gaining a few pounds can seem inevitable.
It's easy to throw caution to the wind and put your diet on vacation too, especially if you're unable to plan your own meals. After all, what difference will a couple of weeks of overindulging make to the bathroom scale? A lot. For some people, vacation eating can result in as much as an eight-pound weight gain.
Even kids tend to gain weight in the summer, despite being more active outdoors. In a study of overweight youth, Canadian researchers found that two-thirds gained weight during the summer months.
If you're not ramping up the exercise while on vacation, facing a few extra pounds when you return home can be discouraging and prevent you from promptly getting back on track.
I'm certainly not suggesting you need to you deprive yourself during your summer holiday. You're supposed to try new foods and indulge while on vacation. And if you've been successfully losing weight for the past few months, a vacation is no time to try to lose more. Rather, maintaining your weight is a realistic goal - and one that might take extra effort.
Whether you're planning a road trip, sightseeing in Europe, or spending time at the cottage, the following strategies will help you eat healthfully - without passing up special foods and summer treats.
Stick to a schedule
On vacation, it's easy to lose your daily routine by sleeping in later, snacking more often and eating meals at irregular intervals. If you stick to a regular eating schedule, you won't become overly hungry and you'll be less tempted to eat high-calorie snacks between meals.
Eat every three hours - three meals plus one or two snacks - to keep your energy level stable and hunger at bay.
Start the day right
If you skip breakfast, you'll be more likely to make poor choices - and overeat - at lunch. If you are in a hotel that serves a continental breakfast, stick with fresh fruit, yogurt and toast or cereal, milk and fruit. Skip the high-fat, high-sugar pastries, muffins and croissants.
If you're used to eating bran cereal each morning, pack single servings in resealable plastic bags to take to the dining room. You can now also buy Kellogg's All Bran Buds with psyllium packaged in single portions.
If ordering from a menu, choose a yogurt parfait, oatmeal, or an egg-white omelette. If you're craving pan- cakes, ask for them served with yogurt and berries instead of butter and syrup.
Be wary of "lumberjack" breakfasts (for example, pancakes, eggs and bacon); they can deliver as many as 1,000 calories, a full day's worth of fat, and almost three days' worth of sodium.
If travelling by plane, train or car, be prepared with healthy foods so you won't have to buy whatever is available. Pack portable snacks such as energy bars, granola bars, plain popcorn, dried fruit and single-serving containers of canned fruit.
On a road trip, pack a cooler with fresh fruit, raw vegetables and hummus, yogurt, healthy sandwiches and plenty of water to stay hydrated. If possible, visit a local grocery store to restock your cooler with daily snacks and lunches.
Request a refrigerator for your hotel room so you can store healthy snacks.
If your plans include sightseeing during the day, pack enough snacks to last the duration of your trip. Energy bars, natural food bars and individual packages of dried fruit and unsalted almonds travel well.
Indulge, don't overindulge
When it comes to indulging in treats, moderation is the key. Every city has unique foods and treats you shouldn't pass up. Preventing holiday weight gain is all about how much you eat, not what.
Your best strategy is to allow yourself one treat a day. If it's only a taste you want, enjoy a small portion of whatever you like. There's no rule that you have to finish it all.
When at home you know exactly what you're eating, but in restaurants you usually don't have a clue. Not surprisingly, an American study found that the more often women ate out, the higher their daily intake of calories, fat and sodium.
Research also suggests that we tend to splurge when eating in restaurants and then eat normal amounts during other meals. Consuming extra calories on one given day won't make you gain weight, but doing so for two weeks straight won't do your waistline any favours.
If you're going to be eating most of your meals in restaurants, order simply prepared foods such as baked, broiled or grilled meat, chicken and seafood. Limit fried or creamy menu items and ask for sauces and condiments to be served on the side. Share an entree or order two appetizers.
Limit liquid calories
Sipping on a cooler or margarita won't break your diet, but if you drink a few each day you'll do more than weaken your resolve to eat healthfully. Consider that one vodka cooler can add as many as 350 calories and eight teaspoons worth of sugar to your diet.
Summer drinks that are easier on the waistline include light coolers (80 to 110 calories), light beer (95 calories),wine spritzers (50 to 75 calories) and cocktails made with calorie-free mix (70 calories). Non-alcoholic options include unsweetened iced tea and soda water with a splash of fruit juice.
Quench your thirst with water; sugary drinks like pop, fruit drinks,vitamin water and sports drinks add unnecessary calories.
Without the demands of work to prevent you from exercising, you should be able to fit in a workout every day. Doing so will offset those extra calories you don't want to deny yourself.
Unless you're going to be walking all day sightseeing, plan for an hour of moderate physical activity each day.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is lesliebeck.com.