I originally thought about naming this bog post “how to have fun on holiday and stay healthy at the same time” but the title felt too cumbersome. Snappy title or not, staying healthy on holiday isn’t something that comes naturally to me.
My family and I recently got back from a lovely 10-day staycation along the South West coast of England. Those of you who follow me on social media may have seen a few (dozen) posts whilst I was out there.
Holidays are supposed to be a well-earned break from reality. As such, they have always been an opportunity for me to take a break from healthy eating. This says a lot about me.
The ideal holiday?
If I’m honest, my idea of a good holiday used to be lying by the pool for 2 weeks at an all-inclusive hotel drinking as many cocktails as I could and making the most of the all-you-can-eat style restaurants.
In fact, if you think about it, a lot of holidays are centred around eating. Christmas. Easter. Halloween. There’s a period of gluttony for every season! And I would use these holidays as an excuse to “break my diet” for a bit.
I’m not talking one or two days here either. I’m talking one or two weeks. Minimum. And most of the time, those one or two weeks became a month and then two months and then before you know it the next season is upon us.
There are studies that show that I am not the only one. A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2000 confirmed that most people gain weight over the holiday season but do not reverse it during the spring and summer months. This is why the average person is gaining around 0.5kg of weight every year.
[Note the word average. I wish it was only 0.5kg a year for me!]
A different approach to my holiday
In all honesty, I was a bit anxious about going away this year because I didn’t know how I was going to find a good balance between having fun and maintaining a healthy balanced lifestyle.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to count calories in quite the same way. I didn’t know how many opportunities I would have to exercise. And I didn’t want to ruin everyone else’s good time either.
So I thought about it for a while before we left and came up with a few ideas to help me navigate these as yet unchartered waters. What follows is a list of things that worked for me.
I’m hoping that it will be useful to some people who are reading this, but please remember that I am not giving out advice or telling others what to do. I am not an expert – this is all just my own personal story.
1. Find a balance between relaxation and activity
I loved relaxing on a beautiful beach or watching the sunset. But I equally enjoyed going for a walk along a coastal path with the whole family, or climbing a mountain.
[OK, it was more of a hill. Not a very steep one at that. It still felt like a mountain at the time!]
Doing nothing is a really important part of recharging your body and mind. But too much of nothing can make you feel exhausted and affect your metabolism. We tried to have at least one activity planned for each day that didn’t involve lying down.
2. Treat yourself (in moderation)
I was in the land of clotted cream. I had to have at least one cream tea. OK, it ended up being three because we had to do a comparison of the different types in the name of science.
I also had to try the homemade ice cream. And at least one traditional Cornish pasty. We were in Cornwall for crying out loud. It would have been practically blasphemous had I not.
So I planned to enjoy it all, but I also knew that a cream tea amounts to approximately 700 calories. That represents half of my daily allowance. Gasp!
So did I do the virtuous thing and abstain? Hell no! Instead, I shared one with my sister. 350 calories well spent if you ask me.
I also had a couple of scoops of ice cream over the 10 days but not every day and that was OK. I waited until I came across a local farm shop and then I savoured every morsel.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I love food. It gives me joy, and there’s nothing wrong with a little joy in your life. In fact, I would argue that it is really important for your overall wellbeing. But it’s possible to enjoy yourself and watch what you eat at the same time.
3. Keep an eye on what you are eating
At the moment, I am consuming approximately 1400kcal a day. I am normally quite vigilant about it and keep a record of everything that I eat. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re on holiday.
For starters you’re eating out a lot more. You don’t have access to weighing scales or measuring spoons. And you can’t always get hold of the right stuff.
But there is always a workaround. A lot of chain restaurants advertise how many calories are in their meals, so that is a good start. If we knew where we were going, I would try and plan ahead. If that wasn’t possible, I would share a meal with someone or consider taking half of it home to eat later.
[The latter is harder to do on holiday unless you’re epic like me and eat cold pizza for breakfast.]
We spent a lot of times barbecuing on the beach. We bought a mini BBQ for £35 before we left, and we used it almost every evening. There is nothing more beautiful than sitting on a beach and watching the sunset whilst dining alfresco.
We also had a lot of picnics. This was especially useful in the time of COVID when a lot of restaurants and cafes were shut or limiting their intake. It also helped keep the cost down. We bought a lot of ready made salads and snacks from our local supermarket, which meant we could keep an eye on how much we were consuming.
4. Most importantly, enjoy yourself
I’ve always loved going on holiday, but being on a beach used to be my idea of a nightmare. There’s nowhere to hide. I’m in a swimsuit or a bikini. People can see every single flaw and imperfection that I normally try so hard to cover up.
The voice in my head would sound something like this:
People are looking at you. People are disgusted by you. You’re putting people off their lunch. You should try and cover up. Try and make yourself invisible.
OK fine, that isn’t actually possible. At least suck in your gut. Inhale and hold it. Got it? Good. Now stay like that for the next couple of hours.
I’d love to say that I have slayed all my demons and the voice in my head now sounds like a personal shopper whose job it is to tell me how fabulous I look all the time.
But that would be a blatant lie.
The voice is still there same as always, but I’m learning to ignore it.
A little perspective goes a long way
Whilst enjoying Porthcurno beach on a particularly sunny day, we had to suddenly evacuate because someone had fallen off a cliff and the coastguards were trying to oganise a rescue response.
I suddenly realised that whilst I had been fretting over the way I looked on the beach, unbeknownst to me a man was drowning and being resuscitated a few feet away .
And that put everything into perspective. So what if I don’t like the way that I look? So what if I’m still not comfortable in a swimsuit? The fact is that we only get a set amount of journeys around the sun, and I fully intend to enjoy every single one of them.
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