How To Beat The Holiday Bulge
It’s holiday season, and that means that people in their thousands will be packing their bags and jetting off to enjoy some time in the sun. It’s a time for relaxing, unwinding, spending time with family and friends…
And for a lot of us, gaining an appreciable amount of fat. Everyone knows that feeling – you’re full of confidence, gym progress is awesome, and you might have even dieted in the run up to your holiday to be in the best shape you can be…and then when you get home 2 weeks later you’re 7-10lbs heavier, feeling bloated and unfit, and that first gym session back is a real killer.
If you’re reading this, it means that you take your exercise and nutrition at least a little seriously. You have a lifestyle which you enjoy, you’re fit and healthy, and you’ve made progress in terms of body composition changes which you are justifiably proud of, and it’s my firm belief that you shouldn’t have to give that up when you’re on holiday.
Now, I want to say from the outset that I would never, ever tell someone to sacrifice fun, friends and family for their abs. Health, fitness, and nutrition are supposed to enrich your life, rather than take it over, and if they are in fact taking away from the stuff that really matters then, in my opinion, your priorities need working so that you can lead a more balanced life.
(if you’re competing on stage in a few weeks then you may be an exception, MAYBE, but that’s another article for another day).
But what I also want to say is that ‘living a balanced life’ doesn’t mean going off the rails completely all of the time. Being fit, healthy and in the kind of shape you want to be DOES require work and some sacrifice. What I want you to take from this article is that you can have both. You can have a holiday from the gym and still stay in shape, and you can relax your food without getting out of shape.
And here’s how…
Weight management is down to calorie balance, and calorie balance is hugely determined by the ‘calories in’ side of the equation. When many people go on holiday, they aren’t just having a break from work, they are having a break from their diet, too, but this can be a huge mistake.
Overindulging on holiday is a surefire way to end up with unwanted weight gain, but avoiding the indulgences can be really hard to do. Enjoying the local cuisine is one of the best things about traveling to new places because the food is an inescapably huge part of human culture. That, and a lot of traditional foods from various countries are so damn delicious – Indian Curries, French cheeses, and bread, German Sausages and beer, Belgian chocolate, Italian everything….
So, a balance must be struck, and here’s how you do it.
First, consider reducing your meal frequency. Many people eat 3 square meals per day, and athletic folks will often shoot for 4-5 due to us needing a few extra calories per day compared to our less active counterparts.
This is great, but it means that those meals need to be relatively low in calories in order to spread them out. That sounds paradoxical, but someone eating 2100 calories per day in 3 meals gets to have 700 calories in a sitting, whereas someone needing 3000 calories per day split over 5 meals can only have 600.
It seems hugely obvious, and it is, but the fewer meals you eat, the larger those meals can be without putting you into an energy surplus, and this is where meal skipping can come in.
Personally, when on holiday, I’ll have a very light breakfast including some local fruit and a protein source (Which can often be some protein powder which I take with me). This then leaves an enormous amount of calories for a nice lunch and a grand dinner including alcohol.
You may choose to skip breakfast entirely, or do as some others do and have a large breakfast which carries you into the late evening, barring a small snack or two throughout the day. Whichever way you do it, remember that many foods which you’ll want to opt for are going to be exceedingly calorie dense, and creating a ‘buffer’ lets you get away with it.
This is not to mention that very calorie dense foods are, for the most part (unless you’re chowing donuts and pretzels all day) pretty filling. Eating lunch when you aren’t hungry because you had a big breakfast, simply out of habit, is a waste of calories!
Second, as hinted to above, make sure you have something healthy and relatively low calorie to snack on through the day if you get really hungry. Fresh local fruit, protein powder, packs of deli meats and similar are usually available from nearby supermarkets, giving you a ton more control over what you’re eating.
Food that you eat on holiday over and above your need, sticks just like food does at home, so exercise control where you can.
Another form of control which I’d hugely recommend is alcohol time limits. It’s all too tempting to ‘day drink’ when on holiday, especially at all-inclusive resorts where the alcohol runs free, but this is another mistake. Leaving aside the risks of being drunk in the heat, drinking during the day is an excellent way to skyrocket your calorie intake.
Set a limit on your drinking, like “no drinks before 7pm” or “only one drink in the afternoon” or “just two with dinner”. Alcohol can be included in a healthy lifestyle, of course, it can, but moderation is very important.
On that same token, it’s a very good idea to make it a rule to stay hydrated. Commit to drinking at least X amount (usually two liters) of clean, fresh water per day. Doing this alone will help curb hunger pangs and also persuade you, subconsciously, not to drink alcohol during the day.
Of course, being hydrated also helps you be generally healthy, too, but I don’t need to tell you that!
Overall, what I recommend is a mindful and common-sense approach. Opt for lean protein and fruits/vegetables when eating, snack sensibly and stay hydrated by drinking water while limiting alcohol. After that, have at it and have 1 ‘free meal’ per day. Look for something you wouldn’t have at home, look for something freshly prepared and authentic, and have the dessert if you want it. You’re on holiday and that’s important, and if you’re otherwise being sensible with your intake, you’re going to cause minimal ‘damage’.
Beyond that, it’s time to talk activity levels. A holiday is a time to relax, but unless you really want to I don’t recommend lying next to a pool for 14 days. That’s not particularly healthy, but it also limits your holiday hugely.
Go do stuff!
Explore, walk around, swim in the sea or try snorkeling and surfing, and generally, experience as much as you can. All that activity is great to keep your calorie burn high but just as important it will help you create memories that will last far longer than your tan lines. While your brain needs a holiday from work, it needs stimulation – boredom doesn’t create a relaxed mind, enjoyable experience does.
A daily step goal set with an activity tracker can keep you on the move, and is a cool incentive for exploring the local area and seeing more of what your holiday destination has to offer.
Finally, if there is an option, try out the hotel (or local) gym. Do it during your downtime during the day, or while everyone else gets ready for breakfast. A 20-30 minute high-intensity blast is a great way to blow out the cobwebs and also maintain some amount of conditioning so that your return to the gym is a little less painful while impacting your holiday minimally.
Do I recommend sticking to your program 100% and losing out on family time? Absolutely not, but hitting 4-5 sets of squats and some pull-ups doesn’t take very long and can be really effective.
And after all, this, if you’ve still overindulged?
Don’t panic! Fat gain is temporary, and any weight gained in two weeks can be lost far faster than you’d think it can. In fact, after an expectedly large amount of initial water loss, you’ve probably not gained as much weight as you think you have anyway.
So again, don’t panic and don’t go for a crash diet ‘reset’ in order to get those abs back in a week. Get back to your good eating habits while eating 10-20% less than you were before you left. Stay this course, remain consistent and be as honest as you can with yourself. Within a month or so you’ll be right back where you started; no drastic measures, no quick fixes and minimal suffering, which is important. Nobody wants to suffer as soon as they come back from holiday refreshed and ready to go.
As a final tip, especially if you haven’t used a hotel gym, I recommend a light re-introductory gym week. Post holiday DOMS is a killer!