This past weekend, the hubs and I, along with our lovely group of friends from Columbia, went up to Portland, Maine to see two of our dear friends, Rich and Katrina, get married. Katrina is also a dietitian and my uncle, who works with her husband, actually introduced us when she moved down to Columbia a couple years ago. We like to giggle over the fact that my uncle totally forgot to mention that we were both RDs when he hooked us up! It was a beautiful and joy-filled wedding, and since they moved back up north last year, it was SO great to have the whole gang together again.
The hubs and I woke up super early on Thursday to fly into Boston. We grabbed a quick lunch in the city, then spent the rest of the day driving the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains of New Hampshire before getting to Portland dinner time. We spend the next few days eating our way through the city, beer tasting, and doing the wedding celebration thing, before heading back to Boston for a quick visit with my brother and sister-in-law.
Instead of a usual vacation recap post, I wanted to talk a little bit about intuitive eating on vacation, because it's a topic that comes up a lot with my clients, especially during the summer.
Even when I was my most restrictive, interestingly, I was my most intuitive around food when I traveled. I never felt the need to restrict on vacation, because I think for me, food FOMO and my desire to try new foods trumped any fear I had about food, health or weight gain. I do frequently remember eating well past the point of fullness to the point where I was very uncomfortable. But because I like a wide variety of foods and really value trying local specialties, the big picture of my eating was usually pretty balanced with lots of produce, and I don't remember feeling too stressed over my eating.
When I started working with clients on intuitive eating, it made me sad to learn how many people actively restricted on vacation or spent the whole time feeling guilty over how they ate. Knowing people miss the pleasures of exploring new foods and better understanding the cultures they're visiting, all in the name of dieting, breaks my heart a bit.
A lot of people go into vacation with the intention of being "good." They spend weeks leading up to the trip stressing out about food, making all sorts of intricate plans for staying "in control." For about 99.9% of people. those plans go about as well as expected, and after the inevitable slip, they feel so bad that they give up and spend the rest of their trip doing what I like to call "F-it Eating." When they come back from vacation either feeling bigger or having actually gained weight, it sets off the diet cycle all over again.
The other thing I see is people going into vacation with the mentality that it's a "cheat" day. The intentional overeating/overconsuming does two things. One, they feel like crap the whole time. And two, they don't even end up eating the food they want because food decisions are based on what they're "not allowed" to eat at home vs. what they actually want to eat. Similarly, coming back home after a long period of overconsumption sets off the diet cycle all over again.
IMO, the biggest problem with taking diet mentality along with you on vacation is that it distracts from actually being in the present moment. Whether your trip is a relaxing beach vacation or a on-the-go exploration, if you're stressing about food the whole time, you're missing out.
Want to be a more intuitive eater on vacation? It starts with not dieting before vacation. Otherwise, you'll just end up backlash eating the whole time. So that's step one.
I like to think of vacation as an exercise in intuitive eating. You're off your schedule and routine, so it forces you to pay more attention to what you want and how you feel. I've learned a lot about my food preferences from travel. I know I like big, spicy flavors. I gravitate towards noodles. I prefer sides and sauces to mains. I like seafood a lot more than meat. Rich food needs something fresh to balance it's flavor.
Our vacations are pretty active. For many, vacation is all about relaxing, but I think most people tend to be more active when they travel than at home. If you're using more energy, it makes sense that you'll need more food. Also, I know for me personally, I don't want to feel miserably hungry between meals and miss out on doing something because I'm busy searching out a snack, so I usually eat to a higher point of fullness at meals. Personally, I've learned that when I travel, eating to the point where I'm a little uncomfortable means I won't be famished before our next stop, but also not so miserable that I want to snuggle up in bed with a tub of tums. So if you're feeling scared about eating more on vacation, know that it may be because you need it.
Traveling is a good time to practice self-compassion and forgiveness - essential skills in intuitive eating. Being out of your element, it's likely you'll make a few mistakes in eating. And knowing you're out of your element, it's probably a lot easier to forgive those mistakes and chalk it up to a learning experience.
For example, when we were at Boston Public Market, I ordered this really yummy roasted pork sandwich with pickles and pickled red onions. It was SO tasty, but I had already had a (gross) airport bagel for breakfast, and then we got cheese and bread for a picnic in the White Mountains later that day. So I was a little breaded out and just didn't feel so awesome. At the time, I was debating between this amazing looking seafood stand with a Korean barbecue flavored salmon sushi roll and seared ahi tuna salad, but deferred to my husband because I was being indecisive. I regret not getting the seafood - I was in Boston where they have really amazing seafood, and I think it would have been more satisfying for what I wanted at the time. But it's regret, not shame or guilt. Not beating myself up over it, just filing that information away for the next time to think about what I'm ordering in the context of the day.
Another piece of advice I give to clients is to use travel and food as a way to learn about other cultures. Understanding traditional diets and how people relate to food in other countries can be good ammunition for challenging messages about food stemming from diet culture.
Food is allowed to be part of the fun of traveling. Think back to some of your favorite food memories from past trips. If you could go back in time, would you take that memory away? Were there any lasting consequences? You may be stressing about having that ice cream cone in the present, but did it really matter when you've had ice cream cones on vacation in the past? My guess is probably not.
Remember the big picture. Everything evens out over time. Overeating or eating richer food than normal for a temporary period of time, even if you come back home feeling pretty bleh, even if you come back home "feeling" bigger or actually bigger, you'll soon settle back to normal as you get back to your usual routine. It's normal for weight to fluctuate within a set point range, and barring any extreme eating/behavior (i.e. backlash eating from dieting the whole time), your weight is just going to be at the higher end of your individual range. I've experienced this quite a few times with travel - I don't weight myself but I would come back with clothes fitting a little tighter. At first, it was a bit uncomfortable and scary, especially when I was still stressing a lot about my size. But I know as I get settled back into my routines and health-promoting habits, my size will settle right where it's supposed to.
I'd love to hear your thoughts! Does eating on vacation stress you out? How do you find food peace when you travel?