Pack bags, not flab: 5 ways to avoid weight gain on vacation

Story highlights

  • Some people gain as many as seven pounds on vacation
  • Don't eat mindlessly; eat smart, experts advise

Whether it's wine tasting in Italy or a backyard barbecue at your pal's beach house, most summer getaways involve major food indulgences. Plus, many jetsetters adopt an all-bets-are-off mindset, allowing healthy eating habits to go totally out the window during travel.

"A vacation eating attitude typically means indulging in the moment and worrying about the consequences later," says Health's contributing nutrition editor, Cynthia Sass, RD. And research agrees: A recent study out of the University of Georgia found that some people who take one- to three-week vacations put on nearly a pound during their trip, while others gain as many as seven pounds. (Yikes!)
    To help you avoid the same fate on your next summer vacay, we asked experts to share their no-hassle nutrition practices that keep any trip from turning into a gluttonous getaway. By following these tips, the only thing you'll have to worry about packing is your bags, not any extra flab.

    Control your morning meal

    Few people want to hold back at every meal on vacation. Instead, try to set the tone for the rest of the day by practicing a little bit of mindful eating and control during your first dish. "I tell clients they can control breakfast, snacks, and portions," says Stephanie Middleberg, a New York City-based RD. "Typically lunches and dinners tend to be the wildcards [on vacation], and more indulgent. So I have clients skip a carb at breakfast and keep it to one plate."
    If breakfast or brunch is likely to be a decadent one, eat something beforehand, recommends Jackie Newgent, RD, author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. "Enjoy a cup of berries before you go to brunch. It'll help take the edge off of your hunger so you can order smartly," she adds.

    Snack smarter

    If you're going on an all-day excursion and don't bring snacks, you'll likely be ravenous by your next meal. Or, if there aren't any healthy options available en route, you may end up choosing food you normally wouldn't eat.
    Newgent's fix? Remember the three P's of snacking: plan, pack, protein. "Plan ahead, pack portable snacks, and be sure your pick has protein," she says.
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    Take the tip a step further and build every snack with a protein and a produce. Pick a piece of fruit and pair it with Greek yogurt, a cheese stick, two tablespoons of nut butter, or 10 to 15 raw nuts. The protein element keeps hunger pangs at bay until your next meal (unlike a carb-only snack that doesn't have satiating power), while the fruit packs fiber and other key nutrients.

    Grocery shop

    A trip to the nearest supermarket is one of the first stops on Sass' vacations. "Go to the grocery store and load up on things to either make meals on your own or complement room service or restaurant meals," she says. Stock up on fruit, yogurt, and oatmeal for a light breakfast. As well as plain popcorn, hummus, individual nut butter packets, and healthy crackers to have smart snack options on hand at all times.

    Avoid the buffet

    It's tempting to pile a plate at the buffet with pancakes, fruit, bacon, scrambled eggs, and a chocolate-filled croissant on the side. But you could easily pack in a day's worth of calories if you're not careful; buffets make it far too easy to overdo portion sizes and eat past the point of fullness.
    "I never eat at buffets unless they're included or my only choice," says Sass. "And if so, I stick with customizable dishes, like a made-to-order omelet with lots of veggies and avocado paired with fresh fruit, or a made-to-order stir fry that allows me to choose lots of veggies, lean protein, and light sauce with a portion of brown rice that I can control." You could also regulate portions by ordering a la carte, or treating yourself to room service if necessary.
    If you do decide to stick to the buffet, don't feel obligated to eat everything in sight. "Even if I have to pay for a buffet and don't eat much, I don't see it as not getting my money's worth," Sass explains. "I tell myself I'd rather pay more for a correctly sized meal that leaves me feeling energized, rather than getting more food for that amount of money that leaves me feeling stuffed and sluggish. It's just not worth it, especially if it zaps your energy for the whole day on vacation."

    Take the long way

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    Whether it's walking to dinner, jogging to a museum, or taking a paddleboarding break from reading on the beach, move as much as you can -- even if it means taking a bit of a detour (an adventure in itself!). "Plan extra -- and fun -- activity into your itinerary so you can have extra delights at your destinations to fully enjoy your travel experience," Newgent says.
    This article originally appeared on health.com.