I still remember my first vacation, probably because I was 28 years old.
Sure, I’d traveled a hundred (thousand?) times before but it wasn’t until I went to the east coast that summer after years of doing the mental and emotional work around food that I had what I’d always wish for but never knew existed: a real vacation.
A real vacation (n): a fun, relaxing, energetic, memorable, life-changing time away from your normal routine without bloating, guilt, shame, hangovers, stress, or missing a single moment of your trip in any way shape or form
Nothing “happened” that year that didn’t happen a million times before (Italian food, guidos, way too much boardwalk ice cream, shark teeth hunting), but I changed how I showed up on that vacation. I changed my thought patterns, priorities, routines… and came home feeling truly refreshed, grateful and healthier than ever. And I’ve done the same ever since - it’s like my own little “tradition” now.
If you already know how to truly vacation, good for you! If any of the following apply to you, read this blog twice, then print it out and put it in your carry on:
- Ever using the phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation”
- Coming home feeling like you need a detox or cleanse from the bloat
- Bringing home the same fresh and clean unworn workout clothes you packed a week ago
- Feeling stressed you spent so much money and time out of the office just to feel this stressed
- White-knuckling it through two days of salads before cracking at your first bite of french fries for the next five days
- Coming home to an empty fridge, a full email inbox, and a total junk food pity party post-vacation
Below is the blueprint for how I vacation… every last detail.
I hope it brings you not only an amazing vacation this year, but an entirely new outlook on how to rejuvenate. If you follow even one of these five strategies, I promise you that you’ll get ten times more out of your time off.
STRATEGY #1: The Logistics
You can’t eat healthy food that isn’t there. Amiright!? Here are some tactics to help you have access to healthy food, regardless of the destination:
- Going to a rental or AirBNB: you have a fridge! And a full kitchen! Plan on cooking at least two of your meals each day (making lettuce wraps or gluten-free sandwiches for the beach totally counts). Make a list ahead of time, drive directly to the grocery store before checking in so you can knock it out, and unload the fresh food with your luggage.
- Going to a hotel: call ahead and make sure you have a fridge. If you don’t, most hotels allow you to request one. You won’t be able to do a big shopping trip like you would with a full kitchen, but you can still aim to pack that mini fridge with as many fresh snacks as possible (pre-cut veggies, hummus, avocados, fruit, pre-made salads, green juices, hard boiled eggs…). Also, check out the room service menu if there is one - I’ve been surprised at the options lately and you can have a small appetizer at “dinner” if there are only crap options at a restaurant and come back to have some real food if it’s there.
- Going to a family or friends house: how close are you to them? Can you level with them and let them know you’re going to be bringing some of your own food? I like to offer to cook the hosts a meal while I’m there (double it so you have leftovers the following days and just sneak in other groceries for yourself too). If you don’t feel comfortable taking over your mother-in-law’s kitchen, then some pre-made foods you can plate quickly will serve you well: bagged salads, pre-cut veggies, a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, deli meat and veggies, hummus, nuts, fruit, and green juices in case there’s not a vegetable in sight.
- Going on a cruise or an all-inclusive resort: it’s already paid for food so you have to get your money’s worth, right!? Wrong. Ain’t nothing free in this world! You paid good money to have a vacation, not to feel sick and bloated by the pool. If you wanted to feel like total crap you could have saved a ton of money and just camped out at a Wendy’s for five days. Now, with literally every food on the planet available to you at each meal, you need a strategy. Half of your plate will be vegetables, you will get a (non-fried) protein as a quarter of your plate, and then you will save some space on your plate for the bite (max 2 bites) of cornbread or french fries or pancakes you will steal from your family or friend’s plate. Feeling scarcity? Remember you will be at this feeding frenzy again in literally four hours so if you didn’t get to try the gravy at breakfast, I assure you they will have it at lunch.
STRATEGY #2: Set Some Non-Negotiables
Sure, you want to spice it up on vacation but if you don’t have a solid understanding of your boundaries, you’re going to get swept away as fast as your new sunglasses in the surf.
- Treats: Damn, I love treats. It’s part of a vacation, right? The fried food on the pier, the pancakes at brunch, the s’ mores by the bonfire… food is a huge part of vacations, travel, and traditions! That being said, I loosen up the reigns on vacation compared to my normal life. I go with a “one free treat per day” strategy. Now, this may seem like a lot but really think about it. You’ll likely be passing on many a treat, so make sure you plan out what’s worth it. If I’m going to my favorite bagel place in the morning, I will be getting the salad instead of pizza that night. If you want the ice cream while you walk through town in the afternoon, then the late night wine you’ll pass on… This is not meant to be a wet blanket on vacation, but if you go beyond this boundary I’m guessing you’ll be gaining weight or feeling crappy on the vacation. One treat per day (not necessarily a whole meal, and certainly not huge portions) - the rest of the day is protein, veggies, and healthy fats.
- Water: you need to drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day. Period. This cannot be overlooked especially if you’re going on an active vacation, sitting in the sun all day, or going on a plane. You need water to keep your digestion regular, prevent headaches, fatigue, etc.
- Moving Your Body: I’m not calling this “exercise” because anything active you do on vacation is great! You must move your body for one hour per day total, every single day. This can be beach volleyball, walking for hours through the city, signing up for a local workout class, or even just a yoga video on your iPod in the hotel room. Whatever you have to do, make it happen.
- Veggies: You need to get 5-7 servings of veggies per day. If you’re sticking to one free treat, with the rest protein and veggies and fats, you’ll likely hit this number. But be intentional about getting as many veggies as you can. This is what’s going to give you that vibrancy and energy on your play days.
- Booze: I think of booze as a free treat. If you want to have some drinks while watching the fireworks, go for it! Make sure your food is on point, you’re safe and drink water in between. Clear liquors (without sugary mixes) are best - add sparkling water, lemon, lime, mint, basil, berries, etc to make a light cocktail. I also suggest giving yourself a window of time to have drinks so you’re not sipping all day long (think from 4-8pm for example). I know it’s fun to have some drinks on the beach, but those are typically the days you’re in a fuzzy haze reaching for the bag of chips by 4 pm. Not to mention the fact you haven’t had a glass of water since breakfast, and nobody noticed how burned your shoulders were getting…
- Portions: this can be tricky on vacation. Stick to one plate of food (or as I like to call it, the One Plate Rule) whether it’s a treat or plate of healthy food. If you’re still hungry after 20 minutes get a snack-sized portion to hold you over. You can do this! Chew slowly, taste every bite, and enjoy yourself!
STRATEGY #3: Self Care
Vacation is a break from doing laundry, traffic, and answering emails. It’s not a break from taking care of yourself! You want to feel and look your best on vacation, right?!
You need to set aside 20 minutes (minimum) each morning to have quiet time to yourself. Bring your journal on the porch, go for a walk, do some stretching on the beach - whatever you want to do, but be intentional about resetting, breathing, taking inventory on how the day before went, and setting the intention for the day.
Do you intend to be fully present and soak up every moment of vacation? What does that look like? How are you going to overcome resistance? How will you respond when everyone is running late for the dinner reservations and you want to scream?
Do you intend to have fun? Love that intention! Remind yourself of this when you’re faced with food choices - what’s really fun? Enjoying enough of what you want, moving on and doing other cool stuff? Or obsessing on if you “should” eat this only to go crazy and feel sick?
Visualize, take the time to anticipate obstacles, focus on what you want out of the day, and again - enjoy it!
STRATEGY #4: Managing Stress Levels
It’s all fun and games until someone misses their flight, picks a fight over Pictionary, or your cousin insists on bringing his kids to the family vacation. How dare he!?
Most binges or feeling out of control around food stems from stress getting to that boiling point. That’s where the self-care daily practice above comes in: keeping your overall levels low.
However, the desire to emotionally eat is going to happen sometimes. Even self-care junkies hit that boiling point, and if your default has been food or booze (which is likely most of us... at least for now!) you're likely going to think, "Screw it, where are the brownies?”
I encourage you to see this reaction as your pink (not red) flag. That's when it's time to pull out a realistic mental list (I'll get to that in a second) of things to soothe you and get you out of that "hot state" back into a “cool state” - like how you felt during your self-care morning ritual.
The reality is you're not doing anything wrong feeling like you want to emotionally eat - if you've blacked out and are knee deep in pretzels and come to, be gentle to yourself. You're not doing anything wrong, you simply want to feel better. And sometimes at that boiling point, our bodies go into autopilot with our thoughts (and if allowed to run wild, then our behaviors).
From a gentle place ask yourself: what do I truly need right now? What am I truly hungry for?
This is where it gets personal... and why the "take a bath when you want to emotionally eat" advice is bullshit at that moment unless you need relaxation and baths happen to be relaxing to you... then go for it!
But if you need to be mad, maybe you duck on to the porch and growl and throw some punches. Not kidding. Repeat until you feel more stable.
If you need to be distracted from the kids, go distract yourself. Put the pretzels down and binge shitty TV or shop online on your phone in the bathroom. No judgment.
If you need to mull things over and just stew for a bit, maybe stewing and walking works for you. Maybe it’s subtly taking deep breaths while everyone gripes about the restaurant you picked…
If you simply need something to do with your hands instead of eating salty snacks while sitting in the beach house at night, I like to use an adult coloring book, ask someone to play a card game, or maybe you knit, or even journal (pen and paper can satisfy that sensation).
When you really accept that you're not "being bad" or doing something wrong, we strip away the judgment and see what it is that us living feeling beings really need. Then we can address our needs in a way that comforts us, without feeling destructive or creating another consequence.
Again: you're not doing anything wrong, and you're not crazy to want to feel better. But there is a difference in my opinion between self-care (the daily rituals that keep us grounded and focused on our health, energy, intentions - Strategy #3) and self-soothing (the in the moment tactics to take us from a hot state to a cold state - Strategy #4).
STRATEGY #5: Plan For Coming Home
Nobody wants to say it, but that’s what you have me for: vacations end. Here’s how I deal with this deeply unfair law of the Universe:
- Take a day to regroup post vacation: if you have the extra vacation days, hooray! If you can come home on a Saturday instead of the last flight on Sunday, do it. I know it cuts the trip short by a day but you’ll be so thankful to have a day to unpack, shop, get some sleep and reset before jumping into “real life.” Believe me! It’s like leaving the bar early… nothing good happens after 12am.
- Leave yourself some gifts: depending on how long you’re gone, you’ll likely not have a lot in the fridge, but stock your freezer. I know you have a lot to do to get ready to leave, but this is 100% worth it. Put a big pot of soup on the stove while you pack or something so you can come home to dinner that night after the road trip, or be ready to get back to the office with lunches for the week. These are my favorite freezable meals so now there’s no excuse! At the very very very least, write out your grocery list and have your meals picked out for the week you come home before you leave.
- Outsource your food (if you must). If you didn’t prep to come home it’s all good! Ride that vacation buzz by using things like Instacart or Prime Delivery to get your groceries, pick up grab and go salads or Whole Foods hot bar until you get a chance to regroup, or if you’re in Austin places like SNAP Kitchen or The Studio Kitchen are amazing resources.
- Don’t do a juice cleanse. Even if you totally blew it, getting "back on the wagon" doesn't have to be a punishment (or a drag). People think you need to go back to eating salads and chicken breasts and crappy diet food to repent for the vacation sins. I encourage you to not think in black and white! If you were really off track, you've likely lost your clarity. Let me explain: when you're focused on the outcome (what doing something will get you) you will do anything. There are two components to motivation: the process and the outcome. When you focus on the process (all the crap you have to do to get back on track), you will drown. Focus on the outcome you want (energy, fitting into your clothes, freedom from cravings…) and the motivation to “get back on track” will follow. From there you just need a strategy, and I happen to know some of the greatest coaches in the world. Trust.
You deserve a vacation. A real life, have-it-all, taste every bite but feel totally amazing coming home vacation. Imagine getting back from a vacation feeling better than when you left. It’s possible!