Everyone enjoys a little indulgence while relaxing on vacation. But if you’re not careful, you might be bringing home more than a tan and a suitcase of souvenirs, a new study says. You could be carrying a little extra weight.
The study, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, found that short-term vacations result in significant — and long-lasting — weight gain. This was true even for those who increased their physical activity while on vacation. At the same time, the vacationers’ perceived stress and systolic blood pressure decreased after being on vacation for one to three weeks.
The researchers took height, weight, blood pressure and other health measurements from 122 adults who took vacations lasting from one to three weeks. Information was gathered one week before, one week after and then six weeks after the vacation.
Alcohol the main culprit
The vacationers gained nearly a pound while on vacation. What’s worse is that the weight gain persisted so that by six weeks later, they had kept that weight and put on a little bit more.
The researchers said the main culprit for the weight gain was an increase in calorie intake, especially from alcohol. Consumption of alcoholic drinks doubled on average from eight per week before the vacation to 16 per week during vacation.
Longitudinal studies among U.S. adults show that average weight gain is somewhere between 0.9 and 2.2 pounds every year, the researchers say. Research shows that the holiday season and summer vacations for children and adolescents are strong contributors to yearly weight gain. But the new study shows that other, very short periods of time throughout the year can contribute a significant portion of the average yearly weight gain, the researchers say.
Practice mindful eating
There are several ways that you can avoid the annual creeping weight gain that vacations contribute to, says Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD. Dr. Albers did not participate in the study.
Many people will diet or restrict their eating before going on vacation, Dr. Albers-Bowling says. The thinking is that if they lose a little weight before vacation, they can afford to indulge while on vacation and gain a couple of pounds without any overall impact.
“I encourage people not to diet before going on vacation,” Dr. Albers-Bowling says. “What ends up happening is when they go on vacation, they go completely overboard.”
Instead, Dr. Albers recommends using mindful eating techniques while you’re relaxing on vacation. That means slow down when you eat, be more aware of what you’re eating and pay attention to whether you actually are hungry — and stop eating when you feel satisfied.
“Mindful is not a diet, it’s just being more aware of how much you’re eating, being more mindful of your portions, and slowing down,” Dr. Albers-Bowling says.
Drink fluids often and keep walking
Another way to keep the vacation pounds off is to stay hydrated with non-alcoholic drinks. Water is perfect choice.
Drink plenty of fluids — with your meals and between meals — before you feel thirsty, Dr. Albers-Bowling says.
“On vacation, make sure you stay hydrated,” Dr. Albers-Bowling says. “I think this is a really important tip because sometimes we confuse hunger and thirst. We think that we’re hungry, but we’re actually thirsty.”
On vacation, you often go out for every meal, Dr. Albers-Bowling says. Try splitting meals with friends and family to match the size of meals you would have at home. Or pack some of your own snacks to tide you over between meals.
Also, vacation is the perfect time to wear a pedometer, Dr. Albers-Bowling says. Research has shown that people who are mindful of their steps tend to lose more weight.