With summer fast approaching (or already here!), many of you are working out and dieting to earn your “beach body,” fit into a new dress, swimsuit, or last year’s summer wardrobe. Don’t undo all that work while you’re overseas or road-tripping across America. I know what it’s like to struggle with one’s health in the face of temptation. The struggle is real! So, I’ve put together this list of 11 tips from years of trying to adhere to them myself. Good luck and bon voyage!
- Bread. Just put the baguette down. I am as guilty as the rest for doubling and sometimes tripling my bread consumption once the plane lifts off. Whether fresh from a renowned bakery or packaged offerings at a hotel breakfast, low-nutrition carbs are easy to grab and go. Plus, eating frequent dinners out presents endless opportunities to gorge on the pre-meal basket. Don’t deprive yourself of a delicious slice of sourdough, just choose when it’s worth it. Baked in-house with whole grains and served with whipped sea-salt-and-anchovy-butter? Absolutely. But if its half stale filler dropped on the table before your pasta plate arrives, skip it. In fact, send it back. A lot of restaurants in Europe charge a cover for that mediocre offering, so you’ll save both calories and a few euros by refusing it.
- Breakfast isn’t dessert. Europeans seem intent to fatten us up during the most important meal of the day — or maybe they think they are giving us what we want. The hotel breakfast has transformed from the forlorn “continental” land of stale bread and spongy mystery meat to a bountiful spread of cookies, cakes, almond croissants and sugary yogurt fit for the subjects of Marie Antoinette. Usually hiding within, however, is a platter of hard boiled eggs. Since most morning spreads just aren’t tasty nor nutritious enough (usually delivered by a company rather than baked on-site), eating it is just not worth it. Save your dessert for a real pastry chef and instead find the protein and fruit. Eggs, plain yogurt, melon and berries. You’ll feel better throughout the day, too.
- Hydrate. In certain countries, it’s hard to stay on top of water consumption since tap isn’t readily available or commonly offered. If you’ve ever been out walking in the heat all day and noticed your fingers stiffening and swelling, you’ve experienced dehydration. And hotels don’t always help, charging huge fees in rooms for the privilege of a swig. So here is my neat trick: buy a cheap big bottle and a little bottle at a market. Refill the small from the large before going out to walk the city all day. And when you run out of both — go down to the hotel gym, if there is one. Gyms always have water tanks or even free bottles.
- Exercise. Twenty minutes every other day will keep the tire at bay. You’re not going to lose weight on a leisure trip, especially one focused on wine and food, but you can come close to breaking even. Set aside 20 minutes every other morning, either in the gym or outside, to run, speed walk, do HIIT, yoga, etc. I won’t suggest every day since that’s an unrealistic goal given early morning departures, tours, or even hangovers. And once you miss a few, discouragement sets it. But every other day is achievable. Before breakfast, in the time it takes to scroll Facebook and post a few Instagram pics, you can have your limbs flexed and your heart rate pumping. You’ll feel better throughout the day and eat healthier. When we feel bad or lethargic, we reach for the comfort of a chocolate croissant. Feeling energized, you are more likely to order a green juice with a side of fruit.
- Walk (and skip the Segway tour). Unless you have an injury, illness, or disability, get off the contraption and move your legs. Or ride a bike. European cities, have great bike share programs that make it easy to rent and return. Plus, being on foot lets you shoot photos, stop in churches, and discover cafes, shops and ramble down charming alleyways.
- Meditate. If you don’t do this in your normal life, you may wonder how you can get started when traveling. Or why you should. The short answers are to first, download one of any apps on the market, and second, employ one of their short, guided programs during times of stress or sleeplessness. Two situations in which I find apps useful: delays at the airport or worse, on the plane; and when I can’t sleep, either from the time change, a pancake pillow, or a red eye flight in cattle class. Buddhify is one of many, but to use it as an example, they offer situational categories like “falling asleep,” “can’t sleep,” or “traveling.” They range in length from 5-15 minutes and often have you dozing off or calmly breathing, blood pressure reduced, before they conclude. Better than taking a pill for either.
- Spa. Book a massage, or at least use a hotel’s complimentary bathing and sauna facilities if they have them. Assuming you are on a vacation and not an expedition, you should take personal time to decompress. Don’t ask permission from your spouse, and don’t feel guilty over skipping another Baroque church. A great day for the spa, if you do have a busy itinerary, is upon arrival. If you’re flying from the U.S. to Europe, you’re likely on an exhausting overnight flight. While struggling to stay awake all day to align yourself with the time change, arrange a treatment. If the hotel is too expensive, check for a Chinese Tui-Na or Thai spot nearby.
- Dessert. Save it for a special night. It’s easy to get carried away ordering something sweet after every meal because the entire trip feels like a “special occasion.” But seven days of chocolate cake will lead to tight clothes, bloat, and a lack of energy. And with all the evidence linking sugar to cancer, dessert is best saved for a night when it will likely deliver serious wow-factor. Whether that’s a unique, homemade regional dish you’ll likely never see again or the creation from a Michelin-star restaurant, you and your body will appreciate it more if you indulge less.
- Alcohol. Shoot for one or two alcohol free days. If you hardly drink, feel free to skip this. But for those of us who tend to have a glass of wine with lunch, an aperitif, another glass or two with dinner, then possibly a digestif, all that booze adds up. A 5-ounce glass of red wine has around 120 calories x 5 day x a 7 day trip in France, equals an extra 600 calories a day or 4200 for the week. That’s the equivalent of eating a Big Mac plus a few extra bites EVERY day. On your “off” days hit the spa, take a hike, but plan something away from wineries and tasting-menu restaurants.
- Sleep. Late nights and early morning tours make for an exhausting week. Schedule a few mornings of guilt-free dozing to pay back your sleep debt. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you’ve got to see the Coliseum before the crowds at first light, you just don’t need to do it every morning.
- Sunscreen. This hardly needs explaining but should always be stressed. A few days of bronzed glow aren’t worth a lifetime of wrinkles or fear of skin cancer. Look for sunscreens with both UVA and UVB protection. Blocking UVB may prevent burning (which is what the SPF number indicates), but UVA still delivers skin-damaging radiation (and isn’t rated). Regulatory bodies in Australia and Europe have capped SPF at 50+ because beyond that, added protection is minimal and you’re basically buying a marketing ploy. The U.S. has yet to follow suit, naturally. When selecting one, buy a minimum of SPF 30+. Sunscreens with both UVA and UVB protection may be labeled multi spectrum, broad spectrum, or UVA/UVB protection.
Good luck staying fit and trim on your summer trips this summer!