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Get Away Without Getting Off Track

How to keep healthy while on vacation.

Vacation season is fast approaching! Though you’ve probably been looking forward to this all year, going on vacation can also be a little daunting when you’ve been working hard to eat well and stay active. We know how alluring the endless buffets, lounge chairs, and time to simply do nothing can be, so here’s some advice to not only enjoy your vacation, but to stay healthy on it, too.

Top tip: Hydration

Ben Sit, Toronto-based registered dietitian and founder of Evolved Sport and Nutrition, says the most important thing to do to stay healthy while on vacation is to hydrate, especially if you’re going somewhere hot.

“Staying well hydrated could mean preventing unnecessary snacking throughout the day,” says Sit, explaining that when we’re dehydrated, we often eat to rehydrate our bodies. Visiting a hot country, increasing our daily activity with sightseeing, and drinking alcohol are all risk factors for dehydration.

“My biggest tip is to carry a water bottle,” Sit says, and if you’re the adventurous type travelling somewhere where the water isn’t the safest to drink, he recommends bringing water treatment kits with you.

Prepping for the plane

“When flying, I always make sure my clients have a nutrition flight plan,” says Sit. “This usually includes bringing a large empty water bottle to fill past customs and security so that you can stay well hydrated on the flight.”

He also suggests preparing cut up veggie sticks, protein bars, and sandwiches if the airline allows you to bring your own food on board. 

When it comes to keeping active, Sit recommends making an effort to move around semi-regularly before or during a flight, though of course no one wants to sit next to the person who gets up every hour just to walk up and down the aisle, he says.

“For me personally, I always try to fit in a workout before the flight and always bring carrot sticks, bell peppers, and some celery.”

If you can, try to fit a workout in the day of your flight before heading to the airport, or if you have a long layover, try to get some activity in then. Many airports also have gyms now, Sit says, so that can give you another activity option.

Eating on vacation

This really depends on the destination you’re visiting, Sit says.

If he has clients visiting the United States, Australia, or the United Kingdom, Sit tends to be a bit more prescriptive because the food systems are similar to Canada’s. If you’re travelling further afield though, Sit is more liberal in his guidelines because “there is such a different emphasis on food and its preparation” in countries across Central and South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

At any rate, “I always make sure that my clients have at least half their plate [full] of veggies and [advise them] to increase their vegetable intake while travelling,” he says.

Yes, you should indulge

“Absolutely, indulgence is allowed and encouraged!” Sit says. “It's a vacation, which means you're either taking a break from your routine or exploring another culture.”

There's no better way, Sit says, to explore another culture than through eating, as food is a reflection of people’s culture, values, religion, food systems, and identity. 

"I usually tell people to pick one meal of the day to be a bit more liberal about and then to pay attention to portion size goals at the other meals,” he says.

Keeping active on vacation

“The likelihood that someone is going to maintain the same workout routine while on vacation is unrealistic,” Sit says.

With so much to do on vacation, are you really going to want to spend an hour a day in the hotel gym? Probably not.  

“Instead, what I get people to do is plan their itineraries to include activities with physical activity in them,” Sit says. “These could include walking tours, city biking tours, hikes, or even making sure someone brings a beach volleyball with them! The point is to find a way to enjoy your physical activity and to enjoy your vacation at the same time!” 

Staying safe in the sun

It’s more than likely your vacation will take you somewhere hot and sunny, so we asked Toronto dermatologist Dr. Benjamin Barankin for tips to keep your skin healthy under the sun – whether you’re on vacation or at home.

“Sun protection is the number-one thing you can do to age more gracefully and prevent skin cancer. It’s a no-brainer!” says Dr. Barankin, who is the medical director and founder of the Toronto Dermatology Centre.

Dr. Barankin’s tips include:

  • Use SPF 30 high-quality sunscreen every morning, regardless of the weather.
  • Wear a hat when possible – preferably a wide-brim one, as you want to cover your ears and nose, which are high-risk areas for skin cancer.
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing.
  • Minimize your midday sun exposure. 

Bonus tip: Plan ahead, then slow down

Maintaining your healthy habits can be tricky on vacation, so your best bet is to take a slowed down, no-stress approach.

Make a mental game plan before your trip, Sit suggests, so you can be prepared to allow yourself to enjoy some things and know what your limits are.

“Stressing out about weight loss over a vacation is only going to ruin your vacation and the stress could lead to more weight gain,” he says. “Most people don't create this mental game plan so they end up stressing out on vacation and overeating.”

Once you have a plan, you can be calm and enjoy your time off – no fuss, no muss, and no stress.

“Slow down and enjoy the food and enjoy your vacation,” Sit says. “When people slow down while eating, it can allow the body to better recognize feelings of fullness while you savour every bite, which could mean eating less.”