Monday, May 31, 2010

What is a healthy approach to eating during holidays and vacations?

In mid May I spent two, lovely weeks in California. The first, several days were spent in L.A. for an annual industry conference I attend for work. It's always a fun occasion that I anticipate, and one of its highlights this year was an exclusive party at Universal Studios Park with a free concert by Maroon 5 at the Gibson Theater. After the conference ended, my parents met me for a vacation in central California and L.A. We drove along the coast and stopped in many cute towns, went to Santa Barbara and Solvang, toured three missions and Hearst Castle in San Simeon, visited the Reagan and Nixon presidential libraries and San Luis Obispo's tiny historical museum, and spent a day along the piers and boardwalks of three, tony beach towns north of L.A. We also ate a lot. All my meals were catered or eaten in restaurants, and I did a fair amount of snacking at receptions, coffee shops, bakeries and even in the car.

I never approach a holiday, vacation or conference expecting to lose weight. I want to enjoy my life and all the many opportunities I have to experience new things. Food is part of that. I don't want to spend time worrying about counting points or fearing I will gain weight while on holiday. At the same time, I am very aware of all the hard work and effort I've put into finding ways to control my tendency to overeat and my weakness for emotional eating.

I'm not sure it is healthy that I seemed to ignore most of what I have learned about healthy eating during those two weeks in California. I was aware of what I was eating every day, and there were moments when I had pangs about how bad my portion control, snacking and meal choices were. Some days were better than others, but I did not have one "good" eating day where I stayed within my point/calorie count for the day. I didn't beat myself up about this, but I do wonder if I'd given myself too much latitude to overeat.

I knew when I approached the scale at Weight Watchers on the first Tuesday after I returned from California that it wasn't going to be pretty. I joked with myself that I hoped I hadn't gained more than 5 pounds, so I wasn't surprised to see I had gained 5.2 pounds. I didn't freak. My clothes still fit. It's not time to panic, but I didn't like to see that I'm now down only 27.4 pounds since 1/09, and I'm not particularly fond of how much I weighed that night. I can't change what I ate in California, and honestly, I had a really good time. I'm not going to beat myself up about it, but I do want to figure out if I should develop a different approach to holidays or vacations in the future.

Since January of 2009, I have gained weight during weeks with work conferences, holidays or vacations. I always lost that weight fairly quickly and went on to lose more. In fact, the last time I gained 5 pounds in 2 weeks was during August 2009, and that gain was what finally broke the exercise-induced plateau that had been haunting me for months that summer. It could be that this 5 pound gain is what will finally break this 3 month streak I had going of staying between 31 and 33 pounds down, and I will be able to start a several month long streak of losing weight. Naturally, I would have rather broken this (possible) plateau by losing weight, but I'll take whatever works.

All of this may be way too much optimistic spin, and I still don't know if I should change my approach in the future. While today is a day to honor military personnel who have died for their country, many also consider it the unofficial start of the summer. I have several more holidays and vacations to anticipate the next few months, the rest of the year and even this week. My birthday is this Friday. I plan to enjoy all my special occasions for the rest of my life, but I'm not sure I want to have any more five pound weight gains in two weeks during my journey to becoming and staying a healthy writer.

What do you think is a healthy approach to eating during holidays and vacations? Do you have any tips for me for my next holiday or vacation?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at


Anne MacFarlane on May 31, 2010 at 1:24 PM said...

I don't usually gain on vacation. My trick? No food in the hotel room or car. But I eat more or less what I want (within reason) at meal time. I allow myself to skip the salads and enjoy whatever the specialty is at that restaurant or city. That way, I'm full and satisfied but there's only so much I can eat in one sitting so I have a natural cut off point. And if I want that ice cream as I'm walking on the beach, I have it. Since my issue is snacking at night or mindlessly eating while watching TV, since there's no food in the room - I can't.

Michelle Butler on May 31, 2010 at 1:47 PM said...

That is encouraging that you've found a way to enjoy your vacation and not gain weight. There may be hope for me. :)

I know I was not within reason in CA. There was a loss of control on many days. I'm going to try to enjoy my b-day but still stay within reason.

Diane Gaston on May 31, 2010 at 10:01 PM said...

I'm worried about vacation eating. Unlike Anne, I almost have to eat in the car or I'll get carsick. I also find that eating salads while on the road is not help. Accckk!

Michelle Butler on June 1, 2010 at 9:24 AM said...

The problem with eating salads in restaurants is that the stuff that makes them yummy (e.g. dressing, toppings) often make them as many calories as my perrennial favorite - a burger and fries. Best wishes on your vacation, Diane!

Michelle Butler on June 2, 2010 at 9:24 AM said...

Update: I lost 2.4 pounds last week (confirmed last night at WW) so I'm about halfway down from my 2-week trip gain. It is true that if you put the weight on fast you can sometimes get it off fast.

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