How to eat healthy when traveling


TDEE in Nutrition

1. Sustainable nutrition includes learning to let go a little during your trips.

2. As long as you maintain most of your healthy habits, there’s no need to worry.

3. At the end of the day, it’s about the memories you create. Never will you think back to your vacation and go “Oh I really hit my macros that week”.

You’ve been on a roll, chasing your goals. You’ve seen progress but a new challenge arises. How do you eat healthy when traveling, while both enjoying your trip and maintaining your results?

Once you get into a bit of a routine, nutrition can be pretty easy to stick to. But when there’s the slightest bit of change, it becomes way more difficult, or at least it seems to feel that way.

That goes for weekends, when all of the sudden your usual work schedule isn’t keeping you in check anymore.. but especially on vacations and holidays. Right?

You’re about to learn 5 ways to avoid weight gain when traveling.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you not to drink alcohol, or to avoid sugar. Instead you’ll simply maintain your healthy habits most of the time, so you can allow for flexibility while keeping the weight off. 

Meaning you can go on your vacation without having to worry about gaining a bunch of weight and having to start all over again when you get home. Towards the end of this article I’ll also share some additional tips and tricks.

Make sure to stick around so you get the most out of this article.

Table of Contents

Why it’s not worth worrying about your vacation

Any time an online nutrition coaching client is about to head into a new scenario like this one, I get excited. Because they’ve just bumped into a new learning opportunity, just like you reading this article.

Think about it, you’re going to spend quite a bit of time outside of your usual routines every year. You’re going to celebrate birthdays, dinners with friends and family, holidays, weekends (52 of them!), and you’ll go on vacation at least once a year.

Therefore, instead of stressing about those moments, let’s figure out how to make them part of your journey. Because sustainable nutrition includes learning to let go a little during your trips, as you maintain your key habits.

I encourage you to be ok with a change of environment, and to be open for a new challenge.

How to eat healthy when traveling: Goals & expectations

How exactly you’re going to go about your vacation and what’s necessary, will depend on your goals, needs, preferences, and expectations. Does your job/sport depend on you looking a certain way or weighing a certain weight (i.e. modeling, bodybuilding, weight class athlete).

No? Then you don’t really have to be very strict at all. Before we talk about how to eat healthy when traveling though, let’s address a few more things.

  • Should you track your macros?
    Maybe, probably not, but that’s really up to you to decide.
  • Are you going to have to eat clean, and skip the drinks and desserts altogether?
    Probably not, because you want to enjoy your vacation. #neverskipdessert
  • Does that mean it needs to turn into an all-out binge fest just because you’re on vacation?
    Probably not.

There’s really no right or wrong here. In the grand scheme of things, a week or two won’t do a whole lot of damage. Just be aware that every decision you make does come with a consequence. You can enjoy without going into F#-it-mode, here’s how.

How to eat healthy when traveling: 5 ways

In order of importance, the following 5 methods should keep you in check during your vacation. 

The fact that these fundamental habits are also some of the same habits that support every long term health goal and keep your metabolism from slowing down as you age is not a coincidence. With a flexible dieting approach, you’re simply going to maintain most of your healthy habits most of the time, to allow for flexibility in moderation.

#1: Sleep
This first method really plays into the other four. Because good sleep makes everything better. First of all, you’ll have plenty of energy for activities (“So many activities!”). Second, you’ll be in an overall better mood, so your decision making won’t be affected. Finally, a lack of sleep can lead to more hunger and cravings, something you probably don’t want to happen.

⇒ Click here to read more about the best sleep habits.

#2: Movement

It’s probably not a good idea to move only to then eat it all back at dinner (red flag!). However movement does account for about 20% percent of the total amount of calories you burn on a daily basis (TDEE), including both exercise and everyday movement (“So many activities!”).

For the many health benefits that come with it and to allow for plenty of food, try to aim for at least 8.000 – 10.000 steps per day. And if you can, and want to, I highly recommend getting a couple of workouts in while you’re at it.

I know.. You want to know how to eat healthy when traveling, and I’ll show you in a sec. But simply making sure you cover sleep and movement, indirectly takes care of a whole lot already!

#3: Filling foods

This tactic includes three specific guidelines to follow.
– Eat protein with every meal.
– Eat 1-3 servings of fruit per day.
– Eat 2-4 servings of veggies per day.

These foods will keep you full, are generally low in calories, have a high thermic effect (meaning you burn more calories by digesting these foods), and will indirectly keep you from snacking throughout the day. You see, I don’t want you to focus on NOT snacking, but mostly making these healthy food choices should at least accommodate for the big meals later on.

#4: Drink plenty of water
Hydration is key simply because water is involved in every process within your body. Your body IS over 50% water. Because of your daily activity and the fact that you’re most likely traveling to a warm place, make sure to drink plenty of water.

To cover your hydration needs, simply drink when you’re thirsty. Just make sure to get extra in hot environments, or when you’re going for a hike for example. If you want to keep your calories in check, try to mostly stick to water, coffee, tea, diet sodas, etc.

Tip: Carbonated drinks can help fill you up quite well. If you enjoy drinking sparkling water, try to include some with your meals.

#5: Eat slowly

Are you a member of the power-shovel gang? (guilty) You might want to consider slowing down. Eating slowly and mindfully allows for better digestion, which really begins in your mouth. I mean, who really wants to feel bloated on the beach?

Additionally, eating slowly will give your body more time to communicate with the brain. This allows you to better follow your natural hunger cues. A nice trick if you want to control your food intake without having to track a single calorie. This seems to work best with minimally processed foods though. The more palatable the food, the more likely you are to over-eat.

Tips & tricks, aka table manners: chew your food properly, put your fork down from time to time, or pace yourself with the slowest eater at the table.

L. left for her vacation with a whole new mindset

I recently talked to a client and friend who was about to leave for a vacation in Spain. She told me she had such a different mindset around nutrition since we started working together.

She said that because we’ve been following a flexible dieting approach, that always allows for the fun stuff in moderation, she didn’t have the feeling like she had to go all-out to ‘get the most out of her trip’.

Excited for her trip, she didn’t even worry about how not-perfect her nutrition was going to be. Her plan was to enjoy flexibility, while keeping up the healthy habits she’d been working on during the months prior. 

And guess what? She enjoyed her trip to the fullest, while following the 5 ways we just talked about, and came home lighter. This gave her a boost of motivation to continue her weight loss phase once she got back.

Bonus tips – How to eat healthy when traveling

  • Don’t diet on your vacation. It’s probably not going to be worth it. Even if weight loss is your goal, just take a break and aim to maintain your current results. You’d be surprised how much food you can really get away with at maintenance. This is exactly what my friend did. Even though she was in the middle of a weight loss phase, we just put her back at maintenance for the week to allow for a nice break.
  • Adjust meal frequencyThis is something I personally like to do. While I typically eat 5 meals a day, I tend to bring it down to 3 during vacations. This makes it easier to keep my total food intake in check, plus it allows for bigger meals. I also like to include protein-based snacks in between to keep me satiated throughout the day.
  • Stick to meals that look like this. When looking at a menu, ask yourself the following questions: does this meal include a clear protein, carb and fat source? Does it include fruits and/or veggies? Are most of those foods minimally processed? Yeah? Then it’s likely a very solid meal.

    At buffets, a great way to put together a plate is going for 25% protein, about 30% carbs and/or fats, and filling up the rest of your plate fruits and/or veggies. This meal composition will look very familiar if you’ve been making your own macro meal plan.

Want a Meal Builder Guide  (PDF) that you can bring with you anywhere? Super simple to follow, easy to apply, and FREE for our private community members.

Now go and start packing your suitcase, unless you want to be like me and always leave it up to the very last minute. And remember the 5 ways to maintaining your results on vacation.

Sleep in, you deserve that extra rest.

Move plenty, there’s so much room for activities!

Eat filling foods that will make you feel good and that don’t leave you craving more 5 seconds after finishing your meal.

Drink plenty of water and eat slowly, remember your table manners.

One last thing before you leave..

Make sure to enjoy your trip!

Those three words are even more important than everything else we just talked about. Nutrition doesn’t have to be a stressor in your life. If anything, it should add to it. Include good meals and drinks with friends and family.

At the end of the day, it’s about the memories you create. Never will you think back to your vacation and go “Oh I really hit my macros that week”. Include the basics, allow yourself to be flexible, and most importantly: have fun!

Want to keep learning?