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4 Ways to Stick to Your Diet While on Vacation

Illustration: Bee Johnson

Plan and strategize to avoid overeating.

At home, your food routine may be simple, predictable even. But hop on a plane, take a drive in a car, or catch a train to a new destination, and all bets are off. Eating healthy when you're out of your comfort zone can be tricky, if not downright difficult.

"When we travel, our environment changes," says diabetes educator Megrette Fletcher, RD, cofounder of The Center for Mindful Eating. "Your habits change. The travel environment is very stimulating. That can make us feel less vigilant."

Feelings of insecurity and fear mingle with hunger and anxiety. It's a dynamic environment and one that can lead directly to food overreactions. "Routines get broken as well as the control you may have over what you eat or when you eat it," says Susan Mitchell, PhD, RDN, cohost of the biweekly podcast Breaking Down Nutrition on foodfitfabulous.com. "Our best intentions go out the window."

But good news: It is possible for you to eat—and even splurge a little—while you're traveling for business or pleasure, without going overboard. It just requires a little extra planning, strategizing, and willpower. Here's how.

4 STEPS FOR SMARTER CHOICES

1. Splurge Wisely
You want to enjoy that superdelicious gelato you can't find at home.
THE FIX: Cut back on calories a bit before you go. "I diet two days for every day I'm going to be on vacation," says Julie Upton, RD, author of The Real Skinny. "So if I'm going away for 10 days, I eat really healthfully and cut back for 20 days before I'm leaving to account for the additional calories I'll be eating on vacation."
And when you're full, stop. Overfilling yourself won't make the food memory more potent. "Food is part of the enjoyment," Fletcher says. "Even though you're traveling and can't take it with you, you don't have to eat everything if you're full. You can stop."

2. Plan Your Meals
Hotel rooms are often ill-equipped for full meal service, so you dine out at every meal. That can really add up on your waistline, Upton says.
THE FIX: Eat out only once a day. If you're driving, head for a grocery store that has its own salad bar rather than a fast-food joint. Bring foods with you, or do a quick grocery store run when you get to your destination. Rent or stay in homes or hotels that have kitchenettes. This will help you eat a good breakfast and control snack and lunch portions.

3. Distract Yourself
Your flight is delayed three hours for "maintenance." You could clean out 400 emails. Instead, you distract yourself with a 600-calorie cheeseburger and fries.
THE FIX: "If your habit is to go eat food, you may need to think about something else to fill that time," says Fletcher. One idea: Go for a walk. Larger airports are a lot like cities with unique transit systems and fun stores.

4. Avoid the Triple Threat
"When going on vacation, we often think, "Anything goes!" which equals, "I'm eating whatever I want and drinking more than usual,"" says Upton. Alcohol is the triple threat when you're traveling, she says. "It is high in calories, it stimulates your appetite, and it reduces your inhibitions toward junk food. Foods that you'd normally say are off-limits are suddenly just fine after a few drinks."
THE FIX: For starters, stick with lower-calorie alcoholic beverages, Upton says. Good picks: ultralight beers and distilled spirits mixed with calorie-free seltzer or other calorie-free beverages. "Avoid many of the popular summer signature blended drinks, as they are among the highest-calorie alcoholic beverages and generally have a lot of added sugars," Upton adds.