What’s your favorite part of traveling? If you’re anything like me and my husband you just said, “THE FOOD”

We just got back from a trip to the Grand Canyon. And let me tell you, even though it’s a wonder of the world, the view would have felt a LOT less wonderful without the local enchiladas and tacos along the way.

For me, great food completes the trip.

A lot of my clients feel the same way. They get excited to try new things in new places, but part of them feels sad: food guilt can be a total buzz kill leading up to vacation!

Here’s what one of my clients said in a recent session of her upcoming vacation with college friends: 

“I used to think “If I start now, I can lose X pounds by the trip…” and start crash dieting whenever we put something on the books. This is the first time I know the lead-up to my vacation won’t include dieting and obsessing about food and body image.”

For once, my client feels excited and peaceful before a trip. Her transformation makes it clear: we all need to learn how to not let diets ruin our vacations.

how diets ruin your vacation

Diets ruin your vacation because they set you on a path of binge-restrict cycles before, during, and after your trip.

Binges lead to food guilt and restriction leads to deprivation. Both of these feelings diminish any fun and joy associated with your travels.

If you want to feel more positive and get more value out of your vacations, it is helpful to know what you are up against. Which of these vacation-related types of food guilt have you experienced?

before the vacation

  • crash dieting in the hopes of losing X pounds by X date
  • obsessive thoughts about what to eat and how to move in order to lose weight
  • eating as little as possible during the day to make room for “vacation food” (only to binge at night)
  • body checking or disparaging how you look in swimwear leading up to the trip
  • considering backing out or canceling the trip out of guilt or shame

during the vacation

  • avoiding photos and experiences because you feel embarrassed of how you look
  • avoiding food experiences because you don’t want to blow your diet
  • excessively counting calories or feel guilt for everything you eat
  • eating until feeling sick, bloated, or, uncomfortable because you are “off” your diet

after vacation

  • punishing yourself with restrictive eating and exercise to “make up” for how you ate on vacation
  • bingeing because you’ve “already blown it”
  • feeling sadness or despair over how you look, instead of remembering the trip itself
  • weight regain, often higher than before you dieted for vacation

To find peace from food guilt, all it takes is a shift in mindset. This post will show you some strategies to get started.

don’t diet before you go (or when you come home)

A client of mine once told me she used to pack granola bars on her vacations so that she could eat them as meals during the day and better stick to her calorie count at night.

Another client told me she once drank two shakes a day for two weeks before vacation so that she could “afford” to eat how she really wanted while away.

In both cases, these dieting tactics lead to feeling deprived, and later out of control, around food. The solution to stop living in these food extremes is easier said than done: on or off vacation, eat like you normally would.

If you’re not sure how to approach “normal eating”, here are some guidelines:

  1. eat every 3-5 hours (or whenever you feel hungry)
  2. eat until satisfied, remembering that all foods fit
  3. eat a balance and variety of food groups

The best part about these tips is that they travel with you! You do not need to approach eating any differently on vacation than you do at home when you are an Intuitive Eater.

eat to feel good on vacation (just like you do at home)

Gentle nutrition, or choosing food based on how it makes your body perform, is an important part of the Intuitive Eating process. Over time, you can find patterns in how food makes you feel. You can also learn how food impacts health markers like blood pressure and and cholesterol.

Because dieters spend most of their time prior to vacation restricting food, vacations represent a brief window of reprieve from all the food rules and guilt.

In the binge phase of the binge-restrict cycle, your inner voice may say things like “well, I’m on vacation so I’m going to eat all the X, Y, Z while I can” without any regard for how you feel in the moment.

This can lead to bloating, feeling sick, and causes you even more guilt.

If you notice physical fullness, but still want to eat, try these questions to guide your choice:

  1. I can eat this anytime I want. Do I want some now? How much would make me feel best? or,
  2. This food isn’t really available at home. How much would allow me the experience without feeling sick?

When you approach food this way, you don’t feel deprived or guilty by your choices. All foods fit and you are free to do whatever feels right for you in the moment you are in.

If at any time you miss the mark – that’s okay. Being outside your usual environment may take some getting used to! Simply move on to the next meal and try again to feel your best. Again, how you approach food on vacation can look exactly like it does at home.

avoid vacation “body goals” and “diet talk”

It can be hard not to compare your body to others you see on vacation.

Plus, you may need to brace yourself for vacationing with people who are still deeply entrenched in diet culture. Their words and dieting behaviors can often trigger your own.

Depending on your history and goals, body image and boundary setting can be complex, personal work; so the earlier you can develop skills, the better.

On vacation, your goal isn’t necessarily to love your body, it’s to ensure negative body image doesn’t ruin your vacation. There is a difference.

My clients use a blend of techniques to help them improve body image and think less about how they look so they can feel more present during important moments like vacations.

try these ideas if negative body image gets the better of you:

  1. Be prepared to change the subject if others engage in diet talk
  2. Come up with an affirmation to redirect yourself when lost in body comparison, for example “I have a good body, too.”
  3. Update your social media with accounts that support body positivity and diversity
  4. Pause. Take a breath. Invite mindfulness and notice the moment you are in

why do you vacation?

When in doubt, remembering why you are on vacation can be a powerful technique to activate you toward food freedom. Very rarely do people say “the purpose of this trip is to get great pics of me for Instagram”. While a nice photo shoot for the ‘gram might feel nice to have, this isn’t why you are on vacation in and of itself.

My clients tell me they take vacation to live their values for balance, adventure, family, and fun. What are your values? How can you act on them, despite moments of food guilt and negative body image you face?

Too often, I see tips for not letting VACATIONS ruin your diet, when I believe it should be the other way around.

I hope you can chose 1 or 2 tips from this post to start experiencing less food guilt whenever you take your next much deserved vacation.

The tips in this post are part of the No Guilt Framework I teach clients through 3 month coaching programs and courses. Individual tips like these work best you moving through the process in a way that represents your unique history, values, and goals.

getting help

When we work together, I walk you through feeling at ease around food step-by-step. I offer group and private coaching programs that help you create a plan and practice the skills in this post with the focus and consistency you need to FINALLY feel peace around food and in your bigger body. Apply for coaching and I’ll meet with you to describe how you can go from feeling completely stuck in the diet cycle to feeling free and peaceful around food in 3 months, just like my clients do.