When it comes to going on holiday, particularly over Christmas or Easter, it’s no easy task sticking to the same diet you would normally eat. Last Christmas I went on a cruise with my family, aboard P&O’s Aurora ship. One of the most enjoyable features of a cruise is the abundance of deliciously decadent food—to have paid for a luxury cruise and then eaten very little would have been to deprive myself of one of the main benefits of going on the cruise in the first place. However, now I’m paying close attention to my diet, I couldn’t just spend ten days consuming vast amounts of food without any regard for the effect it was having on my body. We went on a cruise to the Baltic last summer, during which I must have put some extra weight on because the slim fitting evening shirt I took, barely fit me by the last formal night. I was determined for that not to be the case this time, so I devised six simple rules to keep my fitness plan on track.
Create a plan and stick to it.
It might sound pretty obvious, but from the first meal we had onboard, I made an agreement with myself on how to keep an eye on my consumption. Once I made the plan, I always had it in mind, I wasn’t counting everything that went in my mouth or every moment of exercise I did—but simply having a plan helped prevent me from overconsuming. The important thing is that once I decided how to proceed, I stuck to that plan for the entire holiday. In the end it worked very well.
With so much decadent food available, particularly at the buffet restaurant we primarily used for breakfast and lunch—it would have been very easy to eat a lot. Some of the food such as roast salmon, beef brisket and grilled winter vegetables were so delightful it was tempting to return for second or even third helpings (there is no limit to what you can take/eat). But doing so would be falling off the wagon, so I made sure to eat what I needed to fill me up and no more.
Don’t skip meals
Sometimes it’s tempting to skip breakfast or lunch, but this would likely lead to overeating later in the day. Therefore, I stuck to the same schedule every day, eating meals at pretty much the same time. This helped my body stay in rhythm and keep a stable metabolism.
Eat until you’re full
This rule sort of goes hand in hand with the portion size one, but if you’re served a big meal and feel full halfway through—you’re under no obligation to continue eating it, no matter how delicious it is. A few times I took smaller portions than I would normally because I didn’t feel that hungry.
If I’m going to consume more calories that I would normally, I should make more effort to work them off. From the outset I made a promise to myself to visit the gym as regularly as possible, as well as getting lots of exercise dashing around the ship taking care of my daughter. Whether you’re working out in a gym, or just going for a long walk—any additional activity will help slaughter those extra calories and keep your fitness plan on track.
Drink lots of water
Staying adequately hydrated will help digestion and ensure the energy you’ve consumed is burnt as fuel rather than stored as fat. Drinking lots of water also keeps you alert and feeling on top of your game. When you’re out and about exploring new places, it’s quite easy to forget to drink as much as you need. So, always carry a bottle of water and enjoy the best energy drink there is. For more information on maintaining adequate hydration, why not read my post ‘Water: What’s in it for us?’
Aside from these hard and fast rules, I took a few additional measures to keep my fitness plan alive. I normally prioritise protein and keep carbohydrate consumption to a minimum. Therefore, whenever I was choosing what to eat, I tried to select protein rich foods and limit my carbs. It was also important, not only for weight management but also my general well-being, to get as much rest as I could. I made sure to get at least six hours sleep every night (to get much more would be impossible with a hyperactive four-year-old daughter who gets up very early).
Into some detail
For many people reading this, my rules of dietary engagement may seem a bit of a fun-killer. Not so. Most of them were so easy to stick to and came almost as second nature—the mere presence of the rules actually stopped me feeling guilty from eating more than I would have done if I was at home. Nobody wants to go on holiday and stick to a rule book, but then few people want to let go of the improvements to they’ve made to a healthy lifestyle.
I ate very well and enjoyed every meal. For breakfast I normally had a bowl of All Bran with whole milk, followed by sausage and eggs—washed down with a black coffee and glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. I could have cut out the elements of a cooked breakfast, but by doing so I would have deprived myself of a meal I enjoy but eat very rarely. Only on Christmas day did I go the whole hog and devour a full English breakfast (because it was Christmas).
Lunch was almost always eaten in the self-service Horizon restaurant—for this meal I tried my best to prioritise protein-rich foods, with very few (if any) carbohydrate heavy sides. One of the best meals I had was simply oven baked cod, garnished with some herbs. Goodness knows how much I ate, but I certainly went back for a second helping. Other days I had grilled salmon, smoked salmon, roast gammon and some cold meats with salad. Because the Horizon is a buffet and there is nobody dishing out the food, it’s easy to over indulge and take more food than you need. I’m confident I fought this urge most days.
Dinner was the biggest meal of the day, which we enjoyed in the Medina restaurant—one of two main restaurants on the ship where you can enjoy a five-course meal of the very highest standard. Meals I ate for dinner included the legendary lamb shank, beef Wellington, swordfish steak, roast goose and a Christmas dinner. The meal began with a starter, then a soup, occasionally a sorbet before the main course. After that it was on to dessert and then cheese and biscuits. Whilst it was tempting to skip a course or decline the cheese and biscuits—it’s part of what makes a cruise such an enjoyable experience.
Probably the biggest chore of the holiday was logging my food in MyFitnessPal, but it gave a me a really good indication of how much I was consuming—and it was almost always more than you would think. Clearly there was a reasonable margin of error, because I didn’t have the exact nutritional information for a meal, but I made approximations and subscribed to the idea that it’s better to have a bit of an idea rather than no clue at all.
Looking back at the statistics of how much I consumed during the ten nights on Aurora, I averaged 3,363 calories a day—peaking at 4,445 on Christmas day. This might sound like a lot, but don’t forget that whilst I was eating quite freely, I was conscious to limit what I did consume. I ate much smaller portions than I would have normally done on holiday. I could have been pushing seven or eight thousand calories if I hadn’t stuck to my rules. Three or four thousand is okay—considering on the 27th December when we visited Amsterdam I walked more than 32,000 steps and burnt 4,962 calories. Whilst this is an extreme case, even on quieter days I worked off 3,500 calories.
One of the most surprising elements of looking back at the data was how much of my daily intake was made up of fat. Using the macronutrient information on MyFitnessPal I could see that I averaged 32.5% carbohydrates, 22.7% protein and 44.8% fat. This is a stark contrast to days at home where my split would normally be 34%, 40% and 26%—making up a calorie consumption of 2562 on an average day. However, considering the nature of the food I was eating on holiday: cakes, desserts and savoury food made with high fat content sauces such as hollandaise or mayonnaise, it shouldn’t have come as such a shock. I don’t use MyFitnessPal every day because it’s too much effort to log a regular diet when I already know the nutritional composition of my food—but I strongly recommend using it every now and again to get a better understanding of the quantity and quality of food you’re consuming.
So, how did I do?
Overall, I’m delighted at how I managed to eat well but not put on weight whilst I was away. On the morning we boarded the ship I weighed 95.7kg and the day after we got back I stepped on the scales and saw the number 95.9kg smiling back at me. To be pedantic, I guess I gained 200g—but in honesty that’s within a margin of error and almost certainly would have disappeared after another visit to the toilet!
Of course, fitness and weight management aren’t only about calories—but I used this metric as an indicator to try and prevent overconsumption. Although the two days in Amsterdam were the most active, none of the days on holiday were relaxing or sedentary. Being a 12-story ship, there were plenty of flights of stairs to climb as well as different areas of the ship to explore, as well as pacing around the streets of the cities we visited. The combination of managing what I ate and endeavouring to be as active as possible proved to be a success. I’ve worked very hard and made a lot of sacrifices to be a leaner, healthier and more productive person. I’m delighted that I managed to have a brilliant family holiday, enjoying delicious food without gaining weight.
My friend and Personal Trainer, Evelina Krapane travels a lot—I asked her how she maintains a healthy diet whilst on holiday: “Eating healthily when travelling or on holiday can be a real challenge, and if I’m being honest, I take two different approaches depending what my training schedule is. If I’m in prep for a competition, I’ll try and stick as close as possible to the diet set by my coach. This involves eating at specific times and keeping a very close eye on what it is I’m eating—mostly vegetables with fish or chicken. I try and limit travelling during competition prep as much as possible, so I can concentrate on being in the best shape when my time on stage comes.”
“If travelling when I’m not training for a competition, I’ll relax the rules a lot and try to have a good time. Although it’s important not to eat irresponsibly when you’re on holiday—it’s an opportunity to relax, enjoy yourself and not pay too much attention to your diet. My best advice would be to always take the healthy option when there’s one available—but it’s okay to have most things in moderation. For example, rather than have a whole fried breakfast, why not go for an omelette or scrambled eggs with salmon?”
“If you want to stay healthy when on holiday, you really must consider alcohol—which is a big part of most people’s vacation. I’m not suggesting abstaining from drinking alcohol completely, but maybe go for a slimline gin or vodka drink rather than wine or beer (you really can’t beat a good G&T in the summer, can you?) Wine and beer both have quite a high calorie content. It makes little sense to watch what you’re eating all day and then drink five pints of lager every night does it?”
“I personally wouldn’t use MyFitnessPal or a similar app because I have a good knowledge of what’s in the food I eat, but if it helps you stay on track and isn’t too time consuming, then there’s no harm in it. But, it’s your holiday—I wouldn’t bother worrying too much, if you gain a few extra kilos you can always lose it when you get back!”
The last word
Although it’s perfectly acceptable and quite normal to relax your diet when on holiday—I chose to be in complete control of my nutrition and exercise. By doing so, I avoided unnecessary weight gain—and felt great because of it. Follow these simple guidelines to stay healthy when you’re on holiday:
- Make a plan and stick to it.
- Keep portion sizes small, or at least reasonable.
- Don’t skip meals, it normally leads to overeating later or snacking on unhealthy foods.
- Only eat until you’re full. Don’t finish a meal just for the sake of it.
- Be as active as possible. Go for a walk, get lost exploring somewhere!
- Drink lots of water.
- Don’t forget alcohol! Be mindful of how many calories are in each drink.