Why you shouldn’t worry about weight gain on vacation

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  • Lots of people worry about gaining weight while on vacation.
  • But it’s good to remember that weight is not the only indicator of good health.
  • Registered dietitian Emily Fonnesbeck told INSIDER that weight naturally fluctuates all the time, and that a short period of indulgent eating won’t make a drastic difference in your weight.
  • She also said enjoying your vacation, relaxing about your food choices, and connecting with your traveling companions is just as good for health.

Reality weight loss shows, diet advertisements, and Instagram before-and-afters continually bombard us with different versions of the same misguided message: Weight loss by any means (even unhealthy ones) is cause for celebration, and weight gain is something to be feared at all costs.

So it’s not too surprising that many people are nervous about gaining weight when they go on vacation and find themselves surrounded by calorie-dense treats they wouldn’t encounter at home. The internet is awash with tips on how to avoid vacation weight gain — and how to lose any weight gained once you get home.

But registered dietitian Emily Fonnesbeck told INSIDER that vacation weight gain — if it happens at all — isn’t really worth all the worry it’s allotted. Here are four reasons why.

1. Weight is not the only measure of good health.

Weight is not the sole determinant of health.

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Weight can be a helpful measure when determining someone’s health, but it’s not the only one that matters. Blood pressure, cholesterol, and hours of sleep per night, for example, are some of the many other numbers that help gauge your internal health.

Second, it’s good to remember that weight loss is not inherently good and that weight gain is not inherently bad. Sometimes people lose weight because they’re sick, and gain it because they’re getting well.

Even if you do gain weight on vacation, it won’t necessarily make you less healthy. Your weight doesn’t tell the whole story of your health.

2. It’s normal for weight to fluctuate.

Your weight is changing all the time.

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“Weight fluctuates naturally from day to day from week to week from year to year and to try to control that — it really just causes distress more than being helpful,” Fonnesbeck said.

Your weight can fluctuate more than five pounds in a single day because of natural functions like sweating, breathing, peeing, eating, and drinking.

Refinery29 also reported that eating more carbs than usual, eating saltier foods, and traveling to warmer climates — all things that may happen on vacation — can make the body automatically retain extra water. This makes the number on the scale go up, even though your body mass doesn’t actually change.

“It’s like if you weighed a car on empty, and then filled up the fuel tank — the weight goes up, but the body of the car hasn’t changed,” registered dietitian Melanie Rogers told Refinery29.

There’s some amount of weight change that you just can’t control. It can be freeing to remember that.

3. A short period of indulgent eating won’t make a huge difference.

A few days of eating indulgent food won’t make a gigantic difference.

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“We actually have much more flexibility and much more wiggle room than we’ve been taught to believe,” Fonnesbeck said. “One meal, one snack, one day, one month, isn’t going to make that big of a difference.”

Even if you do eat extravagantly on vacation, you might find that you want to eat lighter meals once you get home, without even thinking about it. Fonnesbeck said she’s seen it happen with her clients — and if you’ve ever craved a salad after a few days of fried food and pizza, maybe you’ve experienced it, too.

“I think the real a-ha moment for [clients] is when they experience this for themselves,” she said. “They have a week or more of indulgent meals, [then] they come home from vacation and they find themselves naturally gravitating toward foods that may balance some of those choices out. Without having to put too much thought and effort into it, they find that they naturally self-moderate.”

But the key to this type of self-moderation, Fonnesbeck added, is actually listening to your body’s internal cues to decide what and how much to eat — as opposed to obeying diet rules that you’ve picked up from the outside world. (By the way: This the core habit in a practice known as intuitive eating.)

4. It’s also healthy to truly enjoy your vacation.

Don’t let food worries get in the way of a good time.

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Sure, it could be considered “healthier” to forgo an ice cream sundae during vacation. But worrying about your food choices may distract from the reason you’re there in the first place: To relieve stress and (if you’re with other people) enjoy the company of others. Both of those things promote your health, too. In fact, decades of research suggest that social connections are linked to longer lives and better health, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Fonnesbeck acknowledged that it can be difficult to let go of vacation weight gain fears. One way to start is to subtly shift your thinking on the subject.

“Something [you can] practice is to really be intentional about noticing other ways that you enjoyed yourself,” she said. “Was it a nice break from work? Did you feel like you could have more flexibility with food choices and it made the experience more enjoyable? Were you more connected in conversations because you weren’t so busy worrying about weight? Did it cause less anxiety about traveling in general? Looking at overall wellbeing and not just the weight might help someone have perspective on the experience, versus feeling so stuck in that fear.”

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