Vacation can be a great motivator for weight loss — there's nothing quite like the prospect of spending a week in a swimsuit to get your behind to the gym. But once you reach your destination, temptation rears its ugly head in the form of fruity drinks, rich dinners and days of relaxing by the pool. To find out how to stay healthy and still have fun, we turned to six travel and nutrition gurus who face the same challenges as the rest of us. The difference? They have genius tips for sidestepping diet pitfalls. Use their proven plans to come home feeling even better about your body than when you left.
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“I grab quickie meals at grocery stores instead of fast food joints.”
Samantha Brown, of the Travel Channel's “Passport to Great Weekends”
Her no-gain game plan:
Go off the beaten path. Driving while hungry makes fast food restaurants seem like heaven on the highway. But better options are usually only a few minutes away. “I bypass chain restaurants right off the exits and look for a supermarket, where I can get a healthy meal such as turkey breast on whole wheat from the deli, an apple and lowfat yogurt,” Brown says. Pressed for time? “Food marts at gas stations are getting better — many of them now have prepackaged fruit and veggies.” Pair them with peanut butter for a filling mix of protein, carbs and fat.
Be choosy about your treats. “I travel 25 days at a time to a dozen or more different places and have to be in a bathing suit on-camera,” Brown says. “If I tried every local specialty, I'd never want to go on-air. I pick one thing to splurge on daily, like a buttery croissant at a Paris café, a Belgian chocolate crème brûlée, a po'boy sandwich in New Orleans or a creamy lobster bisque on the coast of Maine.” She eats green salads, soups and small portions for the rest of her meals. Brown's favorite trick for trimming her intake: Eat the lowest-calorie foods on your plate first so you spoon up fewer high-fat bites.
“I pick my meal based on what I see others eating.”
Carolyn O'Neil, R.D., author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous” (Atria Books)
Her road-tested tips:
Spy on servings. “I'm shocked by the amount of food you're given in restaurants. The portions can be three or four times larger than what I'd eat at home,” O'Neill says. A little restaurant reconnaissance can prevent you from ordering a burger the size of your head. “I look around the room before selecting my meal to check out how large the helpings are, then I know whether to order an appetizer or split the entrée with a friend,” O'Neil says. She also asks the chef to double her veggie side dishes. And as a general rule, avoid all entrées for which finishing earns you a T-shirt, a free meal or a commemorative photo.
Change your vacation brain. Consider your hiatus from work an opportunity to be more active, O'Neil says. “I actually find that I have more time for exercise when I'm traveling because there's no housework, laundry or long meetings to attend. I have time to do something active every day on vacation, even if it's only dancing in the disco.” Include one calorie-burning (and fun) activity in your itinerary each day, such as snorkeling, kayaking or even hula classes, and aim for a manageable 30 minutes.
“I hire a trainer on vacation.”
Teresa Rodriguez Williamson, author of “Fly Solo: The 50 Best Places on Earth for a Girl to Travel Alone” (Penguin Books)
Her stay-physical strategies:
Recruit a coach. “A trainer gives me the push I need to work out when I'm away,” Rodriguez Williamson says. “I was recently in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and I hired one as a gift to myself. It was a super deal — he charged only $25 per hour and was amazing!” Ask if the hotel has a trainer on staff before booking a room — it may throw in a free session to secure your reservation. Can't swing a real trainer? Get a virtual one by downloading MP3s of the simple (and effective) SELF Challenge strength routines at Self.com/fitness.
Pack your breakfast. “I turn into a glutton for goodies I can't find at home. I tell myself I may never be in this place again, so I get the second frozen drink,” Rodriguez Williamson says. “Eating a hearty breakfast with protein every day, such as an egg-and-cheese burrito, gives me the willpower to avoid temptation later and keeps my energy up.” One way to ensure you don't skip your crucial morning meal: Bring it with you. Packets of instant oatmeal take up no more room in your suitcase than a skimpy bikini and require only hot water for a quick, nutritious breakfast. Pair one with a glass of skim milk for a hit of filling protein.
“I start my day with exercise.”
Pauline Frommer, creator of the Pauline Frommer Travel guidebooks
Her tricks for shaping up on location:
Be active early. “There are days when I hit two buffets for lunch and then two restaurants for dinner. I need to work out to offset all my eating,” Frommer says. “I get out of bed and do an activity that's related to where I am, such as taking a walk on a beach, riding a bike around town or hiking in the hills. If I don't go first thing, I often get too busy.” Find a local activity you love and do it early in the day. Or pack running shoes, shorts and a sports bra to turn any vacation spot into a beautiful scenic workout trail.
Research restaurants. “I'll plan what eateries I'm going to try ahead of time — either at my destination or along the way,” Frommer says. She swears by RoadFood.com, which lists local restaurants nationwide according to cuisine (including vegetarian and health food) and provides reviews and links to their Web sites (many have menus). Plot your course before you leave home so you'll always have healthy options to choose from. Even better: Pick your meal in advance to avoid impulse ordering.
“I try to eat in more than out.”
Rovenia Brock, Ph.D., author of “Dr. Ro's Ten Secrets to Livin' Healthy” (Bantam)
Her plan for dining in anywhere:
Find a room with a fridge. Or, even better, a kitchen! “It costs more, but I save money by buying groceries instead of dropping a bundle in restaurants,” Brock says. (Chains with suite in their name are likely to offer rooms with kitchens.) Make a grocery store your first stop after check-in and pick up the makings of healthy meals and snacks, such as almonds, fruit, lowfat yogurt, carrots, hummus, skim milk and high-fiber cereal. “It's easier to watch what I eat when I'm in charge of the menu,” Brock says.
“I try to stick to my regular mealtimes, no matter where I am.”
Connie Diekman, R.D., director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis
Her keep-lean routine:
Check your watch. “I focus on whether it has been at least four hours since I last ate, in which case it is time for another meal,” Diekman says. “In a different time zone, you can lose track of your eating because you'll be hungry at odd times.” Set your watch to local time and move your meals to match, so you eat regularly during your trip.
Dial up room service. Sometimes this seemingly indulgent choice is your best bet. “In hotels, I use room service a lot — the menus are limited and much more expensive, so there is less temptation to overorder,” Diekman says. “On road trips, I've even learned how to eat healthy at fast food places.” Hit the drive-through only as a last resort and use her slimming fast food tricks: Downsize to a junior meal to slash portion size and calories; leave off special sauces; choose a baked potato with chili as a hearty small lunch or as a side (instead of fries) to an entrée salad. If you can eat well at a drive-through, you can do so anywhere!
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