Motivation Articles

Can Travel Ever Be Good for Your Waistline?

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Vacations are usually synonymous with carefree attitudes and a side of indulgences, which often adds up to a few added pounds upon your return home. But what if that a weeklong marathon of dining out for every meal, skipping your usual early morning workout and attending happy hour at your hotel won't leave you bursting at the seam of your pants by the end of your trip?
 
It's true: Spending a few days in a new environment, in "vacation mode," can be good for your waistline because you're changing your mindset. Altering the rhythm of your day is intimidating when it comes to food and weight gain if you follow a predictable routine at home, but being on vacation, away from your usual surroundings, may actually make it easier to let go of deep-rooted unhealthy habits and form a new healthy habit or two.
 
Traveling can upset your engrained habits of everyday activities by altering the cues or inputs of your behavior. This change in environment and routine disrupts what Charles Duhigg, author of the best-selling book "The Power of Habit," calls the "habit loop." When you're in a new environment, your rise and grind routine is replaced by new experiences, new adventures, new cues and possibly some new rewards. Instead of being on autopilot at home, you can change even the most mundane routines—such as whether you get dressed or brush your teeth first in the morning—without much thought. So, the next time you're packing your bags, try not to worry about whether your upcoming trip will interfere with your healthy habits and focus on replacing your unhealthy habit(s) with healthier behavior(s).
 
Your mindset is a powerful tool for your health, and your relaxing vacation mindset may be exactly what you need to benefit your health and lose those stubborn last few pounds. Before your next vacation, consider whether you have some unhealthy behaviors that you can focus on replacing while your routine is out of whack. Once you're ready to embrace this unique opportunity for positive change—rather than dwelling on the idea that you might come face-to-face with some unhealthy habits—educate yourself on some scientifically-proven ways that vacation is good for your waistline.
 

Vacation All (My Waistline) Ever Wanted
 

1. Your stress levels are significantly lower.
 
How does it feel when you set your "out of office" email before a week-long vacation? If you just imagined breathing that long-awaited sigh of relief, you're not alone! Leaving your work at home and taking off for a few days doesn't just help you feel refreshed, but taking this time to unwind and destress may be help your pants fit better, too. Studies consistently show that prolonged, chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of obesity. In response to stress, your body releases cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, which triggers an increase in appetite. So the next time you set your out of office email, really disconnect from your work to help return those cortisol levels back to normal limits and, maybe, those pesky few pounds you're holding onto will fall off. 
2. You are getting enough sleep.
 
There is just something peaceful about going to bed without worrying about waking up to a glaring alarm at the crack of dawn. Barring any aggressive early-morning excursions or late nights out, vacation affords us the rare opportunity to sleep those healthy seven to nine hours each night, a luxury which on its own benefits your health. Research consistently demonstrates that sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it, such as Type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation disrupts your hunger and satiety hormones (ghrelin and leptin, respectively), which increases appetite, boosts cravings for high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich foods and diminishes your defenses to resist temptation. Coupled with the fact that chronic fatigue usually results in reduced physical activity, your solution to zipping your pants with ease may be in counting more sheep—ideally in a comfy hotel bed.
 
3. You're extra mindful.
 
Enjoying a meal in a new place, without the worry of 20 things on your to-do list in between meetings or before bedtime allows you to focus more on the enjoyable aspects of eating. Taking adequate time to savor new flavors and share your eating experience with loved ones helps you become more mindful. You may explore fresh flavors, notice hints of local spices or try a unique food and let the flavor really marinate on your tongue, instead of scarfing down your lunch in between answering emails. Eating slower and more mindfully can help you get in touch with your hunger and satiety cues so you prevent overeating, too.
 
4. You're more active when away from home.
 
Roughly eighty percent of Americans sit behind a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days of the year, a number that directly contributes to a rise in obesity rates. Even if you're on a relaxing beach vacation—book in one hand, piña colada in the other—you may be surprised at how much more active you are away from home. Walking around the resort, taking a romantic stroll along the beach, swimming in the pool and kayaking in the Caribbean are all forms of exercise, which means you're burning calories while enjoying your vacation and taking in new sights at the same time! Not to mention, if you're exploring a new city you can hit the pavement walking upwards of five miles each day—even if you use public transportation in between stops.
 
5. You have more time to connect with your loved ones.
 
If you truly respect and embrace your out of office time, traveling lets you fully enjoy your time with family, friends or your significant other, which helps you unwind while boosting happiness and feel-good brain chemicals, such as dopamine. Your brain views this neurological response as a reward—the same feel-good chemicals your body releases when exposed to sugar and comforting foods. Reaping this satisfaction from experiences other than food mean you're less likely to use food as a reward…and you may just continue this new habit once you return home, too.
 
Sure, none of these health-promoting behaviors are a cure-all to prevent weight gain from endless margaritas, extra-indulgent meals and daily dessert, but the next time your bags are packed and you're ready to go, you won't have to feel like you're choosing between staying in shape and enjoying every moment of your well-deserved vacation.

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About The Author

Chelsey Amer Chelsey Amer
Chelsey Amer, M.S., R.D.N. is a New York City-based registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in weight management, food allergies and intolerances. When Chelsey is not helping clients, she is developing tasty, food-allergy friendly and mostly vegetarian recipes, and photographing every bite for her healthy food blog, CitNutritionally.com!