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Six Slimming Strategies for a Successful Summer Vacation

A new client came in feeling desperate: She gained 10 pounds on her summer vacation. I've heard this sad story before; but it doesn't have to end this way! In fact, just the opposite...

Cruise Control

Two of my clients recently reported shock at losing weight on their Mediterranean cruise vacations. Lorraine, a 53-year-old public health specialist in Washington, D.C., came home from a cruise and was surprised to find she had lost two pounds. Rick, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in D.C., lost six pounds during his 10-day cruise.

Both remarked that they had indulged in ice cream, desserts, pasta, bread, and other foods that they didn't usually eat. Yet, they dropped weight on vacation, despite struggling to lose pounds at home. As soon as they returned, the pounds began piling on, and they came to me desperate to return to the seemingly magical weight-loss mode they had fallen into during vacation.

I agreed that it was confusing. Both claimed they weren't trying to diet and had eaten without restriction. Lorraine didn't exercise any more than usual and had proof: Her pedometer, which measures her daily steps, showed the same readings she recorded at home. Rick may have walked more than usual—he didn't wear his pedometer—but that alone doesn't explain a six-pound loss, especially given his decadent eating.

Most of us are accustomed to accidentally gaining weight on cruises, not losing it. Tasty, fattening food is available all day long. During every meal, you'll have a few hors d'oeuvres, then an entree, and who can resist dessert? Even midnight buffets. It's not uncommon to gain even a pound a day while on a cruise or vacation.

So, how did these cruises turn into weight-loss adventures? And how can you replicate the conditions that worked for my clients—without getting seasick in the process?

As Lorraine and Rick described their experiences, some patterns quickly emerged:

  • They ate whatever they wanted, from desserts to bread to pasta,
  • They didn't exercise, though they walked a lot during stops in ports (about 12,000 steps a day, according to their pedometers),
  • Every meal featured buffets, stocked with a wide array of fruits and vegetables.

My analysis? The variety and volume of fresh, healthy food helped to properly nourish my clients.

Variety: The Most Significant Factor Influencing How Much You Eat!

Studies indicate that variety, more than any other factor, influences how much we eat. The more diverse food options we encounter, the more we eat without even realizing it. The desire for dietary variety is important for health and helped humans to evolve. People who ate lots of different types of food each day were—and still are—more likely to obtain all the essential nutrients. Based on this theory, a buffet would lead to a higher calorie intake and weight gain. But Rick and Lorraine's cruise buffets had an unusually large and varied number of beautifully prepared fruits and vegetable dishes, from fresh chopped fruit to salads and cold vegetable soups. While exposure to a variety of fattening foods causes weight gain, access to a variety of fruits and veggies promotes weight loss. Though they didn't consciously realize it at the time, both Rick and Lorraine ate more fruits and veggies before, during, and between meals. More on variety...

Volume: Feeling Full While Eating Fewer Calories?

Some foods are less energy dense than others—that is, they have fewer calories per gram—so filling your plate with more of those means you'll be eating fewer calories without actually eating less food. Low density foods, which are low in calories but high-volume, help you feel full and satisfied while dropping pounds. Fruits and veggies are ideal, since they'll fill you up without breaking your calorie bank; they're correlated with a lower body weight. Eating high-volume, low-calorie foods affects how satisfied we feel in a number of ways. It causes stomach stretching and slows stomach emptying, stimulating the nerves and hormones that signal feelings of fullness. There's also a visual component—seeing a large volume of food increases our ability to feel satisfied by it. Studies also suggest that when we eat large meals that last a long time, our satisfaction declines and we lose interest in finishing them.

Why They Ate Whatever They Wanted - And Lost Weight

Still wondering how Rick and Lorraine ate whatever they wanted, including desserts, and managed to lose weight? My analysis is that the fruits and veggies were so plentiful and took up so much room in their stomachs, they both ate less of everything else. Plus, they felt that they had eaten to their hearts' content.

You too can get on "cruise control" at home and enjoy eating the right number of calories, feeling satisfied and even losing weight without trying. Rick and Lorraine's cruise experiences are perfect examples of how this can happen. To replicate their results, consider having a buffet of fruit and veggie dishes in your home and office—morning, noon, and night. Pre-prepare a large variety of these, so they're easily accessible and grab-able. And since exercise counts too, put on a pedometer and aim for the recommended 10,000 steps a day. (About 2,000 steps is one mile. The average office worker gets about 4,000 steps daily.)

Similar recipes you might find on a Mediterranean Cruise, all found in Diet Simple Farm To Table Recipes:

Melon Chunks with Crumbled Feta and Fresh MintNora's Watermelon GazpachoFresh Summer Salsa with Watermelon

Six StrategiesFrom: "Map for Frequent Travelers" in Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substittions, Habits & Inspirations (LifeLine Press, 2011 )

Ask yourself what's most important to you about the vacation. Is it looking and feeling your best? Feeling energetic? Wearing your most beautiful, form-fitting outfits and bathing suits? Visiting with loved ones? Or is it eating every tempting food in sight?

Always eat at regularly scheduled intervals. Have a large breakfast and stop for a healthy lunch. Don't starve yourself during the day so that you irrationally overeat everything in sight whenever you're around food.

Set dining priorities. Suppose, for example, you've booked four dinners out. You will gain weight if you eat with abandon each time (plan on 1 pound per day). Decide in advance that one of those nights is going to be your "splurge night." Order anything you want. Enjoy every bite. Savor each and every one of those calories. On the other three nights, order more carefully. You'll still enjoy the experience of dining out, but you won't take in more calories than your body can handle.

Do your homework. Before you go to a restaurant, check out its website and menu. Take note of the courses that look tasty yet healthy. That way, you won't be as tempted by the sights and smells of fattening options once you get there. Of course, as in any restaurant, the no-brainer healthy selection is a salad-like appetizer, a simple seafood preparation, such as grilled fish, fruit for dessert, and by all means…a glass of wine.

Stay active. Don't waste time in a gym: Sightsee! Many of my clients get unbelievable amounts of walking during sightseeing vacations: 20,000 to 25,000 steps per day isn't unusual (roughly 2,000 steps make up a mile, and the standard steps-per-day goal is 10,000). That's why you often don't gain weight on trips to Paris or Rome even when you eat in fabulous restaurants every night. (Without the walking you would, though!) Bring a pedometer to track your steps. If you're at the beach, swim—or walk along the ocean between chapters of your trashy romance novel.

Bring a picnic. This is a no-brainer when staying with friends—it's simply a polite and generous thing to do—or in a rental with a kitchen.