by Melissa Hartwig, who almost always works while on vacation, but didn’t this time
On Thursday, I met my sister Kelly in Napa, CA for a girls-only long weekend. We planned to eat some good food (some of the best restaurants in the country are in wine country), relax in the sunshine, and, of course, drink some wine.
As I was preparing for this vacation, I thought of the number of times people have asked us, “How do you handle a vacation without (a) feeling like junk the whole time you’re on the trip, (b) coming home five pounds heavier, and (c) needing a month to recover, mentally and physically?” For us at this point, navigating what we call “Nutritional Off-Roading” is second nature, but this trip, I decided to document what I was doing, so I could share it with our readers. So, start to finish, here is the anatomy of a Whole9 vacation.
Not surprisingly, it starts with the Whole30®.
What you do in the days leading up to your vacation can make or break you, health-wise. I cannot stress this enough—if there is only one tip you pay attention to in this whole article, it’s this one.
Do not go off the rails before your trip even starts.
You know what I’m talking about… the whole, “Well, as of Saturday I’ll be drinking margaritas, so I may as well have that glass of wine when I get home from work.” The thought is tempting, but do not do this. In fact, do the opposite of this. My best healthy vacation strategy?
A few days of Whole30 before you start your trip.
Get back into the groove of clean eating in the week(s) before you leave. Remind yourself how amazing it feels, how righteous it feels, to eat only foods that make you healthier. Get back to a place of good sleep, rockin’ energy, a flatter stomach. Remind your body that this is how good you can feel—and that feeling any less good than this is kind of a bummer.
For me, this takes three days. For you, it may take ten days, a week, five days. Figure it out, and commit to the program right up through the moment you set foot in your vacation destination. Going into the trip feeling clean, light, fresh, and amazing will do wonders for your willpower when tempted with so much of the not-worth-it-but-it’s-sitting-right-there-and-I’m-on-vacation! foods and drinks you’ll encounter on your trip.
Here’s the part that should now be easier following your mini-Whole30… choose your indulgences carefully. Eat and drink with awareness. Do not allow yourself to get the idea that just because you’re on vacation, your choices have no consequences. A margarita is still a margarita, even if you are in Cabo. You feel me?
Evaluate each meal, each option, with a critical eye. Follow our Guide to Nutritional Off-Roading, in theory. Ask yourself, is this really worth it? Is this special enough, is this delicious enough, is it going to mess me up? Pass on the stuff that doesn’t cut the mustard, and enjoy what passes your test. Again, going into your trip with a Whole30 mindset will make this process that much simpler.
When you do indulge, enjoy it. Savor it. Be in love with your food or drink! But if you take two bites and discover it’s nowhere near as good as you expected, ditch it immediately. Don’t waste your oh-so-good feeling on an experience that’s mediocre at best.
Finally, when you do indulge, resist the urge to give into the “what the hell?” effect. You know how that goes: You’ve just been seated at the table and the waiter brings out a fresh basket of warm cornbread with honey-apple butter. You evaluate and decide heck yes, that’s worth it. You eat, enjoy, and then scope the menu for the next course.
And you find yourself saying, “Well, I’ve already had the cornbread, so… what the hell.”
Now you’re ordering stuff that you don’t really want to, because your reward-driven brain tricked you into believing that your health is an on-or-off proposition… that one indulgence in your day “ruins” the health quality of the whole day.
That is just silly. You know that logically. So don’t do it. Evaluate each individual instance on its own, and don’t let your previous choice hold any weight. Some days, you may find you stick to basically Whole30 friendly foods all day, because nothing was worth it. Cool. Other days, you may decide to indulge in something every single meal. Also cool. As long as each decision was carefully, deliberately made… and not the product of the “what the hell?” effect.*
*Note, it is a scientific fact that alcohol amplifies the WTH effect by 178%. Indulge in booze carefully, or you may find yourself face-first in a pile of churros after those one (no, two… make it three!) poolside tequila shots.
Your post-vacation mindset (and body-set) is going to depend on what you chose to eat/drink during your trip, and whether or not you let yourself slide down the slippery slope of the WTH effect too often. Ideally, you return feeling almost as good as you did when you left—not heavy and bloated, digestive system intact, and cravings relatively under control.
Or, it’s the opposite, and you return home feeling like a chubby, tired, sugar-driven shell of your former self. If that is the case, I hope you had a really great trip.
Either way, the plane ride or drive home is the perfect time to prepare yourself for what is ahead. It could go either way.
Scenario A: You’ll return home with wicked cravings, and far less resolve to make good choices, which means your “vacation” continues for a few extra days (if not weeks). You’ll want to clean it up, but your resolve is shot, because your Sugar Dragon is in overdrive and your old habits have come back in full effect.
Scenario B: You’ll feel like such doo-doo when you get home that you cannot wait to dive head-first into a giant, protein-laden salad; drink your bodyweight in water; crawl into bed at 8 PM; and hit the gym the next morning.
Either way, your plan is exactly the same. Your job is to get right back on the Whole30 as soon as you get home. Not the next day, or after the weekend, but the very first meal you eat when you return. And then stay on it for as long as it takes to get you back on track. It’s going to be way easier for you Scenario B people, since you’re already desperate to clean out your system, but latent cravings can sneak up on you, too, so be on your guard. Proceed as long as you need to, until you’re back to a healthy, balanced place.
In some instances, you may need to add some additional “rules” to your program. I always add the clause that I can’t eat after dinner (no “dessert”) for the first few days after a vacation, because when I come back my cravings are always stronger than they were when I left. You may decide not to snack, or not to eat too much dried fruit or Larabars, or to make sure you exercise for the first three days in a row post-vacation. Do this for as long as it takes for this healthy living thing to feel effortless again.
So here’s how my vacation went down.
Pre-vacation, I did the Whole30 for four days (including the day I flew out). When I landed, I hit the local Whole Foods to beef up my supply of healthy snacks and emergency food—Gourmet Grassfed jerky, kale chips, pistachios, fresh fruit, carrot sticks, guacamole, turkey slices. My first day in Napa was 100% Whole30 compliant.
From Friday morning breakfast through dinner Saturday night, I chose not to indulge in less-healthy foods. Breakfasts, lunches, and Friday night dinner was Whole30-ish—no grains, no dairy (save heavy cream in my decaf), no legumes, no desserts. This was not on purpose, and it wasn’t difficult—I was feeling so fantastic that there was just nothing worth going off the rails for at any of these meals, and what I did order was without exception so delicious, I never felt like I was missing out.
Of course, I drank wine.
We went to three tastings on Friday and two on Saturday. I had a few sips of each glass before pouring it out, and if I didn’t like the wine, I didn’t bother drinking it. I never felt tired or headache-y, because I knew I had to keep consumption of booze to a reasonable amount in order to continue feeling fantastic. (Even in Napa, y’all.)
But Saturday night, I knew ahead of time that I was going to indulge. We had reservations at Ad Hoc, the funky younger sister restaurant of Thomas Keller’s famous French Laundry. They serve one menu a night—you get what you get, and they don’t post it ahead of time. But it’s always locally, responsibly sourced, and drop-dead-delicious, so I was prepared to go with the flow, avoiding only those things that I knew would absolutely wreck me if I did indulge.
Let’s break it down, course by course:
So there you have it – the anatomy of a vacation (mine and yours). Use this strategy to maximize the enjoyment factor of your next vacation (and the inevitable return back to the real world). Do you have a favorite happy, healthy vacation strategy? Share it in comments!
A very special thank you to Angelica & Jason Moore of Silenus Vintners; Ryan Callahan of Girl & the Fig, and Belen Callahan of Boon Fly Cafe for the hospitality, and to Kellie & Kevin Macway for introducing the Whole30 to the chefs at French Laundry! Keep us posted as to how they’re doing – we’re sorry we missed you while we were in town.