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Avoiding weight gain on vacation

Is it possible to spend 10 days on vacation in Italy without gaining weight?

That's the big question on my mind as I prepare to tour central Italy with my daughter and a chorus she sings in. Come early July, I'll be planted in in a land where culinary delights beckon from every plaza and piazza.

Had this opportunity occurred a year ago, I would just have surrendered to the experience and let the chips fall where they may. But now I have an investment to protect: Having lost a certain amount of weight through my Me Minus 10 campaign -- and I'll tell you how much in my July 8 "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column -- I really don't want to regain any pounds.

But I don't want to be that person who is conspicuously watching her waistline while traveling with a group. Nor do I want to miss out on any of those culinary delights.

At home, I've established a routine that supports my healthful eating and weight loss. I tend to eat certain foods at certain times -- apple slices with peanut butter and skim milk for breakfast, for instance, and grilled chicken, a crisp bread and a salad for lunch. I take yoga classes and later pop on the treadmill, bike or elliptical trainer.

In Italy, though, I don't know what kinds of food or exercise facilities I'll have access to. Even if all the tools I use at home were available there, my schedule will not be my own: I'm going where the chorus goes, when the chorus goes there. The schedule is chockablock.

My hope is that I can make food choices that, while delicious and satisfying, don't stray too far from the low-carb, high-fiber and high-protein diet that has served me so well during Me Minus 10. And I hope that I'll be walking enough to burn any extra calories I consume.

But I'd love some advice. Have you stuck with a weight-loss program while traveling in a faraway land? What was your strategy, and how did it work out for you?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 24, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Me Minus 10 , Nutrition and Fitness  
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How often are you going to find yourself in Italy? I would recommend enjoying the food, in moderation. If the chorus is being fed a big banquet type lunch of big trays of pasta - you probably don't need to indulge in that. But if you're on a street corner and want some gelato or pizza - go for it. You'll be walking a ton, anyway!

When I travel, I always throw a few protein bars/trail mix, etc., in my bag to tide me over when the food choices are grim.

Have fun!

Posted by: EMF_NoVA | June 24, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

I think you should enjoy & savor the foods you can only get there and WALK WALK WALK. When I went to Italy I had gelato daily and enjoyed all of their foods but I walked everywhere for hours each day and still did my hour workout at the hotel gym. I came back 2 pounds lighter!

Posted by: malay10 | June 24, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I went to Italy in 2008 and ate whatever I wanted--pizza, gelato, wine, etc.--and came back exactly the same weight. The unbelievable amount of walking I did every day evened out the consumption. Enjoy your trip! Don't think about weight!

Posted by: rlblists | June 24, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I also brought a ziploc bag of almonds with me wherever I went so that I didn't get over-hungry between/before meals.

Posted by: rlblists | June 24, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

I let myself indulge in good food and wine, and moderate where I can do it without sacrificing. If I'm torn between two entrees, then I go with the healthier one. If I'm full but really want to taste a dessert, then I get it but leave most of it. And I definitely walk as much as possible -- I once lost a pound on a food-filled trip to Paris! If I do gain a pound or two, I know what I need to do when I get home.

Another tip that may help prevent overeating: order sparkling water. I think Europeans are onto something with that -- it makes me feel more full.

Posted by: Janine1 | June 24, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I have lost significant amounts of weight twice on fairly long trips abroad to southern Europe. (I've also gained by eating my way through N. Europe, but different story!). Tips:

(1) The heat helps control hunger. The more you are out and about during the day, the more it will help. My biggest weight loss was on an art history tour of Greece -- after spending hours every day at an archeological site, all I wanted for lunch was fruit and water. Even though I ate a big dinner once it finally cooled off enough to be hungry again, I still lost @ 20 lbs over 4 mos.

(2) Most of Europe still operates in a much more weight-control-friendly way. You walk a LOT more, and they do not plan snacks every 2-3 hrs. When you start off with a roll and coffee, walk around for 6-8 hrs, and eat a normal lunch and dinner with real food, you can still have room for the occasional gelato or pastry. If your tour allows you to follow the European plan vs. the American constant-banquet-grazing plan, things will pretty much take care of themselves.

(3) When in doubt, follow the diet of poverty (which also happens to be some of the best food). In much of Italy (especially the southern parts), the diet is very, very fruit-and-vegetable heavy, and light on meats, cream, and cheese. They also tend to use "real" portion sizes. So, yes, you may spend 2-3 hours at dinner, eating 4-5 courses. But those might include some light seafood, several vegetable courses, a small dish of pasta, and then -- after you've filled up on the rest -- a small serving of meat as the icing on the cake. And dessert tends to be fruit or small nibbles of cheese. As long as you eat mindfully, taste-but-don't-stuff, and stop when you're full, you'll probably eat better than you do here.

(4) Whatever you do, don't fret so much about a pound or two that you miss out on the joy of some of the best food in the world. If you're in Naples, it would be a sin to skip the pizza because it doesn't fit within your diet. I had the best tagliatelle alla bolognese I have ever had in N. Italy 20 years ago. Many pounds have come and gone since then; I don't even remember what I weighed then (although that was one of the trips where I lost weight). But that memory, the shock of that flavor, is still crystal clear in my mind.

Posted by: laura33 | June 24, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I've never needed to lose weight, but running is always convenient for me! If there are sidewalks or trails, you could try that. You could also try doing lots of body weight strength exercises in your room if you have space, since I doubt you want to carry a dumbbell to Italy!

And, of course, you could always be vegan while you're there! That narrows your options. Or at least vegetarian.

Posted by: VeganRunner | June 24, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Checkup readers, for all these great ideas and encouraging words! I'm suddenly craving a Naples pizza!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | June 24, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Unless you're having gourmet food at every meal, make diet-friendly choices as much as possible. Save you splurges for truly memorable meals. European portions are smaller, anyway. Don't set foot in any American chains, avoid the bread basket and have an appetizer OR dessert--not both.

Posted by: agajpc | June 24, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

In my trips to Italy I haven't had problems with weight. Europeans do not snack like Americans do and their portions are not huge.

Food is not facing you at every turn. They have mealtimes and then they close up. Hotels don't have vending machines.

Between the lack of availability of food, the barrier of ordering in another language and the walking that's built into a European vacation you shouldn't have a problem.

The exception is if you are on an American-run tour that will involve a lot of time on the bus and meals that have been planned for Americans. Then you are likely to see more American-style inactivity and portions. If you are on your own taking public transit and choosing places to eat then you'll do fine.

Posted by: RedBird27 | June 24, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

My suggestion is to walk. Walk everywhere at every opportunity you can. That's the best way to experience the local ambience, anyway. And you'll be able to eat whatever you want, within reason.

Posted by: wulkan | June 24, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

When I traveled to Europe nine times, I never gained weight with all the walking I was doing. Even if you take the tube in London to get places, changing trains and walking miles and miles kept me from gaining any weight. The hills in Southern Europe keep you in shape, climb some cathedral towers, or even taking a bus tour involve plenty of walking. The bus must park far away from the sights. I walked for hours in the Louvre and other museums. Portions are smaller in Europe and you can enjoy gelato and other treats in moderation. Gelato was my reward for walking for hours. As long as you are in great cardio shape before you leave, you can walk for miles in most places you visit.

Posted by: georgiaguy | June 25, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

What if fat was your friend? Check out Fat Working Overtime,

Posted by: chylton | June 25, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

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