We touched on this issue in the last FastDay Buzz article about fasting as a parent, but with the summer holidays drawing ever closer it seems a good time to delve a little deeper!
So, you’re going on holiday and you’re an intermittent faster… what do you do?
How should I decide what to do?
This very much depends on how long you’ve been fasting and whether you have reached maintenance or not. If you’re a long term faster and you’ve been maintaining for a while, you probably don’t even need to read this article – you’ve got it nailed and you know what works best for you when it comes to keeping the weight off – well done!
If you’re a new faster, these first couple of months for you are really the most important when it comes to changing your habits for the long term and letting your body adjust – I would strongly suggest you continue your normal fasting routine while on holiday in order to help your new healthy way of eating become normality for you and to maintain the new sense of control over food that you are likely now feeling.
What if you’re somewhere in between? You’re a long-term faster who hasn’t yet reached goal or perhaps have just reached maintenance? Now it depends a little on the length of the holiday. By now you’ve quite possibly had a week here and there where you’ve had to miss a fast, or even a week off – so you know how to handle this and for a shorter holiday if you know you can be relatively sensible for a week then use your best judgement! For a longer holiday – well, I’d be inclined to have more of a plan in place myself. It’s very easy to become complacent, trusting that the scales will go down each week, feeling we know what we’re doing so well that we let things slip a bit. This can be a slippery slope indeed, so do try to decide ahead of time what you aim to do about your eating habits on holiday.
To lose or not to gain, that is the question!
Many of us can feel disheartened when we step on those scales and the numbers stay the same, or worse still go up a little. If you haven’t already read about Why the scales don’t tell the truth I highly recommend it – it’s our most popular article for a good reason. It’s so important to remember that a maintain or seeing minor fluctuations on the scale is so much better than seeing them go ever upwards week upon week. A maintain (give or take a pound or so) isn’t something to get upset about – it’s a victory in the battle against weight gain!
With this in mind it’s important to set yourself a realistic outcome for your holiday. Yes, most of us are trying to lose weight – but is it realistically achievable for you given the type of holiday you are going on and how long you’re going to be away? If you stick with the plan and don’t over indulge, then yes it is possible for you to come out of your holiday with the scales and tape measure showing you the same sort of numbers they would have if you’d stayed at home. But, to do this will take strength and self control.
One of the reasons many of us love this way of eating is because we like food. We enjoy being able to eat as normal on our non fasting days and we learn that it’s not about complying to strict rules 100% of the time, but about the bigger picture – blips and all! We can’t eat like pigs on our non fast days all the time and expect to still lose weight – however, we know it’s okay to indulge from time to time, or to have those treats because it’s all part of that bigger picture and an overall downward trend.
So, imagine this week, fortnight or however long your holiday is, in the overall bigger picture that is your whole life. Would a week off really matter in the long term if you know you’re going to do this forever? Would a maintain for the duration of the holiday, or even a couple of pounds to re-lose be so terrible in the grand scheme of things? Probably not.
Consider how the outcomes would make you feel then take hold of those feelings and put them in check. It’s OK if you come back the same weight rather than losing and it’s not terrible to put on just a little if you know you’re can shift it again. Sometimes these small ‘gains’ can be a result of the scales and their lying ways, but don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security – it could actually be real weight gain, so try not to let it get out of hand. We all know that over-eat->gain & guilt->emotional over-eat cycle too well and need to break it.
An important thing to bear in mind is your general rate of loss and how long it will take to lose those holiday lbs – the average rate is about a pound per week. Ask yourself now, are you really happy to spend 2 months undoing the weight gain from that 2 week all inclusive holiday of indulgence? If the answer is yes, then go and enjoy yourself! If not, do read on…
What’s the plan, Stan?
Okay, so you know you need to do something to prevent the weight gain while you’re away but you’re not sure what might suit you best? If you missed it earlier, those who are new to fasting are best trying to keep to their new 5:2 habit if it is going to become their normal way of life.
If you need a different plan for your eating on holiday, here are some ideas to consider…
16:8 ‘feeding window’ fasting
If your holiday destination doesn’t include breakfasts this could be the option for you! The 16:8 method of fasting and other ‘feeding window’ methods like Fast-5 give you the health benefits of a fasting period while also helping you – in theory at least – to reduce your calorie intake each day.
It’s really simple – pick yourself an 8 hour period (or 5 hours if you’re trying Fast-5) in which you will allow yourself to eat each day. Midday to 8pm or 1pm to 9pm are popular, allowing you to have a lunch and dinner but effectively skipping breakfast. You get the benefit of a 16 hour (or 19 for Fast-5) fast each day while eating as normal during your feeding window. It’s not totally foolproof as of course it is possible to over-eat during the window – but with a bit of mindfulness this is a great way to maintain on holiday and can even be effective for weight loss if followed on a daily* basis.
(*again, as we know, it’s the bigger picture which matters – if you eat outside of your feeding window no and then it is not ruin everything! One day on its own does not make, or break, a way of eating for life!)
If you haven’t already watched The Men Who Made Us Fat, do try to find the time to – it’s a real eye opener about the food industry and our eating habits. The key thing I took away from this documentary series is that many of us have lost the ability to (or the feeling that we need to) balance our calorie intake. As always, we should look to the bigger picture – our daily calorie needs can be scaled up to weekly needs and balanced over that period. If you over-eat one day, you can balance it the next. This seems to be the normal behaviour for many naturally slim people – after over indulging they don’t feel so hungry so they eat less – thereby balancing out their calorie intake in the longer term. This is a much healthier way to manage your food than falling into the over-eat->gain & guilt->emotional over-eating cycle!
So, while you’re on holiday if you find yourself overindulging, try to balance it out. Big lunch? Have a small dinner and cut back on the wine. Big dinner? Skip breakfast (contrary to popular belief it’s not really ‘the most important meal of the day’).
A different kind of 5:2
Have you seen any of those articles about “5:2ing your life”? It’s not all just about fasting 5:2 style, it’s about taking a couple of days a week to make healthy changes in your life. If you can’t fast 2 days a week while on holiday, maybe you can 5:2 your holiday in some other way. What eating habits could you commit to changing for 2 days of each week on your holiday? Maybe you could…
- Go without alcohol
- Skip breakfast
- Cut out the snacks
- Have smaller portions
- Go low-carb (if you’ve paid for a fancy dinner, make the most of the expensive protein and veggies and cut back on the side of carbs – you could ask for extra veg instead!)
After all, it’s only 2 days a week! Of course, if you feel able to do any of these for more days of your holiday it can hardly be a bad thing.
Feels just like starting over…
New habits take time to form but bad habits can be hard to break and they return far too easily!
If you’ve ever had a week or more off fasting then I probably don’t need to tell you this – when you return to fasting after some time off, it can be just like starting over. No, I don’t mean losing 5lbs in the first week (although you may get lucky and find that you do shift a load of water weight like that)… I mean the less pleasant side effects of fasting. Most of these will have subsided for you within a few weeks of starting, but be prepared to experience headaches, light-headedness, grumpiness and difficulty sleeping when you ‘start again’. It really can be just like starting over.
How can you avoid this? Keep fasting on holiday, even if it’s only one day a week, or a short feeding window each day. Don’t let your body forget what it feels like to fast and you shouldn’t have to go through those more challenging early fasts all over again!
Never give up!
If fasting has worked for you already, it should continue to do so – short of any major changes in your health situation and as long as you remember that your TDEE changes as you lose weight. If you’ve gained some weight on holiday and it doesn’t come off quickly, keep the faith – fasting will work. Don’t let yourself become disheartened and revert to unhealthy eating cycles. If you need a bit of extra support, we’re all here for you at the FastDay forum.