Vacation nutrition: feeling good on holiday
You may be preparing to take vacation this summer, or perhaps some weekend down-times to soak up the sunny weather.
Holidays are such an interesting sort of time health-wise.
We want to let our hair down a bit, and we want to feel fantastic, but these two goals can sometimes prove mutually exclusive!
All too often, time off can be soured by hangovers, crashes, children’s tantrums, digestive wobbles, or just feeling sluggish. But then these troubles may also be avoided by using nutrition wisely.
To me, holidays and days off really are precious ‘holy-days’, experiences of what life is really about.
So if the nutrition tips below help your holiday to be extra joyful, then this blog will have done its job. Let me know if you try any of them!
You’ve heard me extol hydration before – and of course this is important in the heat. But if you’ve been racing around on the beach all day, you may need some electrolytes to replenish micronutrients like sodium and potassium. Without these, it’s easy to become weak and nauseous after an energetic day in the heat.
Adding a little salt to your food, having a banana or two, and including some calcium foods like broccoli or cheese, may do the trick.
Or, coconut water with a little salt and lemon juice is a useful DIY electrolyte drink. Add just a pinch of plain sea salt or himalayan salt to a cup / 250ml of coconut water, and if it doesn’t taste at all salty, add another pinch more until you taste the salt.
Many clients tell me they can barely have a bowel movement on holiday. I used to be one of those people myself, and it’s not at all a comfortable experience.
Often it’s to do with changes in food and water, but it can also be about feeling insecure about privacy, or embarrassed by the situation of a new bathroom, or, if you’re travelling a lot, just not feeling relaxed enough.
This inhibition is partly because our internal and external anal sphincters are in constant conversation about when to go to the loo. The external sphincter picks up on information sent by the brain about the social environment, to determine if it is advisable to have a bowel movement. If the environment feels awkward, both sphincters shut up shop!
My recommendation would be not to ignore this predicament, since toxins building up in the system is never a good idea and can be especially harmful for women’s hormone balance.
Rather, take offensive action in the form of greater hydration, consuming some prunes or prune juice, taking some exercise, doing some relaxation meditations, seeking out a more secluded bathroom - and if all else fails, consider taking some magnesium malate at night.
If you’ve read this once, you’ve read this a million times… yes, adding sufficient protein to your meals may help you to avoid cravings for those sugary foods, which, on holiday, can be harder to avoid when there is nothing to distract you from them.
So bear in mind, European travellers, that 1-2 croissants for breakfast do not a breakfast make. Nor will said croissants help you feel sparky two hours later! Lunchtime salads with half-hearted sprinklings of protein on the top may leave you feeling, by 4pm, that ice cream is essential for your survival. (It's these moments that may also prove tantrum-tastic for children.)
Portable proteins can therefore be useful when on the move. For example, bags of nuts, cheese (for shorter journeys), roasted chickpeas (these are super easy to make at home), or beef jerky/biltong.
For treats you really want to indulge in, you may feel better enjoying them at lunch than at any other time.
Particularly with anything sweet, if you have it in the morning, you end up wanting sugar all day due to insulin spikes. And if you have it at night, it disrupts your blood sugar balance just before bed. Consuming treats in the early afternoon, after a proper meal, gives your body more time to rebalance its blood sugar levels. Alcohol, too, is less likely to disturb your sleep if you have it with a good lunch, rather than in the evening.
Yes, I am all for a bit of holiday indulgence, but some things are just always worth avoiding. So I’d advocate filtering out fizzy soft drinks like coke entirely, and anything else you know is highly processed. There are SO many other delicious options out there. Not least a local speciality food or drink, which also allows you to spend on smaller businesses instead of big corporations.
For those who need to avoid some foods
Holidays can be tough when you know that certain foods definitely don’t agree with you. It may be easy to feel a bit excluded when everyone else is chowing down on freshly-made pizza while you’re looking for the gluten-free options.
As someone who’s definitely been there, I would recommend taking food items with you, and/or shamelessly buying some of your own food at the local shops, including treats that you can enjoy.
For example, if I have some delicious 85% cocoa chocolate and a few pecan nuts with me, then I’m much more likely to feel cheerful when everyone else wades into the gateaux.
On alcohol – for those with gut, hay fever, perimenopause or any other symptoms
There are so many reasons why avoiding or dialling down alcohol can be useful if you have any kind of health challenge.
Not least the fact that alcohol adds to your histamine load AND makes it harder to get rid of (hello hay fever, hot sweats, bloating).
And yet alcohol can be an emotive thing if you’re on holiday with a larger group. Some may feel off-kilter if they don’t join in with the drinks, feeling they’re being boring or excluded or both. (We’re all different though. As a nutritionist, I’m impervious to drinking peppermint tea in a pub.)
Here, I think mindset is really important: remembering that your family and friends are not, in fact, gathering around alcohol, but rather around conversation, connection, and fun. Everyone is included on that basis! Focusing on that can make it so much easier to forget about the non-alcohol in your glass.
Having covered some more sober ideas, let’s not forget the joy of food! Vacations and days off provide a brilliant opportunity for celebrating, and for simply savouring food and drink as some of the good gifts in life.
Time off can also be a really good opportunity for exploring new foods and trying new ways of making meals. I love to go to a local market or shop and spot things I haven’t tried before, or haven’t combined in that way before.
One of my favourite things to do is to buy a herb or spice which can then remind me of the holiday when I’m back home.
Do you have any food and drink tips for holidays? Things that make holidays feel extra fun and somehow healthy at the same time? I would love to hear about them!
And on another note: if you have a window of opportunity over the summer, perhaps before or after vacation, and you’d like to see an improvement in things like your energy, mood and digestion, let’s see if we can set you up with a sort-out. Likewise, anyone with a thyroid issue.
As some of you already now, I offer a flexible 10-week course which digs into your particular ‘underlying causes’ and takes you through a tailor-made, step-by-step programme to address them. Drop me a line if you’d like to find out more.
To your best of health,
Clare Backhouse, dipION, Registered Nutritionist MBANT
Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC
PS Alongside the joys of summer, many of us are aware of people who are struggling just to pay for a weekly food shop. If you want to donate to a fantastic food charity which connects excellent-quality grocery surplus with people who urgently need free food, you couldn’t do better than give to The Wholesome Warehouse.
The way it’s run is so empowering, that recipients often become donors themselves. Even tiny gifts are worthwhile because they go directly to someone in need. It takes about 10 seconds to donate online – scroll down to ‘share the love’.