A few weeks ago, I was on vacation in San Diego: aka a vegan foodie’s paradise. It was a great opportunity to be challenged and grow in my intuitive eating, and more importantly, to learn some insights to share with you!
For years and years, going on vacation meant a constant cycle of binge eating at restaurants, feeling guilty about it, trying to eat less at the next meal, failing, packing in as much cardio as possible… rinse and repeat.
Followed, of course, by the post-vacation constant, failed dieting attempts.
My last few vacations since getting the hang of intuitive eating, however, have been a world of difference.
(Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out my guide on intuitive eating.)
This last vacation was an especially tricky case, because I was set on making a guide & video to the best vegan restaurants in San Diego… all over the course of a week! And I wanted to try as many dishes as humanly possible for it. (Luckily I collaborated with some of the restaurants, like Kindred in these photos, so I didn’t spend alllll the money.)
In the past, this would have spelled disaster: trying so many things would have meant cleaning my plate for every. single. dish.
But this time, I went with my gut, quite literally. And it went wonderfully. No binge eating, no guilt, no restriction… and all my clothes fit the same when I got home.
So here are 5 tips I’ve picked up along the way: how to make sure you’re eating just as much as you need (no more, no less!) while eating out at restaurants, being on vacation, or having any other big change in your usual diet!
1. Eat slower.
Your body has learned the approximate mapping between the volume of food you put in your stomach, and the amount of energy that volume usually results in. If you’re used to eating less calorie-dense food, like vegetables and grains, this is an especially important one. With salad or bread, for example, you might need to eat ~5 cups of it to get 500 calories. With the types of food you tend to get at restaurants or while on vacation, though, you could easily get 1000 or 1500 calories with 5 cups of food.
Now, I am DEFINITELY not advocating you count your calories. (Repeat: do not count your calories!) Rather, try some strategies to be more mindful of your hunger and satiety signals. Try eating slower to give your body a chance to catch up, start digesting a little bit, and realize that you gave it more calories per volume than it expected. For me, this is as simple as having appetizers first, then letting myself digest for the ~15 minutes it takes for the food to come.
Don’t think this would help? There are studies showing that eating slower actually reduces the amount of food and calories that you eat!1
2. Get appetizers.
To piggyback on the last tip, if you’re really hungry when you get to the restaurant, ordering appetizers (to share, especially!) can be surprisingly helpful for preventing overeating. Paradoxically, getting appetizers ends up making me eat LESS because I’m not ravenously hungry when it’s time to start on my entree. And not feeling as hungry to start with will help you pace yourself and be more mindful of when you’re satiated.
3. Plan to take home leftovers.
Unless you’re sure you’ll need to eat all the food to be satiated (which is totally reasonable, I usually finish a whole entree), go in with the mindset that you’ll take some food home.
This is NOT the same idea as the tip I’ve seen circulating in the dieting world, saying “put half your entree in a leftovers box when you get it to stop yourself from eating it all.” This is simply aimed at preventing you from going in with a “clean your plate” mentality… if you end up wanting to eat it all because you’re not full yet, you should absolutely go for it!
4. Don’t force yourself to eat your next meal.
This is the most important tip so far, because it’s an example of how intuitive eating works beyond the level of an individual meal: your body’s ability to regulate your intake (so you eat what you need) operates over days, weeks, even months (thanks, hunger hormones!). It may sound weird, but hear me out.
Not forcing myself to eat at prescribed times has been huge for me. In the past I subscribed too heavily to society’s “3 meals a day” norm, and it got in the way of me listening to my body.
When I eat at a restaurant, I usually eat way more calories in a meal than I would at home, simply because my body is so used to eating a large volume of food. AND THAT’S OKAY! (Tip #1 can help, but probably won’t completely prevent it.)
Once you’re used to eating intuitively, you can trust your body to know what to do with those extra calories.
This tip helped me the most. My first day in San Diego, I ate a ton of incredible food at this brunch. I was still full around 5pm, 5 hours later. But my family wanted to make dinner together.
So naturally, I joined in. I was still mostly full, but I ate quite a bit anyway–because I had pretty much shut off communication with my hunger signals by choosing to eat when I wasn’t hungry in the first place. After feeling sick and overstuffed (on veggies, beans and rice, no less), I realized that eating dinner was not staying true to my body’s signals: it was telling me “I’m good, thanks”, but I ate dinner because I felt like I should.
No one can tell us when we should or shouldn’t eat. Only our bodies know that!
I redoubled my dedication to listening to my hunger, and it worked beautifully over the rest of the trip. How it usually worked was one day I’d do a big breakfast and dinner, with no lunch. (I’m like a snake when it comes to restaurant meals: I stock up, then feel full and satiated for like 8 hours. 😛 )
Then the next day, I wouldn’t feel hunger signals all morning because of the leftover energy from that big dinner. Then I’d get hungry around lunch, eat a big lunch, and feel full the rest of the day. Then repeated that two day pattern.
It was the usual 3 meal routine, just with double the meal size, spread over 2 days. And I felt great. No ravenous hunger, no feeling overstuffed, just eating when hungry & stopping when satisfied. I didn’t have to think about food at all in terms of what or when to eat, I just focused on enjoying myself. The bonus was I could spend less time finding food & more time at the beach!
Another way to think of it is naturally occurring intermittent fasting. Without the whole forcing-yourself-to-eat-in-a-prescribed-time-window part.
I don’t recommend forcing yourself to eat like this, at all. Some people do better eating more frequent meals, whereas I tend to prefer the snake-type eating style.
The main lesson from this tip is you may have to throw your usual eating routines out the window, and fly without the autopilot of habit: rely more on your hunger and fullness signals instead!
5. Go easy on yourself.
If you do overeat til you’re sick, just dust yourself off, move on, and try again. Vacationing and eating at restaurants is about relaxing and enjoying your life (and your loved ones), not feeling bad about yourself! You may be tired of hearing it, but self compassion is an absolutely KEY part of intuitive eating.
Maybe you’re working on getting the hang of intuitive eating, maybe it’s your first time trying to do it while on vacation. Maybe you’re an old pro and it was just difficult this time. (Newsflash, no one’s perfect!)
That’s okay. If you gain weight, it’s not the end of the world. Feeling guilty can only make the situation worse, but self compassion can prevent and reverse it. Work on loving yourself where you are and the rest will follow!
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I hope these tips can help you the next time you find yourself thrown out of your eating routine with the fun of restaurants and vacation. And most of all, I hope you enjoy yourself!