How to holiday without getting fat

Getting in shape and dropping body fat for an impending holiday is a common request that I get from my clients. It is completely understandable as people often are escaping to a warmer climate and will be lounging by the pool in their bikinis or board shorts and want to look their best. My advice is always centred on long-term health and that being in shape should not be a once or twice a year goal.

Attaining an ideal body fat % that can be maintained with a regular day-to-day lifestyle makes getting in shape much easier, less stressful and better for health. To make a sizable change in your body fat % you will need to make significant changes to training, lifestyle and nutrition. With that in mind, why only train for that holiday? Set yourself mini targets throughout the year to keep you accountable; and when the time arrives for the bathing suits come out, you won’t have to drag yourself over hot coals to get in condition.

Now that’s in perfect world… most of us know that we will be doing last minute training like a demon and dropping into a calorie restrictive diet until the unwanted fat comes off. The main problem with this last minute method is that the reduction in calories (which is unavoidable for fat loss) reduces the body’s overall metabolic rate, even when training. (See nerd section at the bottom for the scientific explanation). This is where the conundrum of getting fat on your holiday starts – by having an overall reduction in metabolic rate at the start of your holiday from the calorie restrictive diet that has been self-imposed with the goal of getting in holiday shape. Upon checking into resort hotels, you are usually greeted with a sugary fruit juice, then it’s out for cocktails by the pool followed by a banquet dinner and a buffet breakfast the next morning containing more calories in one meal than five days of your pre-holiday restrictive diet. I hate to be the barer of bad news, but you can undo a month’s worth of work in less than 48 hours of uncontrolled eating.

I don’t have my head in the sand thinking that people are going to go on holidays and abstain from all the enjoyable pleasures that different cities and cultures have to offer. Food and alcohol is often embedded in the fabric of cultures all around the world and it would be remiss to travel without having the authentic experiences at hand. The idea of this article is to show you how you can enjoyably travel without coming home with excess baggage…

Tips to keep the fat off on your next holiday: 

1.Train, eat well and have a healthy lifestyle twelve months of the year and not only for the few months before travel

2. Avoid severe calorie restrictive diet methods right before going away

3. Be mindful with alcohol, as this is probably the biggest fat gainer if left unchecked. Alcohol is usually consumed as well as the food that is being eaten. Per gram alcohol is an extremely dense form of energy and has little to no nutritional benefit to the body. Bottom line: drink in moderation and offset with lower calorie options (vodka lime soda anyone?) when eating at the same time.

Side note: Calorie information to put alcohol in perspective 2 (350ml) Heineken = 296cals; 1 Piña Colada = 245cals; 1 McDonald’s Big Mac Burger = 256cals.


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4. Pack your gym gear! When traveling, there is no excuse not to train or be active. A large percentage of hotels have adequate gyms to train and to offset the damage being done at the buffets. If the place you’re staying doesn’t have a training facility then improvise with no equipment based training. I have written countless programs for clients that require no equipment for travel situations. If you have limited resources then try the free 7-minute workout app, which requires virtually no equipment other than a chair.

5. When booking accommodation, take the option without the buffet breakfast included if you know that controlling yourself will be a challenge. Sure there are healthy options at those buffet breakfasts, but the waffle station with peanut butte, chocolate sauced and whipped cream is right next to those healthy options…

6. Drink 500ml of water before each meal. Research has shown that drinking water before each meal can drastically reduce the number of self-regulated calories consumed.

Hopefully that has given you some ideas next time you go away at how to enjoy yourself without excess and undoing all the hard work that you have put in.

Safe travels and travel lean,


Nerd section:

Regardless of your macronutrient ratios or style of diet, the reason for weight loss is associated to a reduction in overall calories. The low carb, low fat, Paleo, or Atkins diets reduce overall calories by cutting out certain macronutrients or food groups such as dairy, grains etc. which will ultimately reduce your overall calories. When dropping calories and body weight at a rapid rate it is unavoidable to drop lean tissue (muscle), which is partly responsible for keeping your metabolism firing at a higher rate. Studies have reported that when the calorie intake drops, your body’s metabolism will adjust itself to the lower energy intake and notably thyroid hormone levels. (1, 2) There are various things that can offset the reduction in metabolic rate such as weight training and other re-feeding (cheat meals) or carbohydrate cycling but I’ll leave that for another future post.



  1. Kiortsis D, Durack I, and Turpin G. Effects of a low-calorie diet on resting metabolic rate and serum tri-iodothyronine levels in obese children. European journal of pediatrics 158: 446-450, 1999.
  2. Martin CK, Heilbronn LK, Jonge L, DeLany JP, Volaufova J, Anton SD, Redman LM, Smith SR, and Ravussin E. Effect of calorie restriction on resting metabolic rate and spontaneous physical activity. Obesity 15: 2964-2973, 2007.

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