Vacation souvenirs from T-shirts to snow globes that prove you've "been there" are a lot of fun to collect. Unfortunately for many adults, picking up a few extra pounds on vacation is an unwanted souvenir of good times spent on holiday road.
According to a 2016 University of Georgia study, the small but steady creep of weight gain most adults experience over the years often sneaks in when we relax diet and fitness habits on vacation. The study of 122 participants between the ages of 18 and 65 — average age of 32 — found that folks going on a one- to three-week vacation gained an average of nearly one pound during their trips. A few actually lost weight and some in the group gained as much as seven pounds — guess it depends on whether you choose the spa menu or an all-you-can-eat buffet vacation.
"If you're only gaining a pound or two a year and you gained three-quarters of that on a one- to three-week vacation, that's a pretty substantial weight gain during a short period of time," says Jamie Cooper, an associate professor of nutrition in University of Georgia's College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Previous diet studies have confirmed weight gain during the "turkey, gravy and all the trimmings" holiday season, but this is the first to link weight gain to short-term vacations.
But what about all of that walking, hiking, biking, swimming, tennis, golf and paddle-boarding so many people enjoy during their free time away from work and home? Sorry, more sobering news: The weight gain occurred despite a trend for slightly increased physical activity during vacation. "You might be a little bit more active, but it's not enough to compensate for the extra calories you might be eating or drinking on vacation," Cooper says. Another weight gain whammy: The study showed a decrease in physical activity in the weeks following vacation.
No big surprise, but alcohol consumption clearly had a big impact on calorie intake. The study found participants not only ate more, but also drank more when living it up on vacation. Alcohol consumption doubled from an average of eight drinks a week to 16 per week.
What to Do to Prevent Vacation Weight Gain
"One of the challenges people face is, unless you're diligent about weighing yourself before and after vacation, usually you're not going to notice a pound of weight gain,” Cooper says. "People don't realize it's happening, and that's why they don't lose weight following a vacation."
To help prevent body fat from taking a "stay-cation," Cooper suggests weighing in before and after a vacation or any long trip away from home. "If you've gained three pounds, then work really hard in the next couple of weeks to take those three pounds off," Cooper says. "If it stays on long enough, it gets really hard to take off."
But Vacations Really Are Worth It!
Despite the risk for increased weight, Cooper noted there are health benefits to vacations. For instance, the study participants showed significantly reduced stress levels and a slight reduction in systolic blood pressure that lasted even six weeks post-vacation.