Staying healthy on Vacation

Staying Fit on Vacation

It’s too late for a long bike ride or a hike after just arriving at Hungry Mother State Park. Instead we burn off a little energy before dinner with a short walk on a trail near the lake.

When it’s finally time for a vacation, all I really want to do is close the door to my office and get going. But that will never do because one of my goals is to come home without the regret of an unhealthful diet or extra pounds. I always have a diet and exercise game plan – vacation or not. It doesn’t matter if I’m visiting relatives, sightseeing in an exotic city, cruising between islands, visiting wine country in California or spending several days at the beach. I start with the intention to live healthfully. I pack suitable foods to help me stay on track, and I figure out how to fit in my exercise.

Here’s how I ate well and stayed fit on my recent active family vacation. Our destination – beautiful Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia – is about a 6-hour drive from our home. We spend a week in a 2-bedroom cabin – the perfect base for hiking, biking, swimming and paddle boarding.

A week or so before the trip, I planned food to buy and prepare both for our car ride and to eat for breakfasts and lunches in our cabin.

Healthful Food for the Car

It starts with a cooler and some reusable freezer packs. We carried these items for lunch and snacks.

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Snack sized reduced-fat cheese
  • Lowfat yogurt
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Water and sparkling water
staying healthy on vacation

Replenishing with a delicious, wholesome lunch of hard-boiled eggs, chunky gazpacho, fresh fruit, bean salad and veggies.

Healthful Food for the Cabin

You might think that with all the exercise my family gets on this week-long trip that it would be easy to avoid gaining weight on vacation. I don’t find that to be the case. Sure we are exercising and burning lots of calories, but without easy access to wholesome food, it’s way too easy to reach for whatever is handy. I want lots of good choices right in front of us, so we can eat when we’re hungry. I spend a few hours in the kitchen the day before we leave to make sure that happens.

I always make my chunky gazpacho. This year, I whipped up a double batch, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a refreshing, low-cal way to take the edge off of hunger while waiting for the rest of the family to get ready for a meal (4 sweaty people and one bathroom and shower take some time and patience). I also made a hearty bean salad, grabbed fresh herbs from our garden, filled a shopping bag with canned tuna, whole grain crackers, peanut butter and a handful of other things. Once we arrived, we filled the kitchen with more nourishing foods such low fat cottage cheese, fresh fruit, whole grain cereal and nonfat milk.

Active Days

Our days were filled with park activities. Our favorite family activity is mountain biking, so we road every morning after a lazy breakfast on the porch. The cool mornings were also perfect for indulging in that hard-to-put-down summer read.

staying healthy on vacation

This rest stop is shortly after a tough hill. We always gather to take a break, drink water and munch on homemade trail mix.

I use those bike rides as a marker of my fitness level. There are so many steep hills and switchbacks. I almost always fail on one particular hill and have to push my bike up. Even walking it, I feel like I’m working out extra hard. There are other steep hills, and I have my way of getting to the top. Switching to low gear is just a part of it. In my head, I say over and over, “Just keep going. Don’t look up. Just keep going. Don’t look up.” Looking up is so disappointing because the top is closer in my mind’s eye than it is in my eye’s mind. Just keep going. Don’t look up.

The best part is a downhill after a big uphill. The cool air chills the sweat on my face, and it feels so worth it. By the end of the week, the hard hills are a bit easier. I’m really proud of my active family!

After an exhausting ride, we put together a big spread of healthful food for lunch back at the cabin. We spent our afternoons hiking, swimming or paddle boarding.

Healthy fit vacation

Reading on the beach before swimming and diving in the cold lake. Notice the sunglasses and hat. I wore sunscreen too – also to keep me healthy.

Healthy fit vacation

These girls are always acting silly. Gotta love them for that.

staying healthy on vacation

There’s a lot of uphill, so it takes nearly an hour to get to the top.

Molly's Vista Hungry Mother State Park

Erin & Emily at Molly’s Knob Vista, circa 2003

Active Vacation

Erin & Emily always reach the top a couple minutes before Drew & I do. They take their usual seats to rest and enjoy the view. 2016

Delicious Dinners

I really don’t enjoy cooking on vacation, so we leave the cabin for dinner. The park has a nice restaurant, so we usually eat there at least once. The rest of the time, we visit a Marion restaurant. Although I splurge on vacation, I don’t abandon the basics of healthful eating. I still limit dessert – we split it 2 or more ways, keep an eye on my alcohol intake, avoid eating more than fits comfortably in my belly, and fill up on health-boosting, low-calorie veggies.

Healthy eating out

Strawberry Summer Salad at the Wooden Pickle in downtown Marion

Salmon at the Speakeasy

Salmon, asparagus and fig puree at the Speakeasy in downtown Marion. Enough to share.

Abingdon is a Must

The town of Abingdon is about a 45-minute drive. It’s well worth the short trip, and we visit this historic town once or twice each vacation. In previous years, we drove to Abingdon and hired a driver to take us and our bikes (or you can rent bikes) to Whitetop Station, the highest point of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile rails to trails ride. It’s a super easy ride, with barely a need to peddle for the first 17 miles.

Barter Theater

The famous Barter Theater in Abingdon, VA

My favorite stop in Abingdon is the famous Barter Theater. This professional theater was founded in 1933 and is located in a beautiful building built in 1837. Robert Porterfield started the theater during the Great Depression when he and his New York actor friends were out of work. Porterfield returned to his home region, opened the theater and bartered admission to a show for food. The price of a show was 35 cents or the equivalent in produce, meat or even live animals. Even famous playwrights bartered for food. George Bernard Shaw took spinach for the rights to his plays. Famous actors, including Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine and Ned Beatty have performed at the Barter Theater.

Over the years, we’ve seen so many terrific shows. This year we celebrated my husband’s birthday with an evening show of the hilarious Mama Mia.

Cabin at Hungry Mother State Park

Our cabin at Hungry Mother State Park. My goofy husband and daughters hide a rock each year and enjoy looking for it the next time we return.

Molly's Vista, Hungry Mother State Park

Drew & I love this spot at Molly’s Vista. The hike down is much easier, but it still takes about 45 minutes.

I’m happy to say that the entire family came home feeling more fit than when we left. All it took was a little planning. But that started with commitment.

Please share how you and your family stay healthy while traveling.

Jill Weisenberger

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.

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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.

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