Why You Should Not Crash Diet For Your Summer Vacation

According to Shortlister, around 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. Therefore, if you’ve ever felt the pressure to shed a few pounds, you are far from alone. 

If you have a vacation planned this summer, you may be even more eager to lose weight. Perhaps you are considering going on a crash diet (defined as “a weight-loss diet undertaken on an urgent, short-term basis with the aim of achieving very rapid results”) in time for your vacation. This is a mistake and is likely to backfire.

Crash dieting does not work for one simple reason: it is unsustainable. The body cannot run on a huge energy deficit for long periods of time. During a crash diet, you will likely feel low on energy and extremely hungry. You may also experience intense food cravings, particularly for things that are “forbidden” on your diet.

Catherine Wygal, a Weight Loss Coach and co-host of the We Only Look Thin podcast, says, “Depriving ourselves before a vacation tells our subconscious that we have to earn the right to deserve a break. It tells us that our “vacation selves” are our true selves. The problem is, when we continue cycles of restriction and overindulgence, it becomes harder and harder to recover when we’re back from vacation. Suddenly a seven day break turns into months of trying to get back that motivation we had before our holiday.” 

So instead of crash dieting ahead of your summer vacation, here are a few things to try instead: 

Set an achievable calorie goal 

The only way to lose weight is to be in a sustained calorie deficit. The best way to achieve this is by building a small deficit into every day. It’s not an exact science, but 3500 calories equals approximately 1lb of body fat. Therefore, a 500 calorie deficit each day equals around 1lb of weight loss per week.

Use an online calculator to work out your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and then subtract 250-500 calories to get your daily target number. Track your food using your phone, a pen and paper, or an app such as LoseIt or MyFitnessPal. 

Add movement into your day

Exercise can boost your mood, improve your quality of sleep, keep your cardiovascular system healthy, and strengthen your bones and muscles. Exercise can also help you to lose weight by increasing that all-important calorie deficit. 

If you are currently sedentary, start trying to build a sustainable exercise routine. The trick to keeping up with exercise is learning to love it, which means finding an activity you enjoy. This could be almost anything and does not have to involve going to the gym unless you want to. 

If you don’t know where to start, begin with walking. A wearable device such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit can tell you how many steps you’re walking each day. Try adding around 1000 steps each week until you’re taking at least 10,000 steps a day. Small changes, such as taking a walk at lunchtime or walking to the store instead of driving, can make a big difference. 

Make a plan for your vacation…

If you’re doing well on your weight loss plan, it can be easy for it all to fall apart on vacation. Make a realistic plan before you go. 

Perhaps you won’t have access to a gym, but could you take a walk each day? Perhaps enjoying great local food is a major focus of your vacation, but can you stick to a reasonable calorie limit each day? Plan your indulgences and give yourself permission to completely enjoy them. 

…and for getting back on track when you return

If you move away from your usual eating and exercise plan when you’re on vacation, it’s essential to have a plan for getting back on track when you get home. This might involve planning your meals for the first few days back, having healthy food in the freezer, or booking a movement-based activity for a day or two after you return. 

Failure to plan is one of the most common sabotage points when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Putting a few measures in place now can save you a lot of time and pain later. 

Focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like 

Crash diets ahead of vacations are usually based on looks. You might want to look good in a bathing suit on the beach or be able to pack clothes in a smaller size. But your efforts are far more likely to be sustainable if you focus on health instead. 

“The biggest change in my relationship with food came when I stopped focusing on the outcomes I wanted - like a number on the scale - and began working on an identity I was cultivating,” says Catherine. “I used to think, I’ll be happy when I’m finally 140lb for that trip! Now, with my focus on identity, I think I want to be the kind of person who can hike with friends on vacation without being winded after 15 minutes.” 

Instead of scrutinizing your “flaws” in the mirror, consider how you feel. Do you have more energy? Are you sleeping better? Are you walking taller, feeling more confident, or experiencing less stress and depression? 

As authors Lindsay and Lexie Kite write, “your body is an instrument, not an ornament.”

1 comment

So very true! It sounds simple but getting up every day and being consistent is indeed a challenge!

Mary Spivey October 18, 2022

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