By Perri O. Blumberg
As soon as you get back from a great vacation, reality starts to set in: You're back to the grind at work, back to sitting in traffic, back to pilates class feeling slimmer and more energetic than ever. Er, wait—that last one? Not so much.
Between sitting on an airplane and not sticking to your normal workout/eating routine while away, it's easy to feel tired, pudgy and low-energy when you get home. But if you don't figure out how to bounce back and beat that belly bloat in a reasonable amount of time, you could very well set yourself on a frustrating path of willpower versus wishing you were still on vacation.
That's why we tapped experts and nutritionists for their top, tiny tweaks and secrets for crushing that post-vacation bloat. You'll start feeling like it's back to normal—but in a good way!—while slipping in sneaky ways to burn more calories. Because you want to look just as hot for your next vacation, right? Follow this plan—or nip your pudge problems in the bud by finding out the 30 Worst Vacay Habits for Your Waistline.
On the plane
The sooner you start refocusing on your comeback, the better! Even though vacation isn't technically over until you walk in your door, these little moves are worth it.
1. "Zip Up" Your Abs
Try this in-air mini exercise from The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure: "When you're sitting on the plane, activate your abs by squeezing them in tight and pulling them back against your spine as you exhale. Think of zipping your abs together by using your muscles to contract your abs by pulling in from the center—think about pulling everything in from a vertical line from your belly button and up to between your breastbone and pulling everything in and back towards your spine. Think zipping together. Hold for a count of 10 as you continue to exhale. Slowly release and repeat for 10 reps at least three times throughout your flight, but ideally as much as possible. Not only will this create good posture, it will also wake up the ab muscles and make it easier to keep your abs in, preventing them from looking bloated. Also, breathing out and pushing air out of the stomach while pulling the muscles in tight helps to flatten your stomach, so you'll be a step ahead of the game." Bonus: Your abs will be warmed up for when you're home and ready to do these 7 Best Ab Moves for Women!
2. Skip the Pinot on the Plane
Sure, that vino may be your "I'm still on vacation" rebellion, but you should definitely opt out if you're not really craving it. "When we vacation, we can abandon our beliefs, food patterns, and can fall completely off track," says Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of The Well Necessities. "Oftentimes people justify it with the 'vacation approach' and tell themselves they will get back on track the first day home. Start getting back on track on your way home and chug some water instead. The sooner you can start to bring nourishment back into your body, the better."
3. Embrace the Veggies!
If you traveled somewhere outside the country, you probably weren't able to bring back any fruits and veggies. (Ah, international Customs regulations.) But you can load up on salads and veggie crudité at the airport delis or restaurants for your flight back, say The Nutrition Twins. And the sooner you get your veggie-eating on, the better. "Vegetables are packed with water, so they'll help you to stay hydrated. Plus, they're packed with fiber to get your digestive tract moving, pushing out wastes, salt, and toxins from your colon along with unsightly belly bulges from all-to-familiar travel constipation." The Nutrition Twins next point is what might be the most important one, though: "You'll automatically feel healthier," they say. "Knowing that you're loading up on antioxidant-rich foods and super-low calorie veggies instead of typical fatty fare that is associated with travel will instantly get your mind and body back on the healthy track."
4. Drink Water Like Crazy
It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: Sip on that H2O like a champ. "Beginning on your travels home, emphasize hydration," explains Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. "Several travel-induced factors may promote dehydration: flying, eating out at restaurants—where the use of salts, sugars, and fats are typically excessive—and drinking alcohol all means your body will need more water. Guzzle water, sparkling water, and decaf tea on the plane ride home. This will not only keep you hydrated but will also force you to move your body by having to walk back and forth to the restroom a few times. You may want to try to reserve an aisle seat."
5. Avoid Caffeine
"Yes, even those found in tea," says Hayim. "Your vacation was full of alcohol and stimulants, and your body needs a rest. Take a cue, and give your body the rest it needs." If you drink tea as a calming ritual, pack your own and make sure it's caffeine-free. "I recommend red tea, like a rooibos," says Kelly Choi, author of The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. "Rooibos leaves are very small so you'll only need to steep it for a couple of minutes." Perfect for the plane!
So, that downward dog might be a tad difficult to pull off from your window or aisle seat, but meditation is a great, calming, centering option to try while you're aboard. "With new technology, it's easy to get swept up in a new show, or drama series while on the plane. But this can be some good alone time. Taking at least 10 minutes of your flight to practice deep breathing exercises can help set the tone for a good week ahead," suggests Hayim. Some in-flight entertainment systems even have guided meditation series. Take a look at these 12 Inspiring Yoga Mantras to Change Your Life for some ideas!
As Soon As You're Home
And by "as soon as," we mean the first few hours. Not tomorrow, not in a few days…now. Trust us, you'll be glad you did.
7. Unpack, Stat
"This may sound a bit odd, but unpack the minute you get home. It's the best way to transition out of your vacation mindset and get organized for the week," says Hayim. Best of all, you may even torch some extra calories doing it.
8. Make a Parsley Tonic
Try this detox elixir from Hever, which she says can reduce bloat: "Boil some fresh herbs like parsley for several minutes. Then strain out the parsley and drink the water." Or, mix it up with one of these 14 detox water recipes to beat bloat!
9&10. Pair cardio and Lemon Water
This is a winning combo after vacation, even if you only can hit the elliptical or treadmill for 15 minutes. "Exercise and water both get your intestinal tract going, which gets things moving out of your colon—and they will work in tandem with those on-the-plane veggies to prevent constipation and the gut bulges that come with it," say The Nutrition Twins. "The water and lemon help to restore normal fluid balance, flushing bloat, thanks to the potassium in the lemon that counteracts sodium; the water also rinses out the salt and you'll get rid of the little layer of 'puff' right beneath your skin as you sweat out a little salt. And exercising enough to break a sweat will help flush some of the high-sodium foods."
11. Grocery Shop Right Away
"Tomorrow?" It's easy to make excuses. Do today, instead, and commit to your plan. "Head to the grocery store and start to prepare for the week," advises Hayim. "You are going to need a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables. Stay away from the inner section of the store, because that's where the packaged food (and hidden sodium!) is. Focus on choosing water-dense foods to snack on during the week, like celery, fruits, and cucumbers."
12. Prepare for Your Routine
Set that alarm. Take a bath. Read the Sunday Times magazine. Basically, do whatever it is you normally do to as much of an extent as possible to start shifting yourself and your body back to fit mode. "Kick into your routine, including plenty of exercise, adequate water consumption, and eat as many healthful foods as possible," suggests Hever. "Emphasize vegetables and fruits and include legumes at each meal to boost your immune system. Stay away from calorie-dense items, ultra-processed foods, and animal products, so that you can increase your fiber intake and maximize detoxification."
The Day After Your Return
Back to reality—but that can be a good thing! Start the week strong and you'll be able to enjoy your post-vacation reset even more since you won't have any guilt or pudge-related blues bringing you down.
13. Eat a High-Fiber, Protein-Packed Breakfast
On your first full day back home, stay away from big breakfasts that will weigh you down and make you feel heavy. Try a Greek yogurt, a piece of fruit, and a tablespoon of chia seeds, or a hardboiled egg or two with a half cup of oatmeal and a few slivered almonds and berries. "The protein-fiber combo will provide longer-lasting energy without the crashes and energy slumps that often trigger sugar cravings and moodiness," say The Nutrition Twins. "The fiber will help you to feel satisfied by filling up your stomach and assisting your digestive tract in making sure everything keeps moving along to prevent constipation and bloat while the protein will keep you satiated." For more a.m. inspo, check out these 15 Healthy Breakfast Ideas: 5 Minutes, 5 Ingredients!
14. Hit the Gym
And do so in the morning, if possible! Because, wow, doesn't it feel good to check something off your to-do list? "Even if you worked out regularly before the trip, the first day back may be extremely difficulty to get motivated and back to the gym," says Hayim. "So make it a priority and preferably as the first thing you do. If you wake up and hit the gym, you'll set the tone for the rest of the week—and break the lazy cycle before it can even start."
15. Start a Fruit and Veggie "Detox"
Hever suggests concentrating almost solely on fruits and veggies for your first day or two back home. "Even if you eat just fruits and veggies most of the day, followed by a wholesome dinner including beans, lentils, and whole grains, your body will recover quickly," she says. And flooding your body with vitamins and minerals from fresh produce? Always a good thing in our book. Speaking of vitamins, don't miss these 21 Things You Don't Know About Vitamins.
The Next Few Days
If you've followed the first 15 tips, we are betting you'll say, "Bring it on!" But if you haven't, that's okay—just try to jump in; it's still not too late!
16. Drink 2 Cups of Water Upon Waking
Yes, that means 16 ounces! "New research from the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics confirmed what we see daily as registered dietitians: It showed that people who increased their water by one, two or three cups a day ate up to 205 calories less daily, and they took in up to 200 fewer milligrams of sodium daily," say The Nutrition Twins. What's this mean for you? Drink more water—and ultimately this equals fat loss and less bloat. "Start your day on the right track," they continue. "Water is invigorating and will wake up you and your digestive tract; water is refreshing and will boost your energy while also pushin out the leftovers from last night that that are lingering in the colon. It will help to flush out body-bloating salt and water, will prevent dehydration, and will give your body what it needs for its' chemical reactions to make energy." Okay, we're sold. Time to guzzle that H20!
17. Make Each Meal A Little Healthier
You may have gotten used to someone else preparing your meals or making your decisions for you while on vacation. But now that you've loaded up on veggies and are starting to hold yourself accountable again, here's where you can make some smart swaps for healthy eating. "If you are having oatmeal in the morning, throw in some fresh berries. Add greens to your sandwich at lunch and skip the processed bread," says Hayim. "At dinner, stick to lean protein sources like fish or chicken. No fried food and no salt can also help; try cooking with fresh herbs and spices to boost flavor instead." Try any of these 32 Kitchen Hacks for Healthy Eating to cook up some post-vacay weight loss!
18. Get Leafy With It
"It's important to focus on water and greens for their detoxifying effects," says Hayim. "Get at least 64 ounces of water per day through water and tea, and make sure to get a green leafy vegetable in at least once per day," says Hayim. Better yet, shoot to have a leafy green at every meal; try spinach in your bloat-busting smoothie at breakfast. "This will help with digestion, and improve lingering bloating."
19. Avoid Sneaky Reasons You Bloat
If you're trying this hard to avoid feeling gross and bloated after vacation, don't you want to also avoid the surprising, under-the-radar things that make you puff up? If you don't, then it can be frustrating that your efforts might feel like they're in vain! "Things like chewing gum and sipping through a straw can cause belly bloat by drawing excess air into your stomach. Carbonated beverages also leave your stomach full of gas," advise The Nutrition Twins. "And for surprising ways to feel leaner, go for salsas, flavored vinegar and lemon, instead of sauces and dressings—you'll save a lot of calories and salt and feel much lighter." There are at least 35 Things That Make You Bloat; avoid 'em so you can see the great effects of your post-vacay efforts!
20. Eat Clean All Week and Beyond
"The next few days are extremely important for nourishment: Focusing on whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding all processed food is a great idea," says Hayim. "Without limiting calories, make it a priority to increase the nutrient density of each of your meals." Here's your ultimate plan for eating clean—so you can feel great all the way until your next getaway!
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