Creating a Lifestyle Vacation: how to go camping and keep a healthy balance

246When I think of camping food, I think of things like hot dogs, chips, pancakes, and s’mores….

Our family goes camping every summer for about 2 weeks. Before I really cared about what I ate, I viewed holiday time simply as “I get to eat whatever I want” time – so I would spend two weeks enjoying hot dogs, pancakes, s’mores, bacon, hamburgers, ice cream, milkshakes, and any other “treats” that passed my way. Just because I could and everyone else was doing it…

I figured this was how I would live my life with “balance” – meaning that I would spend months “dieting” and going through the deprivation and struggle of it all….only to earn my right to “enjoy” crap food for 2 weeks – so I wouldn’t be “deprived” of these joys of life…
**please note sarcasm and also please note that 2 weeks of holiday freedom would create a snowball of negative effects that would result in many months of poor choices**

Now one thing about our holidays is that we camp with our extended family. I am not in charge of what meals are planned for or prepared so traditionally we (I) go with the flow.
A few years ago though, as my choices for my health and my lifestyle began to change, I realized two things:
1. Eating crap food didn’t feel like so much of a “treat” that added “balance” to my life anymore. It felt more like a punishment and it did not make me feel good.
2. Holidays didn’t mean I had to stop doing what I normally do. I could enjoy my holiday (even more) when I felt healthy and energetic and I would not end up going home having gained 10 pounds from 2 weeks of “freedom”. To me that was not an emotionally or physically healthy place to put myself.

So I started to do things differently.
It did mean that I had step out of my comfort zone and
it meant that I had to make extra effort.

090I will say that I am extremely fortunate that we have a small RV trailer, so I use the term *camping* loosely – but it means that I have access to a stove, oven, and fridge/freezer. Tenting would present different challenges, but my point here is to give some perspective on how adjustments can be made no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You may camp for a weekend or you may take a road trip and stay at a hotel. You may spend time at someone else’s house or you may have to travel on an airplane.

PLANNING and PREPARATION (as well as creating a healthy MINDSET)
are the keys to making the best of whatever your situation may be.

Here’s my top 3 tips for creating a “lifestyle vacation” while camping or doing whatever it is you do:

My vacation time is valuable time. I don’t want to waste my time and energy stressing about things that don’t really matter. I want the things that matter to really matter. I value time with my family, enjoying the sun at the beach, the opportunity to read a book (or two), and maintaining my healthy habits because that is what gives me energy and true balance.
By preparing my mind for focusing on the things that really matter, it has helped me to acknowledge that food does not give me those things that really matter. My vacation does not *have* to include an over-indulgence of pancakes, ice cream, beer, and things I don’t normally choose to eat because they are not part of what is really important to me – the time I get with my kids is not related to the food I eat.

Keep in mind, this is coming from the contrast of how I used to live – believing that food was some sort of reward or mandatory social expectation. Because I have been able to over-come this type of unhealthy relationship with food, I now can actually enjoy special treats with my kids (like ice cream at the beach) without it becoming a free-for-all spiral downwards.
That is part of preparing your mind.

40168_418429851229_2413469_nWhen I was new to this process and it seemed like a punishment to think that I wouldn’t eat what everyone else was eating, I asked myself what “traditional treat food” would I choose to eat on my vacation if I could only pick just ONE. You know what, suddenly nothing really seemed worth it. If I was going to be able to gladly stick to what I normally do because THAT is what makes me feel my BEST – then would it really be necessary to bother with a greasy hamburger and donuts….?
This was not a battle of willpower, it was giving myself the opportunity to LIVE BETTER.

Take a look at what your vacation will entail.
Sitting at the beach? Hiking? Shopping? Lots of travel time? What are the most important parts of the vacation for you? Spending time with your kids? A chance to relax? 

Enjoying nature? Visiting with family?

How do you want to feel during your vacation?
Energetic? Confident in a bikini? Refreshed mind?
Able to enjoy each moment with the people you’re with?

So then, what WILL you eat?

I keep it pretty simple when I’m travelling or on vacation. I find it easiest to keep my breakfast and daily meals predictable and then I usually adapt the dinner meal into something that works for me depending on the situation.
So for example, when camping it is easy for me to cook some oatmeal with blueberries and mix up a protein shake for breakfast. I also can easily scramble eggs and I might even have some bacon – I just skip the starch then.

091Since we spend most of the day at the beach, I find that the single-serve foil packs of low-sodium tuna work really well for me because they don’t need to be kept super cold and they are easy to transport. I actually eat two of those per day (a couple hours apart while at the beach) mixed up with a ton of fresh veggies and maybe a handful of nuts. Let’s face it: I lie at the beach for an ENTIRE day doing NOTHING. The last thing I need is a big loaded basket of cheesy nachos for lunch. The odd day I might decide to enjoy an ice cream cone or something – but when I come prepared with an easy option that works to keep me satisfied, then I am not left to negotiate poor options and I don’t have to starve either. I have the choice to pick what I REALLY want – some days that might be an ice cream with my kids – and I get to truly enjoy those special EXPERIENCES with my family and I get to be a role model for living a healthier lifestyle.

Dinner is usually out of my control when we are with extended family, so I give myself two options. I keep salad fixings and some cooked chicken in my fridge as my “mainstay” (cooked chicken and veggies are also good for snacks) but I can also use them separately to modify whatever is being served that night. For example, I LOVE campfire-roasted hot dogs and bbq hamburgers while camping. I can choose to not bother and just stick with my chicken salad – OR if I want to enjoy those “treats”, then I will stick to the protein part but skip the bun and the potato chips, and whatever else is traditionally present. Then I can add my own salad fixings and veggies to have alongside the hot dog or hamburger. I enjoy it just as much this way and simply switching the protein part of the meal makes it more “lifestyle friendly”.
I will add one more note: WATER. Stick to water. No one needs soft drinks or soda – not even for a “treat”.

Before you leave on vacation you will have to figure out how these plans will be accomplished.
What do you need for preparing and cooking food?
What ingredients can you bring with you and what will have to be purchased and prepared once you get there?
What other tools will help – a small cooler tote and ice packs? A flat of bottled water?

Also plan for getting to and from your destination. We have to drive a whole day to get to our camping spot and because we drive from Canada to the US, I am not able to bring meat or fruits or veggies or nuts through the border. So typically when it’s time to eat during our drive, I have limited choices available beyond just fast food along the highway. Still, I prepare for this. I know that I CAN bring boiled eggs and canned fish through the border so I bring that, with some pickles added for flavour (I love pickles – good alternative to chips if you’re craving salt!). I also make some protein muffins and protein pudding for a sweeter snack and of course, I bring a protein shake or two. My choices may be very limited, but there is enough food there to keep me satisfied until I can get settled. Bonus is that the kids also enjoy boiled eggs and protein muffins for snacks, so we can avoid too much junk food right off the bat. But even if you are not able to travel with your own food, it is pretty easy to find a salad (make sure you get lots of chicken on it!) even at a fast food place these days – or even at a grocery store along the way where you can find loads of transportable healthy, whole foods for on the go.
Remember, if you want to enjoy a lifestyle of health then you need to LIVE a lifestyle of health.

319212_10150265978236230_7969128_nI hope that this gives some useful insights into how to create a “lifestyle vacation” – I know that often exceptions like holidays can easily throw people off their normal, positive changes they have made to their life. It’s great to have a relaxed holiday (hey, they usually don’t happen that often!) where you can enjoy a more indulgent atmosphere. We all need time like that and in the end, what you eat doesn’t really matter. It’s not something to stress over or feel overwhelmed by.
But I also hear from people far too often that holidays are difficult times because they come home feeling like they “failed” their diet and good intentions. I think this “on / off” lifestyle breeds a yo-yo diet mentality and creates unhealthy relationships with food and our bodies.

I believe it doesn’t have to be like that. The food you choose to eat should not end up making you feel miserable. 

I used to think “balance” meant “being like everyone else” once in a while (ie. enjoying all the foods I usually try to avoid).

But the biggest lesson for me has been that BALANCE is just that – creating an environment where I do not experience vast EXTREMES in my choices, behaviour, and outcomes. 
BALANCE is self-support of what makes ME function best.