Have you ever heard of people going on vacation, eating and drinking whatever they want, and not gaining a pound, or even more shockingly, they actually lose weight?
Maybe it's you or someone you know that has experienced not gaining weight or even losing weight while on vacation, or maybe you've just heard stories from others expressing their surprise and amazement at this paradox.
The term has been coined as the "Vacation Phenomenon" and yes, it really does happen. I know that people can lose weight or not gain weight even after being away for a week or two even though they aren't exercising while eating whatever they wanted because it happened to me and my husband.
While being away in the Caribbean for a week on our honeymoon, we decided to let go of the fast paced living we were so accustomed to. We were at an all inclusive Sandals Resort in the Bahamas. No screaming kids, white sand, aquamarine waters, and all the food and alcohol your heart may desire.
We decided not to exercise for the week and to truly give our bodies a rest. Being entrenched in fitness and nutrition as not only my passion, but my career, I tried to let go of my death grip of control I had on over what I ate.
For the first two days it was very hard for me to relax. I was ok with not exercising, I knew my body needed a rest, but eating was a different story. I found I just couldn't let go and let myself enjoy not having to worry about what I was going to eat everyday and the fact that I couldn't control what was going into the food.
After the second day was when I really gave it all up though and let myself enjoy and relax. I let myself eat what I wanted, when I wanted, and as much of what I wanted at any given time. Oddly enough, the more I let myself eat and just relax, the less I wanted.
Now I'm not saying that I didn't throw back some food that isn't generally in my typical diet, and I did drink some champagne everyday, but the need for consumption wasn't there like I thought it would be. For the most part, we did end up making healthy choices 80% of the time.
When we allow ourselves to relax, we turn off the stress response that most of us chronically live in day in and day out coaxing our bodies back to homeostasis. When we are in a stress response, our appetite is deregulated which leaves us reaching for anything heavy in carbs, sugar or fat, our digestion is impaired, and we are metabolically inefficient compared to when we are in a relaxation response (aka rest and digest).
Ok so now that I'm relaxed, I am calorie burning machine because all my nutrients can assimilate properly, my thyroid function is high so my metabolism is up, there are no stress hormones circulating through my system signalling my body to store fat and inhibit lean muscle mass, my digestion is working properly, and there is no inflammation (just to name a few outcomes of being in a relaxation response).
What about exercise, I thought you needed to move around and exercise to keep weight off?
Yes, exercise is important. The body was designed to move and to move a heck of a lot more than 90% of North Americans do. That being said, we can take exercise to extreme levels which causes a different kind of stress to our bodies that actually forces catabolization (aka breaking down). Movement and the right kinds of exercise is important, but belligerently trying to massacre yourself in the gym day in and day out is actually counterproductive to keeping a fit, lean, and healthy body.
What I realized is that even though I wasn't exercising ever day like I normally do, I was still moving quite a bit. We walked everywhere, went swimming in the ocean, jet skiing...Even though I was resting and did a lot of sun bathing, I was still fairly active. My body appreciated the movement and doubly appreciated the rest.
Rest and grow young grasshopper
When we got back, we felt a bit sluggish and slightly guilty for the indulgences that we had, but only slightly. Because I don't weigh myself I didn't care if I had gained weight, although none of my clothes fit me any differently, and how could they? It had only been one week. Realistically you couldn't pack on the pounds in such a short time when we are the type of people who already eat very healthy and are avid exercisers.
My husband, however, did weigh himself on the Monday at the gym. His results: not one pound was gained. In fact, I think he was actually almost two pounds lighter than when he weighed himself last time! I'm not in any way surprised though knowing what I know about being in a stress response vs being in a relaxation response.
You can't deny the science behind what's happening here, it's not something magical that was in the water of the Caribbean, it's called the power of relaxation. Fight or Flight has an opposite response that's called Rest and Digest for a reason. Your body can only heal, only digest, only function properly when the stress response is switched off.
So what does this mean for everyday life? How can I continue to stay in a heightened state of digestion and assimilation and manage myself and my body when the stresses of life come rushing in?
- Take time to meditate and sit still ever day. Even if it's just for a few minutes here and there. Take time to rest amongst the chaos. Breath deeply to train your body to calm down when it's stressed. Breathing is the best way to get our body and mind back to being at rest.
- Exercise in a way that feels right for body. Don't push it to extremes over and over again, or workout in any particular way just because someone told you that it was the only way to "lose fat". That's preposterous. Everyone is different and everyone needs something different on any given day. Listen to and and honour what your body needs and move in way that feel right for you.
- Eat clean, whole foods, but don't overly stress about what you're eating. Make sure to eat foods that you truly enjoy. Low pleasure foods=stress. This isn't license to eat a pint of ice cream ever day and expect to feel wonderful and lose weight, that's not what I'm saying. Find out what you truly enjoy in a meal and make sure you derive pleasure every time you eat. For example: I truly derive enjoyment and pleasure from a meal that I know is high quality, sustainably sourced, and a meal I made with my own hands. Love, care, and attention have been put into that meal, the ingredients are good, and I make it taste amazing, it's never bland. I'm not going to force myself to eat boiled chicken, steamed broccoli, and brown rice every meal because someone told me to. Humans eat, animals feed.
- Laugh and love more everyday. When we let ourselves enjoy life, life is a lot more kind to us. Looking at the positives rather than the negatives, loving and appreciating those around you, and having a genuine love for humanity goes a long way when it comes to speeding up our metabolisms. You reap what you sow, keep in mind what harvest you're after.
Please feel free to share some of your vacation stories or if you have experienced this fantastic phenomenon. Until next time,
Change Your Mind. Change Your Body. Start Living!