The worst destinations for weight gain

When we go on vacation, it’s not unusual to bring home a few souvenirs — often on our stomachs, hips and thighs! “Getting away from it all” usually means getting away from our healthy diet and exercise routine.

If you’ve ever come home with a few extra pounds, you’re certainly not alone. A poll from Fly Thomas Cook, a UK-based travel company, found that nearly half of participants reported gaining weight on vacation. (In comparison, only one in five people lost weight). The poll included 350 participants whose average vacation length was a week and a half.

As you might expect, there were a few differences between the sexes. About 40 per cent of women reported a weight gain compared to 50 per cent of men. How much each group gained also varied widely: women on average gained .65 kg (about 1.5 Ibs) while men put on an average of 2.5 kg (about 5.5 Ibs).

However, when it came to weight loss, men had the advantage — those who lost weight shed an average of 3.3 kg (about 7 Ibs) while women lost a modest 1 kg (2.2 Ibs).

Did where they travel make a difference? Yes, according to the poll. Average weight gain was highest for people who visited these countries:

1. Cyprus (average gain of 1.50 kg)

2. Turkey (1.38 kg)

3. Portugal (1.30 kg)

4. United States (1.08 kg)

5. Greece (0.92 kg)

6. Netherlands (0.83 kg)

7. France (0.51 kg)

8. Australia (0.50 kg)

9. Italy (0.44 kg)

10. Belgium (0.33 kg)

Travellers who stayed close to home (the UK) gained an average of .24 kg.

If these numbers seem low, remember they still represent a significant increase in calories over a short period of time. If you go by the standard measure that one pound = 3500 calories, then 1.5 kg (about 3.3 pounds) represents an excess of 11,500 calories — more than 1100 extra calories per day on a 10 day trip. (Remember, these numbers are averages — gains are offset by losses.)

What about weight loss countries? The survey only found three: Germany (with an average loss of 1.75 kg), Canada (about 1 kg) and Ireland (.17 kg).

Bear in mind this isn’t a scientific poll and the results are based on self-reporting, not weigh-ins with experts. While the destinations and gains are interesting to consider, the real question is why people say they gained weight — and what can we do to limit the damage.

Vacation weight gain: why?

According to the survey, here are some of the top factors people felt contributed to their weight gain:

Eating out more rather than cooking. We know preparing meals at home is a healthier option than eating out all the time – but guess what we do when we travel? Relying on street cart food, fast food and restaurant fare wracks up the calories.

What we can learn: Mix up your travel routine with some do-it-yourself meals like a picnic lunch, or if you have access to a kitchen, by preparing a few meals at your vacation rental. Packing your own healthy snacks like vegetable sticks and nuts can stave off hunger and calorie gain.

Trying new foods. Sampling the local cuisine is part of the fun, but it can have us noshing on high-calorie, high-fat fare day and night. (Churros for breakfast, anyone?)

What we can learn: As always, moderation is key — balance out those indulgences with healthier food choices too. (Your digestion will thank you.) Share a dish or a treat with your travel companion to instantly cut calories.

Consuming more alcohol. Hardly shocking, we know — but the calories in those drinks add up. Nearly three quarters of women in the survey felt their alcohol consumption contributed to their weight gain (though only two in five men reported the same issue).

What we can learn: No one says you have to give up that cocktail with the cute umbrella or a good brew in a local pub, but moderation is important. Though not mentioned in the survey, sodas, juices and non-alcoholic drinks can also pack on the pounds. Indulge when you have time to savour it and stick to water to stay hydrated.

The quality of food. Sometimes the local cuisine is a little too tasty for the waistline! In countries such as Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and the U.S., respondents reported having a hard time resisting rich fare.

The quantity of food. Large portion sizes and low cost for foods were also invitations to consume more, especially in countries such as China and India. And unsurprisingly, another diet disaster: all-you-can-eat buffets.

What we can learn: Whether it’s quality or quantity you’re dealing with, the key is portion size. Don’t go overboard just because food is cheap and plentiful.

What about buffets? Be choosy about what you put on your plate and avoid going back for seconds, say experts.  Another tip is to load up your food on a smaller plate – you’ll fool your mind into thinking you ate more.

Exercising less. No surprise here. Over half of respondents reported engaging in less physical activity on vacation than they get at home. It’s hard to make time for a workout — especially when there’s so much to see and do.

Weight loss on vacation: how?

What about that lucky one fifth of travellers who shed some pounds? Here are some of their secrets:

Getting more exercise than usual. Many of the people who lost weight said they were more active on the road then at home. For some, that meant active holidays like cycling tours or skiing while others took advantage of sports activities or saw the sites on foot or bike. Travel can offer ways to exercise outside of your usual routine — including taking advantage of the hotel swimming pool or strolling a nearby park.

Availability of healthy food options. Yes, many destinations offer fattening fare, but the cuisine in some countries such as France, Italy and Sweden made it easier for travellers to find healthier choices.

The cost of food. Our travel budgets can make us think twice about indulging — and one fifth of respondents said the high cost of food at their destination helped them stay slim. Healthier and cheaper alternatives like DIY meals and snacks could be a factor too.

Donning beach attire. Wearing skimpy or revealing clothing on vacation in countries such as Brazil and Spain was incentive for nearly 16 per cent of travellers to keep the weight off. Surprisingly, appearance was a more of an influence for men than women.

As we mentioned, this survey is more travel trivia than scientific study — but it does offer some insight into how our travel habits can affect our health. Overall, the message is mindfulness and moderation — not avoiding certain destinations because of survey results.


Looking for more diet and exercise tips for travellers? See’s Stay Healthy While You Travel.

Photo © tyler olson

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