I am going to keep this related to nutrition and exercise as that is what my job is.
Going into my 10 day trip over seas I planned and prepared like I would coach any client to do. I packed a protein bar for each day. I packed some individual packets of Quest Protein Powder. I packed beef jerky (I was actually able to get it through customs!!). I packed resistance bands and workout shoes. And that is about it. I kept it very simple for a few reasons.
Reason #1: I went into this trip with the idea that I would be very busy sight seeing and visiting my girlfriend’s family, so working out was going to be hard to come by. I also had no idea of any gym in the area or was I was very worried about finding one. I did see one Crossfit Box though…that was surprising. That is why I brought resistance bands. I also didn’t want to disrupt any plans that family members had by me saying “Uhhh I didn’t get my workout in yet.” These are people I have never met before and the social awkwardness of this was not something I wanted to deal with. In the States I could care less usually…I am not going to miss a workout.
Reason #2: I didn’t know culturally what was seen as acceptable in relation to eating snacks, working out etc. So, I decided that a protein bar a day would be my protein and I would live with whatever else happened. I always tried to get a meat source in at meals.
Reason #3: I just needed a mental and physical break. I have been going hard after fitness, health and physique goals for nearly two years now. I was exhausted mentally and physically. My legs needed rest from all my heavy deadlifts and squats. I wanted to eat food and not track it. I wanted to eat food that wasn’t ground turkey and rice. I just wanted to enjoy myself. Like a normal vacation should be like.
After my minimal planning my week looked liked this for the most part:
I worked out twice for about 10 minutes each time. Both times in the morning with some pushups, squats and resistance band exercises. It was 95 degrees every day so I didn’t need to break a sweat working out and it was too hot to run. I mean I could have sucked it up, but why? It was vacation.
I ran out of protein bars with three days left because I got hungry and ate more than one per day. Oh well, I lived.
I had to buy a shit ton of bottled water because there was no way I was going to try drinking the water over there. This went fine, but was just a pain and out of my normal routine of having my water cooler 10 feet from my desk at work. I didn’t drink nearly as much water as I normally do.
I tried a bunch of new food. Filipino. Korean. Vietnamese. Most of it was good. Some of it I really liked and some of it I won’t eat again. I loved that everything was based around rice. Good, white sticky rice, none of that brown rice that tastes awful.
LOTS of fresh fruit!! So this gave me some more water.
I hiked a volcano one day. Is that considered a workout? Sure.
How did I feel?
Well, after about two days I could tell two things. One, I was dehydrated and bloated. My water intake was way down and salt intake was way up. This is something many people never realize because they don’t drink enough water daily and their sodium intake is too high due to eating processed foods all the time. I am hyper aware of my hydration level because when I am dehydrated I am tired, not focused and not motivated to do much but lay down. That can’t happen with my busy schedule…thus why I drink so much water. But even though I hate this feeling, the funny thing is after about 5 days I was starting to get used to it. Number two, within a few days of lower protein intake, I could tell my stomach was feeling flabby and muscle definition was starting to disappear. No, not like I was wasting away, but enough that I could notice feeling “smaller” and “soft.” This is something I have noticed in the past as well and shows how fast your body can adapt to nutritional changes!
My first point with this is not to say “You can’t go on vacation!” or “You can’t ever take a break from your diet!.” But, rather to make you aware that when you do decide to take break from eating super healthy or your life gets in the way of following a strict nutrition plan, that your body will not wait for you get back on track. The body adapts faster than you think. So taking diet breaks and going on vacations where you eat differently isn’t a bad thing at all, but you should be aware of the short term changes you might see in your body. Just so you don’t drive yourself crazy, because these should be short term changes if you are able to get back on track after your trip or your break.
**You could very well be aware of everything I just said. But, trust me. I have worked with hundreds of people over the past 4 years and I still see people frustrated that they “lost all their progress” on a week trip to Punta Cana. You did not lose all your progress and you don’t need to start over. It is just part of the whole life long process of fitness. Being self aware of how and why the body changes in appearance and how you feel is one of the most important skills so you can stop being frustrated all the time.
THE best late night food. Korean BBQ. Beef, pork and rice. We got to cook the strips of beef and pork ourselves right at our table! Probably ate 2lbs of beef that night…
Unfortunately that is the reality of it. I wish I could take 6 months off and come back with the same body composition, strength and stamina as before. But, fitness and eating healthy is a life long journey and this is not the end of the world to me. You will see great progress at points and you will have times you aren’t very happy with your body, gym performance and health. That doesn’t mean you quit. It is part of the process.
My second point with this is going back to my comment about how I started to get used to the feeling of being dehydrated. What I meant by that was, by day 6, day 7, day 8 of my trip I wasn’t noticing the feeling of being dehydrated or not eating enough protein nearly as much as the first few days. Day 1 and 2 it was a shock to my body. But, after a few days my body was adjusting. This is scary. This is what I see with clients who struggle to get in groove and make healthy habits sustainable. A string of 5 stressful days at work where you don’t open your water bottle once and eat nothing but that donut for breakfast can become normal for your body very quickly. By the end of the trip I was satisfied eating an oreo muffin for breakfast, 40oz of water per day and not working out. My motivation to workout was gone. It is very hard to realize the changes in your body and mindset towards eating healthy and working out until it is too late. Do you ever say “Shit, I don’t know where those 10lbs came from?” That is my point. Habits and mindsets can change very quickly with a change in your environment (work, home, family etc) and the next thing to follow is your body simply adapting right along with your habits. Before you know it, you haven’t worked out in 6 months and the protein shake with fruit for breakfast has turned into a donut and energy drink. It happens faster than you think. Trust me.
How do you bounce back? That is the key and a topic for another blog.
Enough about my trip. I also noticed a couple interesting things about Filipino nutrition.
#1: There isn’t much over there I would consider very “healthy” for how I typically eat. No steamed veggies (unless it is covered in a sauce). A lot of fried food. A lot processed food. Not much protein intake besides eggs for breakfast sometimes, fried chicken, fish (there was a lot this though!) and BBQ which actually was very good. Water intake wasn’t high for most people.
#2: BUT, for the most part portion sizes were not huge. When eating out, the meals we got were probably half the size of the same meal you could get in the States. I ate at fast food places twice…. Also, from what I saw people didn’t seem to snack all day on junk food like Americans. Caloric intake seemed to come from mainly from meals.
Not saying either of those observations is good nor bad. Just what I noticed.
What went along with those observations though will relate to many blogs I have written and what I talk about with all my weight loss clients.
**I don’t know anything about Filipino genetics and how that plays a role in body composition and health. Filipinos are naturally shorter and have smaller bodies like many Asians so that can play a role, but I am simply going off my personal observations.
I didn’t see many obese individuals in the Philippines. Not every one was necessary skinny or a swim suit model, but people were just smaller. “Skinny fat” is the best way I could describe it. Not overweight, but not super lean. Was it all the fish and fruit they eat?
It was the smaller portion sizes. Less calories. I wouldn’t say the Filipino diet is any less healthy than the typical American diet, but the amount of food that is eaten over there is drastically less. And I am not saying that Filipinos are in overall better health because they eat less food (there is a lot of holes in their nutrition over, that is for sure), but….
….remember, portion size controls body weight and fat storage more than any other factor.
I guess I am just trying to prove my point to those people who still think “clean” eating will directly lead to weight loss.
Would I go back? For sure. I would like to go back for a month and really enjoy the culture. Also a beer is like $0.35 so that is the main reason.