It starts out stressful, the planning, packing, scheduling: “What’s the weather like at night there?” “Do I need high heels and a blow dryer?” “How many swim suits is too many?” “Did I remember my toothbrush?” “How many hours do I have to be at the airport before my flight?” “Did I remember to forward all my calls, clear my inbox and set my email vacation auto-reply on?” “What about international calling? Do I need that?” “Oh, fuck I forgot to figure out who is feeding the cats while we’re gone.”
Nope, I am not the best traveler. I’ve been traveling and moving since I was three years old, my mother made me visit all sorts of places in my youth and I’ve moved countless times, but I am not a good traveler. I get stressed. I however want to be a good traveler. It’s something I’m working on, because God knows I need more traveling/vacationing in my life.
The past several months I have accomplished a lot for my business Function 5 Fitness, and although I have tried very hard to balance my life, I feel I worked myself into the mentality of an over-stressed, neurotic, modern city dweller. Prior to my recent vacation I had not taken a full week off to relax in 16 months. I started to find myself wound up tighter than Rhonda Rousey’s hair buns on fight day.
In short, I haven’t been proud of my stress induced thinking. Instead of asking, “How can I better help people?”, I’m too often getting caught up in thoughts like, “Are my emails categorized properly or “Did I get to everything on my to-do list today?”
Vacations have a purpose, they don’t just refresh us with extra sleep and social time; they help us remember or redefine our purpose and passions.
We are going to the Caribbean to visit my brother on the beautiful island of Anguilla. I am aware of how lucky I am to have such an amazing place to visit family. My brother has worked, owning a restaurant, Trattoria Tramonto on the island for many years where he and his wife raise their three boys, who are all now teenagers.
So I’m at LAX with my boyfriend and his parents, both of whom also get stressed about travel. I got a total of two hours of sleep cause I was up, packing and then doing my bikini wax in the bathroom at 2:30am before our 7:30am flight. On planes I’ve taken to insisting on an aisle seat (because claustrophobia, paranoia and who knows how many times I’ll want to go pee) and my boyfriend’s mom insists on a window seat, so she can curl and sleep. The men have accepted middle seats, like the giving, accommodating men they are. The vibe is a mix of exhaustion and anxious excitement…. so we all order double cocktails. I get two mini bottles of Whiskey and a can of Diet Coke, because, whatever! I’m on vacation and I’m having some artificial crap if I want to.
A few minutes later we are giggling, sharing stories and annoying everyone next to us and I think, “I can do this! I can relax for a week and not stress about work and I will not stress about fitness on vacation. I will enjoy myself.”
You wouldn’t think of vacation as a place that helps you with your health and fitness goals, but sometimes we find wisdom and inspiration in unlikely places. Here’s what I’ve learned on this and past vacations about my health and fitness.
1. Stress makes you fat
When you are stressed your hormones change, cortisol rises, you are less sensitive to insulin, you will store fat, etc etc. I won’t go into the science details here, but you can learn all bout how stress makes you fat in this article from my friends at Metabolic Effect. I can attest to the fat burning power of vacation myself, last time I went on vacation I came back, measured my body fat and had lost 1%, while still maintaining my muscle mass! I hadn’t even done a single workout and I ate and drank almost everything I wanted to.
I haven’t gotten my body fat measured this time since I’ve been back, but I don’t feel any fatter from having enjoyed pina coladas, rum punches and Corona’s most of the afternoon and evening and munched on fries and mashed potatoes with my fresh caught fish at dinner.
When on vacation I don’t go crazy at every meal. I generally eat a light breakfast, whatever I can find, like fruit or cereal (eggs are expensive on the island and I don’t have much of an appetite for them, since I eat them daily at home). Sometimes I just have a cappuccino for breakfast and lounge on the beach until lunch. Lunch is a salad with fish or chicken, and then whatever I want for dinner as well as whatever tropical drinks I am inspired to consume with my friends and family throughout the afternoon and evening.
My approach is not “balls out”, it’s moderate, but allows for a lot for flexibility and a fun vacation flare. I don’t worry about my waistline on vacation, that’s not what vacation is for, but I don’t give myself free rein to eat all in sight either.
2. Sleep, alcohol and getting “glutened”
When you sleep 8-10 hours a night you can kinda get away with some “bad” behavior. Sleep is so restorative. I NEVER set an alarm on vacation. I wake up when I want to. If that means I sleep until noon and miss “crucial” beach hours, so be it.
Again, I’m not going to get into the science of why sleep crucial for fat burning (and muscle gain), but you can read all about how lack of sleep can make you fat in these studies here, here, here and here.
On vacation I never seem to feel hungover. Maybe it’s cause those rum punches are so spaced out from 2pm-11pm, maybe it’s cause I get extra vitamin D from the sun, maybe it’s those long walks down the beach, or maybe it’s just cause I sleep so much I don’t notice. Either way I feel pretty damn good for all the “naughty” vacation behavior I may indulge in, and let’s face it we all need a good dose of naughty, on occasion 😉
The only time I felt yucky this trip is when on my last night there I ate a bunch of wings with my family (gluten in the batter) and got super bloated and crampy – lesson learned. Yes, the one rule I have on vacation is still no wheat/gluten products, although the occasional beer doesn’t seem to bother me the same as actual flour does. However if you are very gluten sensitive beware! Some beers like Coors Light, PBR, Corona Extra and Modelo Especial appear to have low gluten, enough for some gluten sensitive people to enjoy with no side effects, but not all; and that doesn’t mean it’s my drink of choice either, after all the term, “beer belly” exists for a reason. I usually prefer whiskey on the rocks, red wine or tequila and soda water with lime.
3. I can workout anywhere if I pack 1 or 2 favorite “tools”
I brought a kettlebell on vacation, only cause I’m in training for my SFG II and I had to keep up with some pressing. I paid $80 in extra bag fees and did a 30-40 min kettlebell workout on the beautiful west end beach where my brother’s restaurant, is located. Gazing out over the pristine aqua blue waters and white sand between, swings, squats, presses and cleans and finishing my workout with a swim for my cool down didn’t feel like work, it was heaven…and it was worth every penny of those extra bag fees.
Pro tip: I had no idea that a carry-on could only be ten pounds or less. If you want to bring a kettlebell on vacation make sure what ever small suitcase you pack it in makes the fifty pound minimum, mine was exactly 50.0 lbs with the 18kg inside a small, sturdy square suitcase, with clothes packed around it for cushioning. I had to take a pair of shoes out to make the minimum and carry them on my flight. Weight it before you get to leave!
When I’m not in training for something specific in weightlifting I like to bring boxing gloves and mitts, if I have a Nak Muay travel partner; or I also like to bring NOTHING – ‘Cause it’s vacation and a week off of training can do a body good!
4. Comparing myself to social media images vs real bodies will always make me feel like crap.
How often have #fitso images made you feel like crap rather than inspired to get your butt to the gym? How often do you look at fitness professional or gym rats and think, “Wow, their butt looks better in those yoga pants than me?” or, “I wish I could rock that LuLu outfit with just my sports bra and not have belly folds.”
Well, I have thought those things, but then I’ve also thought, “Fuck it, I know what it takes to have a six pack and I’m not willing to do that amount of work right now, as there are more important things to me at the moment, like my career, my friends, my sanity etc…” Truth is while fighting Muay Thai over the years I’ve been in great shape and I’ve been in “off season” shape and my difference in happiness during either of those time is zero. My happiness doesn’t depend solely on my body fat to muscle ratio, it depends on many factors in my life: achievements, health, friends, family, purpose, passion, creativity, and self love; which my body fat only plays a small part in.
Still I too can get caught up in the IG comparing game, but what I love about vacation, especially beach vacations is something magical happens: You see less pics of Instagram bikini wearing selfies and more REAL women in bikinis on the beach who are rocking it out without good lighting, correct angles and filters and you realize what real women look like… and they look a hell of a lot more like you than that gym selfie that someone spent fifteen minutes making perfect.
Before I posted my IG video of me swinging a kettlebell on the beach in my bikini, I thought for a few seconds, “Is my stomach flat enough?” and, “Can you see my cellulite?” But then I looked around me at all the REAL women of all ages, shapes and sizes rocking their bikini bodies and thought, Fuck it! This is me, it’s the real me, on vacation, stretchmarks, butt jiggles, questionable muffin top areas and all and I love what my body does for me. My body is strong, and skilled. It has won me belts and made me proud of my achievements. It can be soft and curved or defined and muscular, or all of the above, but it has always risen to the occasion and done what I need it to do when I treated it right and that includes saying NICE things about it. Thanks, body – you rock!
5. Giving up routine temporarily is liberating and breeds creativity.
I did some reading on the trip, but not as much as I usually do on vacations. This time I mostly did a lot of lounging and socializing. I relaxed with my family and loved ones, I met new friends, I said hi to strangers and stuck up a conversation – a lot of stuff I don’t normally have “time” to do. It made me realize how closed off city life makes me and perhaps just smiling more can and will make my life better. Now, I will always be part introvert and need my alone time, especially since my job is so social, but a smile and a hello to someone doesn’t cost anything and the reward is a subtle shift in your mood and the recipient of your free smile. Plus science agrees smiling is good for us and those around us.
Not having a routine can free you from your daily duties that cloud your mood and allow you to enhance parts of your passions or personality that might have become dormant. It can also make you more creative.
On the plane ride back I jotted down notes furiously in my journal. I had a massive breakthrough on a chapter of my book I had been trying to write and struggling with. No headphones on, no comfy seating, no scenery, just the whirr of the airplane and the chatter of passengers around me and I wrote thirteen, passionate, furiously driven pages of notes on a new chapter of my book.
Every year I promise myself to take two real vacations where I take a full week or more off. have fallen short this in past years, but promise to do so this year. I know vacation is good for my mind and body, but it’s also good for my career. So, this is the advice I give you and if you work for yourself, it’s especially important. Give yourself that time; you will come back with a renewed sense of self, passion and purpose for your work and your life.