Why Vacation Is Not A "Cheat Day"

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dFIVldijDHhb_z8geNXxtz67TbLT9KHagQ7GuC6rcesPhotographed by Harry Tanielyan.Here I am in Vienna, probably wondering why I didn't wear sneakers.
On my last night in Krakow, I had a rather unpleasant experience — one that felt so strange and familiar that it took me almost an hour to realize what had happened: I'd overeaten.

I couldn't believe it! Then, I couldn't believe that I couldn't believe it. This full-to-bursting feeling used to be a regular occurrence. Vacations, weddings, birthdays, "cheat days," my Netflix DVD showing up scratched — all of these were scenarios that deserved a little extra guac on my taco, a second slice of cake, or a Venti Psycho Frappa-cookie-chino instead of a regular coffee. But, seven months into Intuitive Eating, full-to-bursting isn't really an issue. I hesitate to jinx this new development, but full-enough is finally starting to feel normal.

But, back to Krakow — where I lay moaning on an Ikea bed in an Airbnb rental, thinking of the four-grillion pierogies I'd consumed in the past six hours. For a split second, the old panic thoughts began to rise. I wish this wasn't true, but panic's a hard habit to kick. Soon, that old fix-it fantasy began to play out in my mind: I visualized the workouts I'd double-down on starting the very hour I landed, the greens I'd subsist on for 10 days to counter-balance the pierogie situation, and the beer I'd skip in favor of lemon-water for the rest of the summer if not my lifetime.

Then, I came back to reality — which, for once, was a lot nicer than the daydream. My boyfriend and I had spent the past nine days traveling around Europe, checking out cafés where emperors drank and city squares where dictators dictated. We'd done all the things you're supposed to do on a trip: We saw new things, got sore feet, and drank wine with lunch. In the past, the weeks leading up to vacation had involved strategizing a master plan about how I'd maintain my diet. Then, two days in, I'd slip up and eat, like, the whole of Switzerland. Then, the rest of the trip would be spent eating additional countries and laying awake at night feeling layers of imaginary fat grow around my stomach. "When I get home, it's gonna be kale and hot yoga and THAT'S IT," was the promise I'd hang onto as I panicked and ate and panicked and ate. By the return flight, I would already be strategizing my next diet plan, having destroyed the previous one with this vacation. Then, comforted by the promise of Jenny Craig, I'd eat the in-flight meal — the only one on the whole trip that I'd actually be able to enjoy.

5hasKun6FD4F9C1nXdqTrTp3qIda8vfuB-wX7FBZISIPhotographed by Harry Tanielyan.Vienna's skyline, showing off.
60spe97Ls3DJXBJpR8mdi5__vZ0orNvA0TWaSTFeaxEPhotographed by Harry Tanielyan.White asparagus EVERYWHERE.
You may not be as much as of a vacation-freaker-outer as I was, but I think a lot of us who worry about food really worry about food on vacation. There's an assumption that it's a time to let loose and indulge — and of course, there's nothing wrong with that. But, in fact, there's nothing wrong with that at home, either. And, when you're working with Intuitive Eating, those "indulgent" foods are not off-limits, so you don't need to leave the country in order to eat them. I've taken a few trips since starting this process, and I soon realized something pretty amazing: Eating is actually so much easier on vacation than it is at home.

In fact, all people are naturally more inclined to eat intuitively while on vacation. The trouble is, almost everyone has a diet model in his or her brain these days. When we eat at home, our food is based on routine: morning bagel, salad lunch, 4pm chocolate break, and all that. Listening to your internal hunger and fullness signals (not to mention taste preferences) is a lot harder when you're trying to hear over that voice in your head that says, "But, you always have a bagel on Monday."

When you're traveling, the routine is broken. You're out of your element, forced to actually consider what you want, and then go look at what your options are. Often, your body is jet-lagged. During this particular trip, I discovered my brain could wake up at 8 a.m. to go look at a Hapsburg palace, but my stomach slept in until noon. Then, it was ready for some schnitzel.

So, naturally, we went and found the best schnitzel in Vienna. Another part of traveling (for me, at least) is eating whatever that country makes best. Even during my dieting days, I'd never begrudge myself a pain au raisin in Paris (I'd just counter it with an imaginary bowl of raw spinach in my head). So, during this trip, I tried all the specialties. If I liked it, I might order it again the next day. If it wasn't my jam, I'd pass the next time it was offered, comfortable in the knowledge that I wasn't missing out on anything spectacular with tafelspitz. (No offense, Austria.)

d8a93zqMtvWFNQkm9xQzB1tw72YW6yEPbKOntYoxPk8Photographed by Harry Tanielyan.YOLO, people.
NciBn6FwYi0VkS_P5HLV6kQth84837gzZ5gv4jFS_rUPhotographed by Harry Tanielyan.I dare you not to be singing "The Sound of Music" right now.
Another reason it's okay not to freak out about the dreaded myth of Vacation Weight is the walking factor. Sure, there are beach vacations that you end up spending parked in a lounge chair with The Fault In Our Stars — and I'd never suggest you interrupt that with any kind of exercise. But, most trips involve a lot of time on your feet. On an average work day, I walk between 7,000 and 12,000 steps per day, on average. On this trip, that number doubled. I took a screenshot of my FitBit numbers and (politely) shoved it in all of my friends' faces immediately upon my return.

With all this in mind, I managed to enjoy the good stuff without too much stress, and — huge milestone — without eating past full a single time. Yes, even in the hotel in Bad Ischl where our room rate included a daily "happy cake hour" which is exactly what it sounds like. All was well until we got to Krakow, and that plate of pierogies.

Eastern European food is my favorite, so I knew I was going to dig the Polish fare. But, I could not quite anticipate the level of mouth-joy that Krakow had in store for me. As a New Yorker, I've eaten my share of authentic potato pancakes and sour-ish cabbage bowls, but guess what — Poland makes Polish food even better than New York does. You know what else they make better? Ice cream. WHO KNEW?

On that last night in Krakow, after another day of 20k steps past ancient churches, through Schindler's factory, back and forth across the historic Kazimierz, we sat down for one last meal at a chic-but-traditional restaurant off the Rynek Główny. Unable and unwilling to decide, I ordered pretty much everything I wanted to taste again before we left: a bite of steamed, herb-butter potatoes; a slice of sausage; a shared chicken leg with a yogurt-y sauce; a heap of golden cabbage mush; and, obviously, pork and vegetable pierogies. All this I shared with my boyfriend, but with those little dumplings I became quite defensive. Eventually, he surrendered the fork. I wasn't hungry anymore. I was full — but I wasn't done. Soon enough, the pierogies were gone and I was more full than I'd been in months.

But, laying in bed an hour later, coming back from my panic-fantasy, I came to another realization: It's fine.

Really. That's not an excuse or a platitude. Though I'd spent months trying to avoid last-supper eating, this was an actual last supper. It was my last supper in Krakow, my last night with those pierogies, and I'd done a good and reasonable thing by enjoying them. Sure, it would have been fine if I'd left a few on the plate, but it wouldn't have been better. There is no "better" in this scenario.

tlmN5fHzE7OezslHsznzWGg6rzGsZssgbVlkeDwiCCQPhotographed by Harry Tanielyan.Mandatory sunset selfie in Bad Ischl.
PEWUCXnKcoSbLD8fmg2nNu4zVLUdWNqT8IRNNR6obUUPhotographed by Harry Tanielyan.Nipples of Venus: both delicious and embarrassing to order.
Eating a meal like that didn't mean I would go back to overeating when I got back home. For the first time, it meant I'd enjoyed and indulged in vacation eating in the way that we all should. It meant I'd been fully present with the experience and with the food on my plate. I hadn't scarfed it all down out of panic. I wouldn't lay awake all night, worrying over the diet crimes I'd committed and how I'd have to atone for them with new plans and workouts and lemon water.

Because, once I got home, I saw that I hadn't ruined anything. There was no diet to "break" this time, and so my eating, my workouts — everything — went back to normal. Just like that.

hAwlobs6Nq062vd4wzgFGg1w8bK5jY31-7KZjdJCI3IPhotographed by Harry Tanielyan.Probably still thinking about those pierogies. Luv u, pierogies.
The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. In the meantime, you can follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject — and share yours with me as well. Show me your braggiest Fitbit numbers or your worth-feeling-too-full-for foods!