I’m back from Mexico! My sister and I spent a week visiting our father in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
We visited Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Ek Balam, swam in cenotes (diving holes), and ate tacos and tortas. We ate All. The. Tacos. And. Tortas.
And that’s what I’ll be talking about today:
How to enjoy yourself on a vacation without feeling guilty or losing your mind
First off, my results:
I lost 4 pounds on vacation! Here’s why I’m not happy about it
(If you’re a client of mine, especially a female client, I’ll wait while you retrieve that shoe you just threw across the room. Or while you replace the screen in your iPhone.)
Yes, I lost 4 pounds in Mexico. I left Boston weighing 178lbs and returned at 174lbs.
No, I’m not happy about it.
Why? Because I lost ~2lbs of lean mass and gained ~1lbs of fat! It’s not like I lost 4 “good pounds”!
Now, my body fat scale measures body fat percentage and quantifies fat mass as well as muscle mass. Not all lean mass is muscle mass, which is why not all of the 4 pounds is accounted for.
My theory? I ate much less protein per day on vacation. Probably 100-150g a day, if that. I did get two lifting sessions in, which should have been enough to maintain my strength and muscle mass.
I usually eat 200-250g of protein a day.
Vacation Takeaway #1 – I thrive on a very high-protein diet
When I first set out to lean out (Week 1), my muscle mass was 67.68lbs. My fat mass was 42.84lbs. (Numbers here).
Before vacation, my muscle mass was 69.42lbs and my fat mass was 38.1lbs.
After vacation, my muscle mass was 67.6lbs and my fat mass was 39lbs. I gained around 1lb of fat and lost 2lbs of muscle mass.
Because it was such a quick change, I’m thinking that my muscle mass went back to baseline with the lower protein intake. It’s perplexing, to be honest.
It supports my lifelong claim that I have a hard time putting on muscle and an even harder time keeping it on.
However, I’m not discouraged. I’m curious to see what a week of my normal high-protein intake does for me. The inner scientist in me is intrigued. My hunch is that my lean mass will pop right back up when I eat enough protein and get my normal 4-5 strength workouts per week in.
My curiosity and drive to understand my own body helps me to stay relaxed about the process of dropping to 10-12% body fat. It’s a useful mindset for you to develop, as well.
Mastering your own nutrition and learning how your body responds is key. After all, nobody knows your body better than you do, right?
Vacation Takeaway #2 – One “Cheat Week” = 2 Weeks Lost
I ate fairly healthy on vacation. I had as many tacos, tortillas, and tortas as I pleased. A few drinks were had. A few desserts and local sweets.
All in all, gaining ~1lb of fat mass on a weeklong vacation is a win. A big win!
However – it’ll take 1-2 weeks, judging by my previous results, to lose that 1lb again.
And so – that is how one “off” week can turn into two or three weeks of lost progress.
Imagine if I had really gone hogwild on vacation. That could turn into an even longer recovery time.
Same goes for people who tend to give up over the weekends. They eating healthy all week long, only to eat everything they want over the weekend. It’s all too easy to spin your wheels week after week like this.
This highlights the importance of “eating at 80-90%”. You eat healthy and appropriately 80-90% of the time, and you enjoy yourself for 10-20% of that time. Said differently, set aside 10-20% of your weekly total calories for enjoyment.
I mostly did that in Mexico. I wasn’t eating all that differently – just a lot more starch and fried food, courtesy of the tortillas.
Another key is to learn how to eat until satisfied, not stuffed. I rarely felt full on vacation. I ate my fill, then stopped when I was no longer hungry. I can’t overstate how important this skill is.
- I returned on Wednesday the 16th and checked my body fat % and fat mass
- By Tuesday, the 22nd, I was nearly back to pre-vacation fat mass
- By Monday, the 28th, I should be back to pre-vacation fat mass or better. That’s 10 days lost, PLUS the 7 days of vacation, for 2 1/2 weeks of spinning my wheels!
- Takeaway – cheat weeks, days, and meals aren’t as benign as they sound. There are always limits and consequences. Find your own balance.
Vacation Takeaway #3 – Trust the Process and Measure the Outcomes
Remember – success comes from mastering the fundamentals.
For fat loss, this means:
- Eating plenty of protein (0.75 to 1.0 grams or more of protein per pound of lean mass, daily)
- Eat fruits and vegetables
- Eat healthy fats in conservative amounts
- Eat until satisfied, not stuffed
- Learning how to track calories and control portions
- Measuring specific outcomes and adjusting your behavior weekly or biweekly
When you “fall of the wagon”, just keep going. Observe what happened and document it.
Learn from the result, and adjust course.
On Body Image
It’s a little strange to share my successes and failures, to be honest. Personal trainers are expected to all look a certain way. As a man, the expectation is for me to be large, muscular, and permanently with a six-pack.
In reality, trainers physiques fluctuate through the months. Eating disorders are more common than you think among personal trainers and are especially frequent in bodybuilders.
I “walk the walk” through my education, experience, and effort. Even with that, I can have the same self-doubts about physical appearance or meeting a certain standard as many of you likely do. Hopefully that is of some comfort to you.
I have found the most peace through taking pride of my physical fitness, and less so a physique. I may not look like the classic bodybuilder, but I’m proud of my strength. I’ve spent years learning a number of difficult physical skills, and I enjoy playing with them.
For many of my clients, they’ve found a similar peace and I love helping them to find it. Nothing builds confidence like achieving that first full pushup, strict pullup, 100lb bench press (bodyweight bench press for men), or an earth-shaking deadlift after months of deliberate practice.