Sue Baic By Sue Baic, Registered Dietitian Many of us will be familiar with the experience of weight gain on holiday from helping our clients, from personal experience or both!  As part of my work as a registered dietitian, I work on cruise ships as a guest enrichment speaker. I’ve been doing this for several years now- on 35 itineraries, aboard 15 different ships. Even though my talks rarely deal with weight management I often get asked about tips for avoiding weight gain but have found very few evidence-based resources to help with this. As a result, I spent time looking for research which could be applied in practice around weight maintenance in this more specific setting. In this blog I’ll explore some of the reasons why holidays might be particularly problematic regarding weight gain, which approaches seem to be helpful and how I used my findings to produce a resource to help clients.

Why do we gain weight on holiday?

Epidemiologists tracking population weight data have found that most of us tend to get heavier as we get older. 1,2 There’s no real surprise there but what is interesting is that this doesn’t happen steadily month by month. Instead, it tends to occur in bursts often coinciding with specific events such as holidays (see Figure 1). Figure 1 A typical pattern of weight gain throughout life cruise ship weight gain Holidays are good for health in many ways, but studies show that weight increases during these periods account for around half the weight gained in a typical year and despite best intentions many of us struggle to lose it once home. 3-6 One day of positive energy balance is unlikely to lead to noticeable weight gain, but repeated days can do. This suggests that prevention may be better than cure with some form of “damage limitation” being worth consideration. On a holiday much of the food and drink on offer may be attracatively presented, lower in satiety value and higher in energy density particularly from fat,sugar and alcohol than might normally be eaten. Dishes may also be served in larger, more “ supersized “ portions than are usually consumed leading us to eat more than at home. 7-9 In addition, we are often exposed to novel foods and a wider variety of tastes and flavours with the temptation to try them all. The greater the variety of flavours in a meal, the more we are likely to eat. 10 Once we add in any influences of 24-hour availability, all-inclusive dining or drinking and more time and opportunity to eat we start to see the potential risk for weight gain. Some of these effects are shown in Figure 2.

 Figure 2 Influences which may increase energy intake on holidayInfluences which may increase energy intake on vacation

Which approaches can help prevent weight gain on holiday?

During the course of my research I found lots of studies that had findings which could be usefully applied to eating on holiday.  There are fascinating studies from several countries which collect data on people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off for long periods of time. 11-18 These Weight Control Registries give an indication of the sorts of habits that can help avoid weight gain including reducing fat intake, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, eating breakfast as well as self-monitoring of weight, getting enough sleep and regular physical activity all of which can be applied on holiday. I also found over 100 studies in nutrition and psychology which offered ideas that can help to balance moderation and pleasure on holiday. Not surprisingly these included studies on the type and amount of food and how intakes could be influence by larger portions, crockery and glassware as well as limiting variety and benefits of sharing dishes. 7,9,10 The evidence also showed that other aspects of eating behaviour might be important on holiday including:

  • How quickly we eat. 19-22
  • Why we eat. 23-25
  • Where and when we eat. 26
  • Who we eat with. 27-31

Paying attention to these less obvious influences on eating helps us notice them and make small changes or adjustments respond in ways that might prevent weight gain. 32-37This is particularly useful during higher risk periods when eating out on holiday where we need to make multiple food and drink related decisions every day. 38

Turning this research into a resource for clients

Having found so many useful studies I decided to translate this information into practical tips for clients in the form of a book. I planned a detailed outline to include 50 “bite size” tips divided into chapters on breakfast, buffet dining, restaurants, snacks and drinking. I also included sections on physical activity, sleep, support and self-monitoring as all of these has a good evidence base. I decided to add some introductory information eating behaviour and energy balance to help set the scene and a section for references and other useful resources Once I had a detailed outline I began writing into an online book editor tool which allowed me to format chapters as I went along, add images and diagrams and generated a contents page. This also provided a way to format my text into an EPUB document to produce, proof read and export a digital eBook and a PDF for a hard copy paperback book. The final steps were to upload these files to a publishing platform, design a cover, decide on a title and price and do a marketing plan for the book. There are many free online tools available to do these jobs and a wide range of tutorials to help you master them. It is of course also possible to hire proofreaders, formatters and cover designers or use a publisher to produce a book, but these do come at a price. The tools I found most useful were:

  • For writing and formatting: Reedsy
  • For designing diagrams and cover: Canva

My book Travelling Light: 50 Bite Size Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain on a Cruise Vacation is available as an eBook (£3.99) or paperback (£6.99). Travelling light book cover


Sue Baic