To understand what indulgence is and how we can be mindful of it, let's dive a little deeper into our world. We eat a diet that is high in healthy fat, moderate in protein and relatively low in carbs. We do not consume processed foods. We eat very little grains (the occasional rice and corn tortilla chip). We don't drink alcohol daily or even every week. We eat meat, veggies, fruits, nuts, eggs and some cheese... Oh, and coffee of course. Sounds limiting to most, but to us it's our way of life, it's what makes us feel our best in both body and brain, and I have become a whiz at coming up with creative dishes using these ingredients, so it doesn't feel like we are eating the same foods each week. On top of eating super healthy, we train/workout 6 days a week. We play tennis, golf, skateboarding etc that we do for fun. We get adequate sleep and with a little help from natural supplements, we recover from our workouts adequately.
Needless to say, our bodies run pretty well. We like the way we feel and we are happy people. Travel is one of the things that keeps us happy as it allows us to step away from our work and enjoy other cities, cultures and experiences. And with travel comes indulgences. And yes, we indulge...
Upon returning from our trip, I was not myself for a few days. My focus was off and my body didn't seem to want to work right until today (Thursday) in the gym. But it's ok. I'm not freaking out. I know exactly why I have been off and I know exactly how to fix it. You see, our diet is geared mainly toward maintaining optimal health of both body including brain health (focus, anti-anxiety etc). I am at risk of Parkinson's Disease as it runs in my family and learning how to eat for optimal brain health and to reduce systemic inflammation is something I've been studying and practicing for some time now. Even more so over the last 6-12 months.
On this trip, I consumed alcohol. More in a week than what I normally would have in 3 months time. I enjoyed it. It tasted good. I don't like to be drunk, but.. a buzz is nice.. My husband enjoyed his whiskey and having beers with my brother is a way of bonding and enjoying each others company. (No one in this scenario is drunk so if you're picturing some big party, that's not the scene lol).
Anyway, snowboarding is scary, and exhausting and a little cocktail at the end of the day or a glass of wine does help one wind down. On top of alcohol, I ate rice and chips that I normally would not and gluten free pasta. These are foods my body doesn't really like. They make me bit puffy (inflammation), make my brain foggy and tend to make me feel generally blah . Snowboarding most of the day, though, was a nice way to offset those indulgences. So other than some pretty gnarly bruises, and some days of iffy digestion, and a little water retention, my body feels generally fine post vacation. Nothing that getting right back on my regular routine won't fix on it's own. During this whole time, as we were indulging, we were completely aware of the indulgence and were able to partake without feelings of anxiety or guilt and we balanced the indulgences with healthy meals. We had a great time with our amazing family, ate yummy food and laughed a lot. It doesn't get better than that!
My brain, on the other hand is taking a little longer to recover. I have experienced some pretty noticeable brain fog this week. I will explore that topic in another blog post.
Mindful Indulgence, Defined
So WHAT is Mindful Indulgence, what does it mean to you and how can you put Mindful Indulgence into practice on your next trip.
Mindfulness is defined as "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique."
Indulgence is defined as "the attitude of allowing yourself or someone else to have something enjoyable, or the act of having something enjoyable."
In a typical vacation scenario, indulgences are always present but mindfulness tends to go out the window, even with people who live relatively healthy lives. When there is no mindfulness present, one tends to go off the rails, consuming sugary, salty, chemical laden foods in excess, consuming alcohol in excess, and restricting water. This causes a sort of downward spiral in ones overall wellness that continues for sometime after returning to regular life. Add to that excess, a time zone change, causing sleep patterns to be disrupted, and what you have is a perfect recipe for an EPIC vacation that leaves you feeling sick, inflamed and does a number on the psyche, leaving one feeling down, guilty, sluggish and/or sick upon returning.
Before you read on, think for a minute what your regular life health practices are and compare that to what your typical vacation is like. Is there a HUGE difference? Probably. I'd like to offer you an alternative to the excess. A vacation that includes indulgences AND wellness practice. Achieving the the balance between the two so that you can have as much fun as you want, not feel deprived or like you're missing out AND stay on track with wellness practices so that getting back to your regular routine upon coming back home is relatively seemless.
So HOW does one practice Mindful Indulgence?
How do we "fix" any damage done to the body, brain and psyche caused by going off plan while on vacation?
Steps to Mindful Indulgence
1. Vacation starts before you leave. This can be a good thing and a negative thing. In the weeks or even months before our vacations, we feel excited as we have something to look forward to. We daydream about the sand between our toes, or mountain views. We long for the time to relax and unwind. These feelings are so good and can work for us in many ways. However, people tend to also stress before we leave for vacation over the many things that need to happen in our work and households before we leave. Who's taking care of things while we are gone? What sort of workload will we come back to? Many Americans tend to work more hours leading up to vacation and put in over time upon returning. This is counter-productive when it comes to stress-management and work-life balance, and I urge you to change your mind-set when it comes to this sort of stress. The work will get done. Everything will be fine.
Many people also tend to restrict food before a vacation. This is ok if you are restricting TYPES of foods, such as unhealthy processed foods. Eliminating these foods ongoing would be better than just doing so before a vacation as a means to dropping a couple pounds pre-vacation. Restricting calories below a certain level, however, is not something I recommend pre-trip. This restricting before hand can lead to even more excessive eating/drinking, and creates a negative cycle for months on end post vacation. Restricting calories below a certain point will be pointless in the long haul.
In the weeks before your vacation, keep it simple. Whole healthy foods in reasonable portions and staying hydrated will help you be more mindful of your vacation indulgences.
2. While you're on vacation, be mindful or aware of what your day of indulgences looks like. What foods and drinks will be on the menu that day? Have you decided sushi for dinner and the local ice creamery for dessert? Go for it! But have a breakfast of eggs and fruit and a salad with lots of greens, varied veggies and some protein with an olive oil/vinegar based salad dressing for lunch. Keep the other meals of the day simple and healthy. Stay hydrated! Is your evening going to end at the local beach bar? How fun! Enjoy! But, to prepare for your evening of alcohol, be sure to drink copious amounts of water during the day. If the day includes alcohols, I would urge you to skip the sugary desserts if you're consuming alcohol, as thats a double sugar whammy and double the inflammation. I'm an advocate for drinking in moderation and would urge you to avoid drinking to the point of drunkenness.
When it comes to exercise, this is a personal choice. If you train hard in regular life and just want a break for your body, a vacation is the perfect time to take that physical break. I personally prefer vacations where I'm moving working on the sports that I love. Beach walks are a great way to stay active without "working out". The beach is also a great place for a workout if you'd like to get a good sweat in each day. I've planned many beach workouts for both myself and clients over the years. Or maybe you're on a vacation in the mountains. Hiking, walking, and different active tours are a great way to get some movement in. Heading to the city for your trip? Tour the city on foot as much as possible! And for those who want to stay completely on their workout plan, you can research gyms and training/yoga studios in the area ahead of time. Most of these places allow temporary passes or drop in rates for classes. It could be a great way to meet a local who has the inside scoop on the best places to eat, drink and be merry!
The goal of mindfulness during your vacation is to check in with yourself throughout the day and ask yourself how your body/brain is feeling. When you wake up, is your mouth dry and do you have a headache from the night before? Hangovers are no fun, so pay attention to how you respond to alcohol consumption and make adjustments on amounts of alcohol daily, or take a day or two off from alcohol consumption. Are you bloated? Could be from food and alcohol from the day before. Make it a point to drink more water that day and get moving on a brisk walk to offset that bloat. Make the adjustments, scale back the excess for a day to offset the indulgences with healthy practices to balance it out.
3. Practice gratitude. Travel is a privilege. Breathe in those moments that make you laugh louder, love more and appreciate the different scenery and cultures. Stop for a moment and acknowledge how lucky you are to be there, with people you love and allow yourself the space to believe that you deserve the break from regular life. BREATHE THAT IN. Hold it in your chest. Love those moments. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty about taking time off of work. Work guilt can be a huge vacation ruiner. You deserve it. You work hard. Enjoy every moment. Take tons of pictures. Post them on social media. Breathe it all in and be in those moments where you know memories are being made that will last a lifetime.
Snowboarding in Whitefish had moments of frustration. Falling hurts. But, when laying there assessing a potential injury from a hard fall and opening my eyes to see the Great Northern Mountains and Glacier National Park and all it's beauty, how can I not feel a deep sense of gratitude? Gratitude goes a long way during travel and makes it so much more rich of an experience.
4. So, your vacation is over and now you're back to your regular life. Your mindfulness should still continue. How do you feel? Are you tired and jet lagged? Digestion off? Dealing with water retention? Having trouble focusing? Feeling sad that it's over and stressed over the work that piled up? These are all normal post-vacation symptoms. Ask yourself these questions. Take a deep breath and assess your post vacation state of body and mind. But be careful! This is not a time for judgement. It's merely a time to assess and use the feedback as data that can be applied to the coming weeks and even the next vacation.
Crossing time zones can do a number on your sleep cycle. The best way to over come jet-lag is to stay hydrated before during and after vacation and to get right back to your healthy eating plan upon return. Drink your water and eat your veggies! You may feel stressed over your body still being on another time zone when you have to get up early for work tomorrow. Accept that your sleep will be off for a few days, but don't stress over it. You will get back on your normal sleep schedule. You can speed up that process by getting right back on your wellness plan.
Additional Considerations and Strategy
Disrupted Digestion and water retention is common while on vacation and after. Some people have trouble "going" and some people find they are going to the bathroom too much. Again, water, water, water! And healthy whole foods as well as a quality pro-biotic that you should be taking daily anyway. Hopefully you took your healthy supplements with you on vacation, but chances are you didn't. Get back on that regimen and don't try to compensate by taking more than usual. Just go back to the regular plan and allow your body the time it takes to regulate again. Stressing over this will make everything worse and will drag out the process. Trust me!
Water retention during and post travel is quite common. You can avoid water retention by not restricting water. Maybe you don't like airplane bathrooms? So you don't drink water while on a plane. Stop that. Drink your water. Drink a lot of it and use the airplane bathroom like a big boy/girl.
Trouble with focus and feelings of sadness and guilt are common post vacation. This is where working on your mindset in addition to your health and wellness practices come in to play. These practices are all inter-connected. Feeling guilty is a choice. Reframe how you think about yourself and what you deserve. Chip away at those feelings of guilt for being away or guilt over indulging. Guilt is counter-productive and unnecessary. Whatever you indulged in is done. Forget it and move on with healthy patterns. Focus on all the fun you had.
You may find that focus and general "monkey brain" happens to post vacation. This is likely directly related to systemic inflammation induced by your diet, water restriction and alcohol consumption during vacation and stress. Don't fear. Getting right back to your healthy whole foods diet, drinking lots of water and cutting alcohol post trip will go a long way to getting your focus back, but it could take a few days to a couple weeks. Do not panic and don't try to over-compensate with calorie restriction and over exercising. Get right back on the normal plan and allow your body and your brain the time it needs to recover. Stressing over this will lead to extended inflammation. Go back to gratitude. Focus on the fun you had. Look at your pictures. Tell your friends/family about your adventures and stop beating yourself up!
I used to go off the rails on vacation and freak out over it afterward. Travel and wellness changed completely for me when I started practicing Mindful Indulgence. I now gain less weight or none at all on vacation and I travel a lot more. Instead of freaking out over post-vacation inflammation and brain fog, I am fascinated even more about how my environments effect my body and brain, and the incredible POWER I have to control my environment. Controlling our environment, whether on vacation or not relies on our ability to be mindful and aware.
Be mindful of your environment. Be aware of how changes in your plan effect your body and brain/psyche, but do NOT beat yourself up. Use it as data and apply that data to the days following and get right back on plan. Practice gratitude. Breathe in the moments of joy and hold on to them tightly. You deserve these moments!
Last but not least.... start planning your next vacation! Take them as often as you can! Go and live your life with as much fun and adventure as you possibly can! After all, the endgame to the wellness concept ultimately comes down to happiness.
And you deserve that.