Have you ever gone on vacation, stuffed your face with foods you’d *never* go near if you were at home, and yet come back to discover you didn’t actually gain weight? In fact, maybe you even… lost some?!

A common response to this miracle is that you must have burned it all off walking so much. C’mon, guys! No amount of strolling through the streets of Paris will undo the caloric damage of two pains au chocolat for breakfast, a croque monsieur for lunch, a few madeleines as a snack, and a steak frites with four classes of wine for dinner.

So if that’s not it — what’s the deal?

I recently returned from a 7-night trip to Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. I was on a fab river cruise with my family and they fed us *very* well throughout. Every night, we were treated to a gourmet 4-course meal with unlimited wine… and this is after eating two other gigantic meals and maybe even partaking in the late afternoon tea. It was all local cuisine — so it was heavy. Goulash, wiener schnitzel, pasta with creamy truffle sauce… It was delicious.

I came back convinced I had gained 20 lbs and probably wouldn’t even fit on the plane — but turns out, my weigh hadn’t budged.

So what gives?

I’m sure you have your own story of a trip that should have packed on the pounds, but didn’t. We all do. I call this the vacation effect. I use this as an example for women who work with me to learn how to eat more intuitively (that is, not feeling constantly restrained by “good” foods, “bad” foods, calories, carbs, fat, etc.).

  • You’re eating intituively.  When you’re on vacation, you tend to eat out more and, as a result, can decide what you feel like eating at that moment. (Versus at home, when you are probably basing your next meal on what’s in the fridge). On my trip, I didn’t just eat to eat; rather, I decided what sounded best in that moment. Sometimes that meant I had an extra large salad with a small side of goulash. Other times that meant I had two servings of a particularly delicious dessert (with extra custard sauce!).
  • You’re experiencing guitless eating. Most of us would feel a bit guilty for having a croissant for breakfast every day for a week. If you’re in France, you’ll probably feel less guilty about it. This is how we’re supposed to eat! Guilt over what you’re eating (or have eaten) stresses your body, which causes a series of hormonal fluctuations that actually promote fat retention. So if you feel guilty about eating your morning bagel, you’re more likely to gain weight from it than if you were worry-free. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should eat with abandon all the time. But if you’re listening to your body’s needs when you pick your food, then enjoy guilt-free indulgences.
  • You’re slowing down. Whenever I’m on vacation, I stop and eat. There’s no shoveling food into my mouth at my desk so I don’t miss a work deadline. There’s no grabbing food on the go. Rather, for most, if not all, of my meals, I tend to relax, slow down, and enjoy the company of my traveling companions. Again, this is how we’re supposed to eat! On my trip, dinner lasted 2 hours, so none of us felt heavy or overly full afterwards, even though we had banged through four courses.

The takeaway? To practice intuitive eating, take a ‘vacation day’ of your own at home. Give yourself permission to eat whatever you really want that day. Listen to your body, don’t let yourself feel guilty, and–above all–slow down when eating. You’ll be amazed at what a different eating experience it is.