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Should You Fast After a Food-Filled Vacation?

If you’ve eaten fried everything for a week and feel like an enormous bag of gas, you’ve got options—some more extreme than the rest

If it’s possible to feel like one giant human fart, vacation eating will do it. All it takes is even a couple days away from the comforts of home, without a steady supply of water or any remotely light snacks, no rhyme to meal times or reason to their ingredients. Vacation often means you’re at the mercy of someone else’s kitchen — or more likely, eating out for every single meal, which means you’ve consumed nothing but carbs, cheese, salt, sugar and fat ’round the clock. Delicious. Also, eventually, disgusting.

But what’s to be done? When you can’t puncture yourself with a giant needle and deflate the internal pressure cooker in there, you might just feel so gross and uncomfortable that you want to swear off food for a few days after the trip. Should you? Could you? Is post-vacation fasting even healthy?

I recently went to the Deep South for a week, and what began as a vow to at least eat some really great biscuits became the reality of eating biscuits at every meal. There was also fried chicken. And gravy. And grits. And more biscuits. And country ham. Did I mention I ate this three times a day? (Sometimes five.)

One night, nearing the vacation’s end, I realized that not only were the same jeans I’d flown in now chafing from tightness, but I had to gingerly lower myself onto the couch ass first just to find a reclining position that would accommodate the rapid expansion of bloat. Funneling Southern comforts had made me either extremely constipated or I had gained six pounds in four days. Or both. Either way, I felt so full and sluggish that it felt like the only right thing to do was stop eating for a few days to right the ship.

Research tells us that this Giant Human Fart Syndrome is actually vacation bloat. Some people call it, appropriately, “feeling puffy.” It’s possible you’ve actually gained a few pounds rapidly from constant overconsumption (plus booze and dessert). Most everything fixed up in a restaurant is extremely high in salt and calories, so that makes sense. Even scarier, it’s also possible you didn’t gain any weight at all but are just retaining fluid from so much salt consumption.

When to Fast — and When Not To

Intermittent fasting is all the rage right now. In short, that means eating without paying too much mind to calories or consumption during a certain set of hours (say 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and then not eating anything else the rest of the day. Devotees say it confuses the body’s metabolism in a good way, lowers weight and keeps blood sugar in check. Research suggests it’s a viable way to keep the weight off for some people. In fact, one 10-week trial of intermittent fasting in obese adults resulted in a 13-pound average weight loss.

So You Just… Don’t Eat at Random Times?

Correct, but you can “not eat” in a variety of ways. The New York Times wrote about a few styles of fasting that are picking up steam and have some solid research behind them:

  • The 5:2 fast. Eat freely for five days a week, and then eat only 500 calories a day for the other two days.
  • Alternate fasting. Eating only 500 calories on every other day.
  • Time-restricted feeding. Eat all your calories for the day during a certain time frame, usually around six or eight hours (e.g., 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and then fast the rest of the time.

Other approaches some fitness/fasting junkies swear by:

  • Fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week.
  • Eating a single, giant meal per day.
  • One cheat day a week, then a 36-hour fast.

This is obvious, but it must be said: Anyone attempting major diet changes should seek medical advice. And also, some of this shit sounds like it can throw your body into disarray. Eating only one, giant meal per day? That doesn’t sound like a lifestyle; it sounds like an endurance sport.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone can hang. The NYT mentions that roughly 10 to 20 percent of people who try intermittent fasting can’t do it because it’s too hard to go without. And that most people who do succeed do best on a “moderately high-fat diet” combined with the alternating 500-calorie days. In one study, the researchers said its effectiveness seemed counterintuitive, because they were sure that people would eat way too much on their “feast” days because of how hungry they were from the 500-cal days. But they didn’t, because it somehow curbed their appetite.

Other advocates of the intermittent fasting style say it’s far easier to pull off than a traditional restrictive diet, because the real psychological trick here is adjusting the idea of when you’re eating (or not eating) as opposed to what you’re eating (or not eating).

Better Regular Eating Habits May Be More Effective

Of course, you don’t have to fast to reduce vacation excess. There are other options to de-puff after a binge-eating vacation that don’t involve becoming a mental warrior. You can just follow more traditional advice to reset bad eating habits and flush out all that carbs ‘n’ cheese: Drink a lot of water, eat a diet high in fiber, skip booze for a bit and just eat good things. Fresh things. Fruit and vegetable things. Non-biscuit things. If you’re a working-out type of person, hit that shit like you just mainlined pizza for a week.

Either approach is going to get you back to where you were eventually, but there’s some evidence to suggest the fasting is the quicker better route. The New York Times mentions one intermittent fasting study that used a control group. The first group fasted, but the second just ate a low-calorie diet with no fasting. Both groups lost similar weight, but the fasting group had less belly fat in the end. That’s important, because the food baby you’re carrying back from your vacation is why you’re reading this article in the first place. But ask yourself if it’s worth it.