How to Have a Food and Wine Vacation Without Gaining a Pound

I am in the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region of France, the town of Beaune, for the first 3 days of my 2 week vacation. This is the sacred area where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are grown to produce some of the best wines in the world.

I will be feasting on the region’s notable dishes such as Boeuf Bourguignon (beef stew) and jambon persille (ham and parsley) in between trips to the local bakery and wine tastings.

I am definitely going to split a bottle of wine for dinner with my wife each evening. I will most likely have a glass with lunch as well.

How will it be possible to keep up this pace or similar for the next 2 weeks while dealing with jet lag and the effort of traveling across France?

Stay active. Manage intake. Plan.

Over the past 5 years, I have planned and taken trips in some of the best food and wine regions across Italy, France, and Spain.

In all cases, I have fully indulged in the cuisine while also feeling healthy.

The techniques on how to do this can be broken in to three categories: Activity, Intake, and Planning. Keep reading for additional details on each essential.

How to Be Active on Vacation

Be Active

1. Walk To Eat!

This had to be the first item, right? Walking to eat, is of course walking to get breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, etc., but more importantly, it is a mindset to have during your trip.

The rest of the items in this section are related to this mindset. In addition to the physical benefits, walking is the best way to explore the place you are in.

You will better understand the local culture, stumble upon off the beaten path destinations, and be able to make a pit stop at wherever you please.

2. Take a hike

Generally, there are proper hiking trails with markings in or around where you are traveling. In many wine regions (Barolo, Burgundy and Chianti, to name a few.), there are hiking trails between it’s small towns.

One of my favorite things to do is to wake up, grab breakfast, hike from one town to another for lunch, then hike back to the town I am staying. The morning is spent being active in nature and all afternoon and evening is spent indulging in the regional delicacies (e.g., food and wine).

To find a hike in your location, the websites below have huge databases of hikes around the world. AllTrails is best for hiking in the U.S., while Wikiloc and outdooractive are more Europe focused.




3. Explore your destination on foot

Larger cities (e.g., Rome, Florence, Paris) are perfect for exploring on foot. In between seeing the main attractions, there are plenty of side streets, small shops, and lesser known neighborhoods to stumble upon.

In addition, you have the flexibility to stop where ever and whenever you want (like at that bakery that is putting out a still warm fresh batch of croissants).

You will be surprised at the double digit mileage you accrued during a day of city exploration.

For example, I covered 13 miles in a day of exploring Paris on a recent trip. To put some numbers to this example (or if you have an example of your own) I used this Calories Burned per Mile Walking table that shows I burned over 1000 calories! That is over four croissants or eight glasses of red wine or a typical Italian dinner. I do not suggest walking 13 miles every day on your vacation, but a few miles of exploring each day can make up for the extra indulgences.

Luxembourg Gardens in Paris France
One of the many sights while walking 13 miles – Luxembourg Gardens (Paris, France)

4. Walk to/from your arrival/departure location from your lodging (e.g., train station, rental car drop-off, etc.)

In most cases, I try to stay near my arrival/departure location so I don’t have to walk far with luggage, but sometimes the best place to stay requires a walk (like 11th Arrondissement in Paris) or the location just does not lend itself well to that scenario. Think of this as another opportunity to get acquainted with the destination by walking.

5. Go for a run

If running is a hobby for you like it is for me, the idea of going for a run in a new interesting place is very exciting. Running through Pinot Noir vineyards, ancient Roman ruins, or through the streets of Florence? I’m in.

This also gives you an opportunity to venture farther out to lesser visited areas. Running will burn off those extra calories at a faster pace than walking. Using the below calorie expenditure calculator, I burn 357 calories during a 3 mile jog at a 10 minutes/mile pace.

That is about 1.5 croissants or 2.5 glasses of red wine or a small bowl of pasta. Not bad for a leisurely jog around town.

6. Do an exercise routine

Yoga or a simple, quick exercise circuit like this hotel workout will leave you feeling refreshed and accomplished. It will get kickstart your metabolism so you are ready for your next delicious meal and bottle of wine!

Use the calorie expenditure calculator above to see how many calories you could burn off.

7. Walk from eating

Maybe even more important than walking to eat is to walk from eating. After those tasting menus or gelato shop visits, burn off some of those extra carbs by walking it off. You’ll be thankful you did both in the short term and long term.

Studies have shown that walking after eating aided in digestion (see study here). In addition, other studies (like this one and this one) have shown that a 15-20 minutes walk after eating can help control blood sugar levels in overweight individuals and those with Type-2 diabetes.

8. Visit an attraction that requires a climb

In many destinations, especially in Europe, there are attractions worth visiting that require a climb up stairs or uphill to see. These were often used as lookout points to spot invaders.

A few examples include the Montjuic Castle in Barcelona, Spain, the Asinelli Tower in Bologna, Italy and the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France. Climb up for both the view and the workout.

For example, the Asinelli Tower in Bologna has 498 stairs which take about 10 minutes to climb. Using the above calorie expenditure calculator, I would burn about 110 calories (almost a glass of Lambrusco wine).

Rhone France Hike
Enjoying the view after a climb through Rhone vineyards to the Hermitage Chapel (Tain l’Hermitage, France).

9. Find an outdoor space to relax in

Traveling can be a whirlwind especially if you are switching destinations often. Take a break from the hustle and bustle to spend time in someplace quiet.

One of my favorite things to do is to go to a park and sit down after a long day of exploring the city I am in.

10. Meditate

The benefits of meditation are continually becoming more mainstream. Among other benefits, mindfulness meditation has shown to reduce anxiety (see Massachusetts General Hospital study here) and increase cognitive performance (see Harvard study here).

A 10-15 minute mindfulness meditation (or whatever meditation practice you choose) session is both centering and relieving. Even though you may be in a strange or new place, taking a few minutes to focus on your presence will make you feel more at home.

Manage Intake

11. Pack or buy eating essentials

For those of you that follow a regular eating routine, vacation is going to throw that all off. If your travels are focused on food and wine like mine, you are not going to sacrifice indulging in those two things.

But, you can be strategic about your “must have” eating items.

For me, that is oats and peanut butter for breakfast. I have been eating this same thing for over 5 years and I feel a little off when I don’t have it. I will either bring a few baggies full of oats or purchase them and peanut butter from a grocery store upon arriving. This allows me to start my days a little more regular. If I am in Europe, I still eat a pastry or croissant most mornings, but only after I have my normal oats and peanut butter.

12. Eat your veggies

There are reasons why our parents and doctors tell us to eat vegetables. Depending on the place you are in, the cuisine may include less vegetables than your body is used to. Vegetables are packed with nutrients including potassium, fiber, folic acid and vitamins A, E and C.

After a few days of eating mostly meat and starchy carbohydrates, I find that I need a fresh salad or a vegetable focused meal to replenish some of these missing items. Vegetables also have a positive impact on digestion and blood sugar control (see Harvard article here). Both of these are vulnerable during the lack of normal eating routine and consumption marathon that travel introduces.

If you are planning to pick up meat and cheeses for a meal, also grab a vegetable from the grocery store or market. Appetizers and side dishes are typically the best bet for including vegetables so do not pass them up on the menu.

French Salad
A much needed salad at La Dilettante wine bar (Beaune, France).

13. Take some time off from indulging

Sometimes, we need a break. Unless you include fasting in your diet, we all need to eat each day. However, we can indulge a bit less.

Pick a day or two to skip the afternoon gelato or mid-day pastry and eat lighter, more healthy meals.

Drinking wine every day can be a real shock to the system for some of us. This varies person to person. Personally, I find it beneficial to reset and take an entire day off from drinking alcohol during a two week trip.

Plan and Prepare

14. Stay at your first destination for multiple nights

This is a must if you took the red-eye (e.g., U.S. to/from Europe or Asia) to get to your destination. Stay at your first location for at least 2 nights.

Take it easy and get to sleep at a reasonable time your first night. Do not set an alarm or plan anything for the next morning so you can catch up on sleep and recover from the jet lag.

15. Get in shape before the trip

Have a healthy foundation so you can defend against the eating and drinking marathon. Being in shape will make staying active and traveling easier. It will allow you to explore with less boundaries, hike with minimum limitations, and handle the food and wine consumption.

Treat vacation preparation like race preparation and do one of these 5K-8K race training schedules, get in the best shape of your life with a Spartacus workout, or set a workout goal to meet by departure day.

Back to My Day in Burgundy

So, how did I manage to spend two weeks seeking out the best food and wine in France without gaining a pound?

Let’s revisit one of my days in Beaune, France (in the Burgundy region) mentioned above.

Analyzing calorie intake and expenditure below, I burned 1190 while taking in 2250. This leaves 1060 calories that need to be burned throughout the rest of the day to maintain my weight.

Using this calorie expenditure calculator, I would burn over 1900 calories in a typical day if I was sedentary. Although some of the calories counted below may be counted in this 1900, I would still burn more than enough to prevent a caloric surplus.

Calorie Count for My Day in Beaune, France

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