Sweet memories ... holiday-makers often return heavier than they left.
Returning home from a holiday can be depressing. First, there's often a house full of over-tired children to attend to, followed by the unflattering overhead office lighting guaranteed to leech the tan out of you within a week. Adding insult to injury, you also have to contend with the extra weight you piled on during your trip. Sitting there atop your problem areas like an unwanted souvenir, it's a constant reminder of the exotic food and bottomless drinks you enjoyed while living your other, decidedly more glamorous, life.
While there is little to be done about the kids and office drudgery, there is help on horizon for those wanting to lighten the load of their post-holiday blues now that UK travel company Fly Thomas Cook have released the results of a survey aimed at uncovering the countries that are worst for your waistline.
"This research was carried out because we were curious to explore the reasons behind people gaining weight on holiday, and crucially, whether they differed from country to country," said Fly Thomas Cook representative, Bona Boraliu.
Mediterannean diet not so healthy for tourists ... top countries for weight gain. Photo: Courtesy of Fly Thomas Cook
With 350 Britons completing the survey, Cyprus, Turkey and Portugal led the charge when it came to weight gain, with respondents documenting a 1.3-1.5kg increase in body mass over the course of an average one-and-a-half week break. Australia also featured prominently, ranking eighth on the list of the most calorific countries.
The reasons people cited for piling on the pounds included eating out more, cooking less, consuming large amounts of alcohol and engaging in less physical exercise.
"In the countries where you gain the most weight the key factor is that the food is of high quality. This then encourages you to try new food, as you are more confident that it will taste great, and you will eat out more and cook less," said Boraliu. "So not only is high quality food a direct causal factor for weight gain, it also indirectly works through trying new food and eating out more to encourage you to eat more while on holiday ... The other salient factor that they share is that consuming more alcohol is a main contributor to weight gain in each of the top 10 countries."
Good food and lots of it ... why tourists often put on weight. Photo: Courtesy of Fly Thomas Cook
Even sea-faring folk aren't immune. Though they're not tied down to any specific locale, fans of cruises and land-based package holidays are exposed to the pleasures of an unlimited buffet breakfast – which usually equates to an extra centimetre or two around the belly once the week is through.
"All-inclusive holidays, depending on their specific content, tended to include hotels with buffets for breakfast and evening meals, and for many, food consumed in hotels was included in the price," said Boraliu. "This encouraged people to make the most of unlimited food they did not have to pay an additional cost for."
The survey also showed a marked difference between the genders when it comes to piling on the beachside bulk. With 45.95 per cent of all participants reporting weight gain, men are 12 per cent more likely to catch the brunt of it and face an average increase of 2.53kgs – 75 per cent more than their average female counterpart.
The reasons for weight gain also set the sexes apart. While Australian men have a somewhat unpleasant reputation as beer-swilling yobs in many parts of the world, only 40 per cent said alcohol was a direct cause of their weight gain compared to almost 75 per cent of women.
Another surprising result was that some men reported being so nervous about appearing in nothing but a pair of board shorts that they actually lost weight.
"Wearing revealing clothes on the beach or due to hot weather encouraged one in five men and 15 per cent of women to keep their weight off, because people were more self-conscious about the way they looked while on holiday. In fact, in this survey, we observed a tension between wanting to look good while on holiday and wanting to let your hair down at the same time," added Boraliu. "Of all those who said that wearing revealing clothes contributed to their weight loss, most had visited Italy or the US."
Though these countries weren't the leaders when it comes to weight loss. Just over 20 per cent of people reported that they dropped an average of 3.32kgs, with all losses occurring in Germany, Canada or Ireland. These respondents tended to have more active holidays, participating in sports activities such as cycling and hiking. Though there was some mention that the cost of food in Canada also discouraged them from eating too much.
But beyond spending your annual holiday trekking up mountains or taking to the open road on two wheels, Fiona Workman of Sydney Nutrition suggests those wanting to avoid an increase in weight exercise their self-control. She says that while it's normal for people to want to enjoy themselves on holiday, constant overindulgence will only make the post-trip readjustment all the more difficult.
"Don't go overboard, stick to the same number of meals as you have at home, be aware of the fat content, exercise as usual if possible and skip meals if you aren't hungry," she said. "Eating late at night and siestas following main meals isn't healthy, and remember that calories consumed on holiday do count."
On the flipside, owner of Food and Wine Travel, Karen Ridge, says that while you should always be careful to avoid unnecessary gorging she advises clients to sample everything on offer and save the body insecurities for when they return home.
"We all like to think that we have earned the right to go crazy with food and wine once we start our holidays. Diets are for when we get home. How else can you really experience a destination if you don't sample the local fare?" she said, aghast at the idea of tailoring a holiday according to where you might gain or lose the most weight. "Hell no! Tailor it to what tastes good."