The Amazing, True Story of Dieting Success on the Mexican Riviera
I spent a long weekend this summer at a resort on the Gulf Coast of Mexico just outside Cancun. It was an all-inclusive kind of thing, which I fundamentally oppose. But [My Attorney]—to whom I am married—needed to unwind. Staying in a stylish luxury cabana with a swim-up bar and unlimited sunshine would detangle her into a grinning, inebriated, stress-free tourista. Plus, they had 20 good restaurants and cafes, and a beach bar and grill with a mariachi band that played La Bamba on demand. It was full-service, overly pampered paradise.
Except I’m on a DIET, Mexico!
I’m not good at dieting. I have strong connections to my caveman roots, so I’m always hunting for a crunchy, salty snack or gathering a steak into my mouth. But unlike my cromagnificent forefathers, my hunt only takes me into the wilds of my kitchen or patio. I’m not burning off the bison by running across open grasslands. I don’t run anywhere. If I was being chased by wolves I’d not be being chased by wolves because that would involve running and, whatever, I’ve had a good life so far. Wolves got to eat.
Recently, I found myself halfway up a single flight of stairs listening to my knees crackle and trying to catch my breath when I had a minor epiphany: Maybe I should cut back on the steak. Maybe I should maybe kinda slow down on the beer. And the fries. And the pudding. Maybe I should realize my intake exceeds my output and maybe I should take a deep breath, gird my loins, and hunt some tofu or gather some lettuce wraps.
Which I did. As part of my diet. Lettuce. Wraps.
And I made progress. Not great progress, but if you’ve dieted at all you know that even modest weight loss is a worthy achievement. I was looking down at the scale and noting that modest achievement on a scale in a swanky resort cottage when [My Attorney] grabbed me by the arm and dragged me kicking and screaming to a five-star restaurant for a six-course meal. The meal was paired to expensive wines chosen by a meticulous sommelier and—let’s just cut to the chase here—I buckled. I stuffed myself like I’d been lost at sea then washed ashore at this table. As we waddled back to our lodge, I owned my lapse and swore I’d do better the rest of the trip.
Which was a challenge starting the very next morning, as we were ushered into a breakfast buffet that could have fed most of Moldavia. Tables were loaded with the kind of larder that defines a number of my wheelhouses: from biscuits and gravy to eggs benedict; from elotes to empanadas; from guava paste and cheese to caviar and crème Fraiche. Plus the coffee of my dreams, each cup curated by a studious barista with no sense of urgency, brooding over every cup like he was giving birth to a masterpiece. And champagne and …
Mistakes Were Made
I caved. I loaded a plate like a derby hat, aiming my portly carcass toward my table when I caught sight of myself reflected in a range hood. I mean a circus mirror. I mean, oh my God, that’s me. I put the derby hat down. I explored their melon and citrus table. I had a black coffee (eventually).
I had paid a lot of money to be treated like a tiny little deity on vacation—and [My Attorney] was slowly unfolding into something like a relaxed homunculus. I didn’t want to cheat her out of opulent grub, and I didn’t want to cheat myself out of getting my money’s worth. But I couldn’t go the whole weekend eating like Ozymandias.
Working Your Diet While You Treat Yo Self
I needed rules. I needed direction. I needed a playbook for resort dieting.
Ask for help. It occurred to me I wasn’t the first fat American this resort had seen, so I asked the waiters for the diet menu and they laughed at me. However, they did have special menus for diabetics, gluten-free dishes, and vegetarian dishes. I knew by sticking to these, I was reducing calories while enjoying the efforts of a good chef.
Develop a Green Deal. I filled my orders with vegetable sides, vegetarian dishes, vegan dishes, and salads. Then, I’d have seafood or chicken. The resort was, again, used to corpulent North Americans trying to fit into a swimsuit so I had plenty to work with. Not all resorts are as diet-conscious as the El Dorado Royale on the Riviera Maya. It’s a culinary forward resort so it has it’s alt menus down. But enough holiday spots are health-oriented that you probably won’t have to work too hard to eat consciously and eat well.
Have a mantra. These resorts have a purpose: to pamper you relentlessly. Which is exactly what we all want. But there’s a weird effect on being confronted with endless buffets, checkless dining, and an infinite bar: You want to have it all before you get back on your plane to go home. Maybe it’s a species of FOMO. Maybe it’s greed. But when you grab a plate for the lavish buffet at an all-inclusive joint, you tend to include all of the buffet. So I developed a mindset, a mantra:
“It will all still be here next time.”
Cause I will be back. And I will look good.
Use math to pregame and postgame. If you can approximate your caloric onboarding while vacationing, then you can use a little math to give yourself a margin for gorging. If you’re on a 2,000-calorie daily plan, then you’re on a 14,000-calorie weekly plan or a 60,000-calorie monthly plan. If you spend the week before and after your extravagance dialing back your daily calories, then it all works out over the month. Just by skipping 300 calories a day those two-bracket weeks gives you an extra 4,200 calories to blow on margaritas (although a Paloma is a much better drink and your bartender will think you’re cool).
Look in a mirror. Hey, relax. I know this doesn’t apply to you, but some of the people reading this article and all of the people writing this article avoid mirrors like vampires. We probably (definitely) have a very unhealthy opinion of our body shape and size and color and … what happened to me!? Which we should really see someone about, and maybe do some ruminating and meditation on our self-perception and perhaps be nicer to ourselves. After this vacation. But, while we’re here and while we have reservations at the Steak Potato Lobster Cheese and Beer Pavilion, a brief moment in our briefs before the mirror may use that neurosis in our favor by coming back to us when we look at the menu.
Skip the golf cart limo and walk to dinner. I’m so sorry. I know you’re thinking about that swim-up bar and sleeping late and here I am using a dirty word. But just walking for an hour can burn around 300 calories. Yeah, you’re on vacation, you need to unwind and walking on purpose around the resort at sunrise sounds a lot like work. But can I direct your attention to that lobster thermidor staring at you from the chef’s table? I mean, it’s worth an early morning (or mid-afternoon or late evening or midnight or “why are you out at three in the morning, sir” walk). And look, most resorts have a gym. If you just spend a few minutes wiping all the dust and spiderwebs off the equipment, you can knock off a few hundred more calories and maintain the CICO (calories in, calories out) goal of your diet plan.
Do These Work?
I don’t know. I’m not a scientist, or a nutritionist, or even a halfway decent diet jockey. But when I got home, I’d lost two pounds.
What about you? How do you stay so svelte and gorgeous? Tell me about your vacation diet tricks.