ben and jerrys

Falling Off (and then Bazooka-ing) The Wagon on Vacation

We went on vacation. And I’m here today to tell you all about the fallout.

Because, folks, I fell off the wagon. I didn’t mean to fall off. I actually fully intended to stay on, with just perhaps an occasional cautious field trip off. Kind of like a cruise, where you mostly stay on the ship but dock once in a while to explore exotic locations, you know?

(Not that I know anything about cruises since I’ve never been on one and have a deep abiding fear of being stuck on a ship with that many germ-breathing strangers in close proximity, being forced into extroverted interactions against my will – not to mention the fact that you’re living over miles and miles and miles of deep, black, unknown depths of ocean with who-knows-what lurking just beneath you, just waiting for the ship to sink so that it can eat you up.)

But, anyway. The wagon. By the time vacation ended, not only had I fallen off the thing, but I had taken a sledgehammer to it and set it on fire. And then I hitched a ride on the Junk Food Express and left the smoldering pile of ash (that had once been the wagon) miles behind while I ate things like Mystery Jello Marshmallow Salad and Really Bad For You Cheesecake and (even) Not Real Meat Sausages. (I didn’t even LIKE those sausages, they weren’t even GOOD sausages, but I ate THREE of them for crying out loud!)

Yes. That’s how bad it got.

And, let me assure you…I’ve been paying for it ever since. All the old complaints (that used to be so normal I didn’t even know they WERE complaints) have returned. I’ve been home for two weeks and am only now starting to feel more like my old self.

So, let me be a cautionary tale. Let me take you on the progression of how my vacation morphed from a well-organized plan to stay on course into the utter catastrophe that it was.

A Promising Beginning

See, I planned. I knew it would be tough, so I spent a few days before vacation making and freezing things to take along, filling these four bags full of provisions to help me stay on my doomed wagon. I included fruit, Larabars, and 100% fruit leathers. Slightly sweetened iced tea and Chocolate Peanut Butter (aka Homemade “Nutella”). I also made several meals ahead, things like Boozy Irish Stew that would freeze and reheat well, and brought them along.

vacation food

The real lifesaver, though, was a quadruple batch of Buttermilk spelt pancakes, made with smashed banana stirred into the batter, for quick eats. The plan was to smear them with my chocolate peanut butter like I do my banana bread, only I figured these would be a more portable and less crumbly alternative to the bread.


These were so great! I stuck them in the toaster in the morning, and then topped them with butter, chocolate peanut butter, bananas, and strawberries. The good fats and proteins, plus the natural sugar in the fruit, kept me going for a really long time. The perfect breakfast! It was also DELICIOUS. I actually came home and made another huge batch to freeze so that I could keep it going, because I liked it so much! Really filling and satisfying. (Unfortunately, the kids also really liked them, and so they were all eaten up by the end of the first 4 days, which left me with nothing for the last 5 days!!)



The food I brought along definitely helped, and I would have been so much worse off than I turned out if I hadn’t brought it along. In theory, this food should have carried me through, leaving me with only a few compromises necessary as well as a few all-out cheats. That was the plan, at least.

The First Cheat….

It started with Smashburger.

I knew we’d have to stop for dinner on the way up, and so I intentionally planned the travel route so that we’d be going by a Smashburger at dinner time. Because Smashburger is THE. BOMB. Their burgers are made with 100% Angus with no fillers, and their fries are cooked in tallow and TOPPED WITH GARLIC AND ROSEMARY. I mean…garlic and rosemary french fries!!! Honestly. And their milkshakes… made with Haagen Daaz ice cream and milk! They have sugar in them, but they’re real milkshakes, not something from a zombie mix! It’s definitely cheating, but it’s mild cheating. And if it was the ONLY cheat on the trip, or the only one of 2 or 3 cheats, it really would have been just fine.

mmmf, mmf, yymf (translation: This is so yummy!!!)

But…the cheating didn’t end there. Of course.

The entire time in Massachusetts was really pretty good, thanks largely to the meals I brought along and the fact that we were staying at my cousin’s house. In fact, I felt so good that I may have overestimated my abilities a tad….

You Are Not Wonder Woman!

Here’s a bit of free advice: Just because you’ve lost 30 pounds and are pain-free and have way more stamina and energy than you used to have, that does NOT mean you’re Wonder Woman!

You hear me!? You do not have a lasso of truth! And you do not (or you should not) have shiny gold panties that you wear out in public!

I seemed to have forgotten this. Because I just felt so good! The first 4 days when we were staying with my cousin outside of Boston and I was still eating well (thanks to all the food I brought) I felt great. So when we walked the Freedom Trail, I was able to do it beginning to end with absolutely no difficulty.

freedom trail

We walked…and walked and walked and walked.

freedom trail freedom trail freedom trail freedom trail

And I didn’t have a single sore muscle, joint, or body part. I felt full of energy, as though I could keep going for another few hours. I felt downright invincible. I could never have done that walk without fatiguing and having joint pain a year ago, so I felt really great about myself!

Then we got to the end of the trail at the Bunker Hill Monument.

bunker hill

And saw this sign:

bunker hill

Free! Anything free has to be good, right? My son REALLY wanted to do it. My husband and daughter were wiped out and didn’t want to, but I felt so good, I had so much energy left even after all that walking, that I immediately agreed to go with my son. I honestly thought it would be just fine. Because, you know, I was invincible.

Well. This is me once I made it down again.

Defeated by an obelisk.

Defeated by an obelisk.

I am not merely enjoying the view. I literally collapsed. My knees LITERALLY BUCKLED and I collapsed just like someone in a movie who’s run for days to get to safety and then collapses with relief at the sight of home because they just can’t take another step. You know the kind of scene I’m talking about. Only I did it after a climb up an obelisk.

Apparently walking along flat streets and slight inclines is not any sort of indication that a body is ready for a 300 step climb and descent. I honestly don’t know which was worse: going up or coming back down. But it took me a long time to be able to stand and walk again, and even then my legs kept shaking and giving out on me. And for the next THREE DAYS it hurt to walk down steps or down inclines. I was truly and completely pathetic. And my family made fun of me for my pathetic-ness.

So, if you don’t want your family to make fun of you, and if you want your legs to actually be of use to you…don’t think you’re Wonder Woman.

(For the record, when my son came down from the climb he started doing leapfrog hops and climbing the posts and running around. He was completely unfazed. The little bugger.)bunker hill

The Utter Demise of the Wagon….

It’s okay to loosen up with your diet on vacation…but I warn you, it’s a slippery slope!!! Once you change your mentality from “I can’t have that” to “It’s okay – I’m on vacation,” you find that you have very little defenses left to ward off temptation.

So. It started with Smashburger. Which wasn’t too bad. And then during our walk in Boston we needed to stop for lunch so I just went along with what everyone else wanted and was inexpensive and convenient, and didn’t worry about if it fit into the diet or not. Besides that, I was completely good.

So far, not too bad.

Then…we left Massachusetts and went up to Vermont. And this is when things started to slide downhill.

It started at the Vermont Country Store.

They have TONS of samples of foods. Just laid out everywhere. And, because I’d already told myself, “I’m going to take it easy on myself on vacation – I’m going to enjoy myself.” I had no defenses up for confronting these free samples.


This is fudge. Rows of FREE fudge samples. With no one monitoring how much you took. Now, I did manage to resist these, because even in my compromise state of mind I knew that mouthfuls of pure sugar was not a good idea. And fudge is very obviously pure sugar.

But these cookies?


So small, so innocuous. Just one wouldn’t hurt, right? Or two? Or…three?

How about EIGHT. Yes, eight. And there were these maple and lemon flavored dips to dip them in. And I DIPPED THEM. I had no idea what was in them, but I dipped them anyway, oh yes I did. And oyster crackers in apple butter and jellies and dips of unknown composition. And cheeses. (which were probably the only healthy things I had there.)

We gorged ourselves at the Vermont Country Store. It basically turned into lunch. I’m completely serious. We left there so full that we didn’t have to stop for lunch.

Free samples at the Vermont Country Store. AKA "lunch."

Free samples at the Vermont Country Store. AKA “lunch.”

The next day, do you know where we went?

ben and jerrys

Yeah. And of course, you know we got ice cream cones while we were there.

Then there was Sugarbush Farm, with their free samples of different grades of maple syrup. Maple syrup is a great whole-food sweetener, and would ordinarily be okay, but on top of all the other junk I was eating it just added to the load.

sugarbush farm

Fortunately, dinner for both nights in Vermont were at two absolutely fabulous restaurants in Rutland. They both were local, independently owned places that specialized in local seasonal foods. Everything fresh-made in house. One was this place called Table 24. I was so impressed with it that I took a picture of the menu!

table 24

The menu was amazing, and had tons of things I could eat. I had the rotisserie chicken and asparagus, and it was absolutely delicious! My husband got the ribs which he couldn’t stop raving about, and the kids split the Lobster Macaroni and Cheese and an order of Lemon Garlic Green Beans. We were all very, very happy!

table 24

The other place was called Roots, which also served local seasonal foods, and even meats that were pasture raised on local farms!!! I had smoked pork BBQ there and it was wonderful! (No pictures though, alas.) These two restaurants were the absolute culinary highlight of our time in Vermont.

But then we left Vermont to visit friends in New Hampshire on our way home, and ate dinner at Camp Spofford, where our friends work. Dinner that night was Italian hoagies and a variety of things at the buffet. The hoagie was bad enough for me, with the white bread and processed meats. But then I took a helping of this.

mystery jello

I mark this event as the moment in which I officially gave up. What even WAS this? What was in it? Did I even care? I obviously did NOT care, because even though there were marshmallows as plain as day in them, and it was probably made with boxed jello mix (which has NOTHING in it good for me) and quite possibly even Cool Whip – I not only took this generous helping, but I went back for more. 

Seriously. I had two huge helpings of this stuff. Who was I? I very clearly was not even attempting to stay on the wagon anymore. I had taken up a bazooka, and had aimed it at the smoldering remains that were already several miles away by now, and blew up whatever was remaining of it. The wagon was gone. Kaput. Bye bye wagon.

Because the next evening when our hosts made these blondie/chocolate chip/brownie things for dessert, I didn’t even bat an eye when I grabbed one and ate it. And the next morning when our hosts made Sausages-of-Questionable-Composition that almost certainly were chock full of preservatives and not-good-meat-bits and such things…I went ahead and ate three of them.


After that breakfast, we left for home. And about dinnertime, when we were starving, I looked on my phone to see what was close by and I said – I actually said – “There’s a Cheesecake Factory. How about that?”

Why on earth was I even considering the Cheesecake Factory?!? Because I had, by this point, nothing left. Not one bit of fight left in me. I had sunk so low, and cheated so much, and so badly, that it didn’t even matter to me anymore.

And I ate this.



And you know what? After all of that…

I was miserable.

For the rest of the car ride I was exhausted and cranky and irritable. It was the end of vacation (when people tend to be all of those things anyway) but I was especially so. Overwhelmingly so. And when we hit stand-still traffic on I95 outside Newark (of course) I just about lost my sanity.

Because – go figure! – eating a bunch of junk for a week makes you weak! And messes with your blood sugar! And leaves you tired and irritable!

I ended the vacation feeling so utterly different than I did when I started vacation. When I started I was freaking Wonder Woman for goodness’ sake! But by the time I got home my fingers were all aching for the first time since last fall, my digestion was sluggish and my stomach was bloated, my mood was all over the map, I was having headaches again, and I felt generally miserable. When I weighed myself after getting home I found I had gained 6 pounds. In one week!!

I was SO ANXIOUS to go back to normal with my food when I got home! I made a smoothie for breakfast the next day and I could almost feel my body doing a happy little dance inside! It felt so good to get back to normal, and my body immediately started to feel better. But some of the damage is lingering. Even today – two weeks later – my fingers are still bothering me when I do anything strenuous with them.

The Conclusion

So…was it worth it?

Yes and no. I do think it’s okay to loosen up on vacation. I think it was fine to eat at Smashburger, and fine to have ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s and maple syrup samples at Sugarbush Farm. If I had only done those things and some other compromise (as opposed to outright cheating) choices I probably would be fine. It was vacation, after all. You do want to relax a little and not completely stress yourself out with food choices.

But, it was NOT worth it to sink as low as I did. Before vacation I had gotten to the point in which I was able to have whole-food sweeteners fairly often, with no negative side effects. I had gotten to the point in which simply maintaining a “whole, real food” diet was enough. Now I feel like I’m back to the beginning again, needing to be super-strict to keep my symptoms at bay.

So what would I have done differently, and what can you do to avoid my pitfalls?

1. Bring more food along, especially if you have other family members eating it too. In particular, the loss of the pancakes was a big blow. If I’d had them on hand for the rest of the trip it would have made a big difference.

2. Give yourself clear guideline on cheating BEFORE you go. If you just tell yourself “I’ll take it easy, but not go too far,” it’ll be much harder to keep up your defenses in areas where you really should be abstaining. (Hello, mystery jello salad.) So don’t just wing it. Plan the trip, and tell yourself the areas that are and are not okay to cheat ahead of time.

3. Take the time to research restaurants on your route, and plan ahead. Fortunately, restaurants went mostly well for us, but I did do a lot of research at the hotel and on the road. By the trip home, however, I was so tired and hungry (from having a crazy blood sugar from eating lousy) that I didn’t want to take the time to really find something good. And that led to The Cheesecake Incident. It would have been helpful to have had that figured out ahead of time.

4. Pay attention to your body, and if you start to sense it going south dramatically…immediately stop your cheating ways. I definitely could tell that my body was taking it rough. But I kept telling myself that it was just for a few more days of vacation and then I’d go back to normal. If I’d stopped when I could tell that things were going worse than I wanted, though, I probably wouldn’t be as bad off now as I am. Not to be all TMI or anything, but the area you want to especially pay attention to is what’s going on in the bathroom. If you’re not eliminating well, your body is not doing well. It not only shows that things are going poorly in your body, but it also means that you’re retaining toxins in your body, making a bad situation worse. So…listen to your body, and don’t ignore what it’s telling you!

5. Don’t get cocky. Honestly, I over-estimated what I could take. I’d been feeling so good for so long, and had been at the point in which occasional cheats didn’t bother me at all for so long, that I got cocky. I thought that a week like I had would be fine. I thought it might put me back a little, but I had no idea I’d be dealing with fingers that hurt this much two weeks later. So, if you’re feeling the benefits of anti-inflammatory, real-food eating, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it means you’re healed, or that you can simply give up on it with no ill effects. It’ll cost you.

Hello Wagon! I’ll Never Bazooka You Again!!



(This post is part of Real Food Wednesday)

3 thoughts on “Falling Off (and then Bazooka-ing) The Wagon on Vacation

  1. Nikki

    Sounds like a great vacation- except for the ill effects of vacation eating! I am recovering from a week in Florida. Hush puppies, however, were not as bad as Birthday Cake Week. I woke up in the morning after a few days of cooking/icing/eating my husband’s cake and thought “How did I hurt my fingers?…..Oh. Sugar.” Crazy how it and other not-good foods make us feel so bad. Hope you are back to feeling like Super Woman soon!

    1. Rachel Post author

      It WAS a great vacation, thanks! We love our Epic McCleary Family Road Trips. :) I’m sorry about how Florida and Birthday cake week went for you…but how exciting that you had improved so much that you noticed the difference!

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