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Cruising With a Dietitian: How to Avoid Gaining Weight While at Sea
My husband and I just returned from a 7 night cruise from Baltimore to the Bahamas on the Carnival Pride. Since we’ve been back, I’ve had several people ask me the million dollar question, “How much weight did you gain?” Since this article is about my experience, I’ll tell you: about 3 pounds. So let me rephrase my title:
Cruising with a dietitian – – how to gain “just a little” weight while at sea.
See, not being allowed to gain weight would be unrealistic and just not fun! I must admit I am a bit of a foodie and we indulged in many of the culinary adventures the ship and ports had to offer: the “Chef’s Table” tour of the galley and 7 course tasting menu, an evening at “David’s ” ” steakhouse, multiple servings of molten chocolate cake and deep fried cracked conch in the Bahamas. I even indulged in a few Pina Coladas while relaxing in the hot tub.
My measly three pounds really isn’t that much considering the stats. The personal trainer from the ship’s gym quoted me a figure of 7-14 pounds per week. cruise. A British poll published last year by the Daily Mail cites £1 a day. CruiseReview.com found the average weight gain on a 7-day cruise to be between 5 and 10 pounds. Judging from some of the eating behavior I witnessed on the ship, I’d say this might be accurate for those who really “let loose”.
Here are my top 10 tips for minimizing weight gain while cruising:
1. Be a “Picky” Eater. No, I’m not suggesting you order chicken fingers at every meal like my son does. What I mean by “picky” is in terms of the quality of the food. “Picky” really means two things: 1) not indulging in chicken fingers, mac and cheese, soft ice cream, and other things that you can easily get while not on vacation. Save your calories for more epicurean adventures. On my cruise there were quite a few unique options such as oysters Rockefeller, escargot and chilled mango soup. 2) “Picky” also means not eating anything unless it’s REALLY good. If the fish is dry and cold, don’t finish it. If your buffet food tastes bland, let the waiter take it away. If the cake is tasteless, just take 1 bite and stop. Remember: “clean plate club” is not in session on cruise ships. Only clean your plate if you really enjoy the food and if it is a “4 star” dish.
2. Use the gym. Not having enough time cannot be used as an excuse while at sea! You should exercise more, not less. Most ships have cardio equipment, free weights and exercise classes. Sign up for a fitness class. My husband and I signed up for a group cycling lesson at 4pm one day, which saved us a few hundred calories from afternoon cocktails – – we didn’t indulge in a drink until class was over. If you don’t fancy the gym, there is usually an outdoor track for walking/running as well. Walk around the halls and explore every nook and cranny of the ship. Take the stairs as much as possible instead of the elevators. Think of the cruise as a “spa vacation”: take care of your body, exercise, use the steam room, treat yourself to a massage, etc. All these activities are food-free.
3. Choose the dining room over the buffet. Yes, you can order whatever you want, but you have to wait for the different courses. Slowing down the time you eat will decrease the amount you eat. It can take 10-20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that it’s full, so it’s helpful to have downtime between each course. As an added bonus, the portions served in the dining room on many cruise ships are small — just don’t order 2 entrees! For most meals I ordered a salad, a soup, an entree and shared a dessert with my husband.
4. “Mirror the Buffet Line”. If you’re going to the buffet, research your options. Choose 3-5 items in total that you most want to eat. Remember that there will be another buffet and more things to try for the next meal. Food researcher Brian Wansink writes in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine: “Tasty people are more likely to scout the food. They are more likely to look at the different alternatives before plunging into something—heavy people just tend to pick up a plate and look at each item and say, ‘Do I want that? Yes or no.’
5. Only eat dessert once a day. On cruise ships, desserts are offered 24/7: before breakfast (in the form of sweet rolls), on the menu after brunch, on the lunch buffet, after dinner, 24-hour soft serve ice cream, midnight chocolate buffet, etc. You can “have your cake and eat it too”, but only once a day. Personally, I didn’t care so much for the dry cakes, jello and soft ice cream from the buffet line. I saved my dessert calories for evening desserts in the dining room, which were more decadent and often served warm (molten chocolate cake, bread puddings, crème brule, etc.). If you have a sweet tooth like me and can’t decide on 1 dessert, share 2 (or 3) with your partner, but only have a few bites of each!
6. Replace an appetizer with your main meal. On many nights I found the appetizers to be much more interesting than the meal options. They usually had 2 interesting soups, salads and small bites to choose from. If you want to order the calorie-laden French onion soup, go for it and pair it with a salad and a small appetizer. 2-3 appetizer portions are most likely fewer calories than a main course.
7. Limit alcoholic beverages (and stay away from all-you-can-drink packs). Alcohol is the biggest source of empty calories for cruisers (a typical Pina Colada tops out at 600 calories!) Try to hold off on alcohol consumption until after 6 p.m. This will limit the calories and will also allow you to be more active earlier in the day – who wants to take the stairs or jog around the track after a few beers?!? Trust me; a tall cold beer tastes much better after a hard workout at the gym. Speaking of my good friend Pina Colada and other delicious frosty fruit drinks – – try to limit these to 1-2 the whole cruise and stick to dry wine, beer or spirits mixed with water/club soda as they are a fraction of the calories. Our ship had an alcohol plan that cost $49.95 per drink. person per day. Assuming the average drink price is $7, you need 7 drinks to break even! Drinking less safely saved us money and calories!!!
8. Pass the bread basket on. Every meal in the dining room was accompanied by a bread basket and a cute little silver bowl of sculpted butter. For breakfast, various Danes were served before the meal. None of the household appliances or rolls were anything special. Skip them! Enough said!
9. Eat only at meals. Make a packet with yourself to eat only at mealtimes. Our ship had a fairly large window for the lunch and dinner buffets as well as a 24 hour pizza and soft ice station. Some boats even have chocolate buffets in the evening. Stay away from the buffet room and hang out somewhere else between meals.
10. Drink lots of water. Make sure to drink 2 glasses of water with every meal and 1 glass of water for every alcoholic drink consumed. This will fill you up, keep you hydrated and help combat the ill effects of too much alcohol. If you force yourself to drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink, it will slow you down in your caloric intake. On most cruises, soft drinks are extra. My advice is not to buy this pack and fill up on water and herbal tea instead. You can get soda everywhere, why would you want to drink your calories – – save them for the good stuff on the cruise. The same rule applies to juices (which are also free) – skip them and opt for fruit instead!
When you get home, don’t weigh yourself for at least 3-4 days. Cruise ship food tends to be salty, so give your body a chance to get rid of excess water. I usually find the week after a cruise to be a good time to “get back on the wagon” with a healthy eating routine. You may find that your body needs lighter meals as it tries to adjust and cleanse from the previous week. Think of your cruise indulgences as a way to provide momentum to a healthy lifestyle instead of a setback!
There is an old quote in the cruise industry that says “customers are brought aboard the ship as passengers and disembarked a week later as cargo.” Hopefully, by following the above advice, you can be unloaded as a small “carry bag” rather than cargo.
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