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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 Carnival Pride. Since we got back, several people have asked me the million dollar question, “How much weight have you gained?” Since this article is about my experience, I’ll tell you: about 3 lbs. So I rephrase my title:
Cruise with a dietitian – – how to gain “just a little” weight at sea.
You see, not being allowed to gain weight would be unrealistic and just not fun! I have to 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 visit to the galley ‘Table du Chef’ and the 7 course tasting menu, a night at “David’s” steakhouse, several servings of melted chocolate cake and fried Bahamian crackle conch. I even indulged in a few Pina Coladas while lounging in the hot tub.
My measly three pounds really don’t add up to much considering the stats. The personal trainer at the ship’s gym quoted me a figure of 7-14 pounds per cruise. A British poll published last year by the Daily Mail cites 1 pound a day. CruiseReview.com found that the average weight gain on a 7-day cruise is between 5 and 10 pounds. Judging from some of the eating behaviors 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 don’t mean you have to order chicken fingers with every meal like my son does. What I mean by “difficult” has to do with the quality of the food. “Picky” really means two things: 1) not indulging in chicken fingers, mac and cheese, soft serve ice cream, and other items you can easily get while you’re not on vacation. Save your calories for more epicurean adventures. On my cruise there were quite a few unique options such as Rockefeller oysters, snails, and chilled mango soup. 2) “Picky” also means don’t eat something unless it’s REALLY good. If the fish is dry and cold, do not finish it. If your buffet tastes bland, let the waiter take it away. If the cake is tasteless, just take 1 bite and stop. Remember: the “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. Lack of time cannot be used as an excuse 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 cocktails in the afternoon–we didn’t have a drink until the end of the course. If you don’t like the gym, there is also usually an outside track for walking/jogging. Walk through the corridors and explore every nook and cranny of the ship. Take the stairs as much as possible instead of elevators. Think of the cruise as a “spa vacation”: pamper your body, exercise, use the steam room, treat yourself to a massage, and more. All of these activities are without food.
3. Opt for the dining room rather than the buffet. Yes, you can order whatever you want, but you have to wait for the different courses. Slowing down meal times 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 helps to have some downtime between each course. As a bonus, the portions served in the dining room on many cruise ships are small–don’t order 2 entrees! For most meals, I ordered a salad, soup, entree, and shared a dessert with my husband.
4. “Scout the buffet line.” If you must go to the buffet, explore your options. Pick 3-5 total foods that you most want to eat. Don’t forget 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: “Lean people are more likely to seek out food. They are more likely to look at the different alternatives before throwing themselves away. on something – heavy people just tend to pick up a plate and look at each item and say, “Do I want this? Yes or no.”
5. Eat dessert only once a day. On cruise ships, desserts are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: before breakfast (in the form of pastries), à la carte after brunch, on the lunch buffet, after dinner, soft serve ice cream 24 hours a day, midnight chocolate buffet… You can “have your cake and eat it too” but only once a day. Personally, I didn’t like the biscuits, jelly and soft serve ice cream from the buffet very much. I saved my dessert calories for evening dining room desserts which were more decadent and often served lukewarm (melted chocolate cake, bread puddings, creme brulee, etc.). If you love sweets 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. Substitute an appetizer for your main meal. Many nights I found the starters 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-rich French Onion Soup, go ahead and serve it with a salad and a small appetizer. 2-3 appetizer servings are probably less caloric than a main course.
7. Limit alcoholic beverages (and avoid all-you-can-eat packages). Alcohol is the number one source of empty calories for cruise passengers (a typical Pina Colada is over 600 calories!) Try not to consume alcohol before 5:00 p.m. This will limit the calories and also allow you to be more active more early in the day – who wants to climb the stairs or jog around the track after a few beers?!? Trust me; a big cold beer tastes so much better after a hard workout at the gym. Speaking of my good friend the Pina Colada and other delicious frozen fruit drinks– try to limit them to 1-2 during the whole cruise and stick to dry wine, beer or spirits mixed with ice. water/soda because they are only a fraction of the calories. Our ship had an unlimited booze plan which was $49.95 per person per day. Assuming the average drink cost is $7, you would need 7 drinks to break even! Drinking less safe saved us money and calories!!!
8. Pass the bread basket. Each meal in the dining room came with a bread basket and a cute little carved silver bowl of butter. For breakfast, various danishes were served before the meal. None of the breads or rolls were anything special. Ignore them! Enough said!
9. Eat only at meal times. Make a package with yourself to eat only at mealtimes. Our ship had a big enough window for lunch and dinner buffets as well as a 24-hour pizza and soft serve ice cream station. Some ships even offer late night chocolate buffets. Stay away from the buffet room and hang out somewhere else between meals.
10. Drink lots of water. Be sure to drink 2 glasses of water with every meal and 1 glass of water for every alcoholic drink consumed. It will fill you up, keep you hydrated, and help fight the ill effects of drinking too much alcohol. Forcing yourself to drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink will keep you from increasing your calorie total. On most cruises, non-alcoholic beverages are extra. My advice is not to buy this package and instead stock up on water and herbal teas. You can get sodas 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 rid itself of excess water. I usually find the week after the cruise to be the perfect time to “get back on the bandwagon” with a healthy eating routine. You may find that your body is craving lighter meals as it tries to adjust and cleanse itself from the previous week. Think of your cruise indulgences as a boost to a healthy lifestyle rather than a setback!
There’s an old quote in the cruise industry that says “guests are brought on the ship as passengers and discharged a week later as cargo.” Hopefully, by following the tips above, you can be unloaded as a small “purse” rather than cargo.
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