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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, several people have asked me the million dollar question, “How much weight did you gain?” Since this article is about my experience, I will tell you: about 3 kilos. So let me rephrase my title:
Cruising with a nutritionist – – how to gain “just a little” weight at sea.
You see, not gaining weight would be unrealistic and just no fun! I have to admit I’m a bit of a foodie and we indulged in many of the culinary adventures the ship and ports had to offer: a tour of the “Chef’s Table” kitchen and 7-course tasting menu, a night at “David’s” steakhouse, several servings of molten chocolate cake and fried crackers conch shell in the Bahamas I even indulged in a few Pina Coladas while lounging in the hot tub.
My poor three kilos really aren’t that much considering the stats. The personal trainer from the ship’s gym gave me a figure of 7-14 pounds for the cruise. A British survey published last year by the Daily Mail put £1 a day. CruiseReview.com found that the average weight gain on a 7-day cruise is between 5 and 10 pounds. Judging by some of the eating habits I’ve witnessed on the ship, I’d say that might be accurate for those who have really “relaxed”.
Here are my top 10 tips to minimize weight gain while cruising:
1. Be a “picky” eater. No, I’m not suggesting that you have to order chicken fingers with every meal like my son does. What I mean by “picky” refers to 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 things you can easily get when you’re not on vacation. Save your calories for more epicurean adventures. There were some unique options on my cruise such as Oysters Rockefeller, Escargot and Chilled Mango Soup. 2) “Picky” also means not eating something unless it’s REALLY good. If the fish is dry and cold, do not finish it. If your buffet food tastes bland, have the waiter take it away. If the cake is tasteless, just take 1 bite and stop. Remember: the “clean plate club” is not on cruise ships. Only clean your plate if you really enjoy the food and if it’s “4 star” food.
2. Use the gym. Lack of time cannot be used as an excuse at sea! You should be exercising more, not less. Most ships have cardio equipment, free weights and exercise classes. Sign up for a fitness course. 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 the class was over. There is also usually an outdoor walking/jogging track if you don’t fancy a gym. Walk the corridors and explore every nook and cranny of the ship. Take the stairs as much as possible instead of elevators. Think of a 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 without food.
3. Opt for a dining room over a buffet. Yes, you can order whatever you want, but you have to wait for the different courses. Slowing down the time you eat will reduce 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 courses. As an added bonus, the portions served in the dining room on many cruise ships are small — just don’t order 2 appetizers! For most meals, my husband and I ordered a salad, soup, main course and dessert.
4. “Explore the buffet line”. If you must go to a buffet, explore your options. Choose a total of 3-5 items that you want to eat the most. Remember there will be another buffet and other things to try for the next meal. Food researcher Brian Wansink writes in the April 2013 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Thin people are more likely to seek out food. They are more likely to look at different alternatives before jumping into something – difficult people. just take the plate, 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 offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: before breakfast (in the form of sweet rolls), on the menu after brunch, at lunch buffet, after dinner 24-hour soft ice cream, midnight chocolate buffet, etc. you can “have your have your cake and eat it too”, but only once a day. Personally, I didn’t much care for dry cakes, jellies 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 pudding, crème brule, etc.). If you have a sweet tooth like me and can’t decide on 1 dessert, split 2 (or 3) with your partner, but only have a few pieces each!
6. Substitute an appetizer for a main course. Many nights I found the appetizers to be much more interesting than the meal options. They usually had a choice of 2 interesting soups, salads and small bites. If you want to order a calorie-dense French onion, go ahead and pair it with a salad and a small appetizer. 2-3 servings of an appetizer most likely have fewer calories than the main entree.
7. Limit alcoholic beverages (and stay away from all you can drink packages). Alcohol is a major source of empty calories for cruisers (a typical Pina Colada tops 600 calories!) Try to hold off on consuming alcohol until after 5:00 p.m. This will cut calories and also allow you to be more active earlier in the day – who wants to take the stairs or run the track after a few beers?!? Believe me; a tall cold beer tastes much better after a hard workout in the gym. Speaking of my good friend, the Pina Colada and other delicious frosty fruity drinks – – try to limit them to 1-2 per cruise and stick to dry wine, beer or spirits mixed with water/soda as they are a fraction of the calories. Our ship had an all you can drink alcohol program that cost $49.95 per person per day. Assuming the average price of a drink is $7, you would need to drink 7 drinks to break even! Less certain drinking saved us money and calories!!!
8. Pass the bread basket. Each meal in the dining room was accompanied by a bread basket and a cute silver bowl of molded butter. For breakfast, various Danes were served before the meal. None of the breads or rolls were anything special. Skip them! Enough talking!
9. Eat only at meal times. Take a packet with you to eat only at mealtimes. Our ship had a fairly large lunch and dinner buffet window, as well as a 24-hour pizzeria and soft-serve ice cream. Some ships even have a late night chocolate buffet. Stay away from the buffet room and have fun somewhere else between meals.
10. Drink lots of water. Make sure you drink 2 glasses of water with every meal and 1 glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume. This will fill you up, keep you hydrated and help combat the ill effects of too much alcohol. Forcing yourself to drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink will slow you down to reach your calorie total. Soft drinks are extra on most cruises. My advice is not to buy this pack and fill up with water and herbal teas 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 come 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 that the week after a cruise is a great time to “get back on the bandwagon” with a healthy diet. You may find that your body craves lighter meals as it tries to adjust and cleanse itself from the previous week. Think of your cruise enjoyment as a way to provide an impetus for a healthy lifestyle, rather than a hindrance!
There is an old quote in the cruise industry that says “customers are brought on board as passengers and disembarked a week later as cargo”. Hopefully, following the advice above, you will be able to be unloaded as a small “hand bag” rather than cargo.
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