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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 have you gained?” Since this article is about my experience I will tell you: about 3 pounds. So let me rephrase my title:
Cruising with a dietitian – – how to gain “a little” weight at sea.
You see, not being allowed to gain weight would be unrealistic and just not fun! I must admit that I am a bit of a foodie and we indulged in many of the culinary adventures that the ship and the ports had to offer: the “Chef’s Table” tour of the galley and a 7-course tasting menu, a night at “David’s”. “Steakhouse, several servings of molten chocolate cake and deep-fried Conch in the Bahamas. I even indulged in a couple of Pina Coladas while in the hot tub.
My mixed three pounds is really not that much considering the statistics. The personal trainer at the ship’s gym quoted me a figure of 7-14 pounds per cruise. A British survey published last year by the Daily Mail cited 1 pound a day. CruiseReview.com found the average weight gain on a 7-day cruise ranges from 5 to 10 pounds. Judging by some of the eating behaviors I’ve seen on the ship, I’d say this might be accurate for those who really “let go”.
Here are my top 10 tips for minimizing weight gain while cruising:
1. Be a “Picky” Eater. No, I’m not implying that you need to order chicken fingers at every meal like my son. What I mean by “picky” is in terms of food quality. “Picky” really means two things: 1) don’t indulge in chicken fingers, mac and cheese, soft serve ice cream and other items you can easily get while not on vacation. Save your calories for more epic adventures. On my cruise, there were many unique options such as oysters Rockefeller, escargot, and cold mango soup. 2) “Picky” also means not eating something unless it’s REALLY good. If the fish is dry and cold, it will not finish. If your buffet food tastes bland, let the waiter bring it to you. If the cake is tasteless, just take 1 bite and stop. Remember: the “clean plate club” is not in session on cruise ships. Clean your plate only if you really like 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 be exercising 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 class at 4pm one day which saved us a few hundred calories from the afternoon cocktail – – we didn’t indulge in a drink until after the class it was over If you don’t fancy the gym, there’s also usually an outdoor walking/jogging track. Walk the corridors and explore every corner 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, indulge in a massage, etc. All these activities are without food.
3. Opt for the dining room over the buffet. Yes, you can order anything 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 is full, so having time to cool down between each course is useful. 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 order a salad, a soup, an entrée and split a dessert with my husband.
4. “Scout the Buffet Line.” If you must go to the buffet, explore your options. Choose 3-5 items in total that you want to eat more. 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: “Thin people are more likely to scout food. They are more likely to look at different alternatives before jumping on something – heavy people. they just tend to take a plate and look at each item and say, “Would you like it? Yes or no.”
5. Eat Dessert Only Once a Day. On cruise ships, desserts are offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a day: before breakfast (in the form of sweet sandwiches), on the menu after brunch, at the lunch buffet, after dinner, 24-hour serving of sweet ice cream, midnight chocolate buffet, etc. can “have your cake and eat it too” but only once a day. Personally, I don’t care much for the dry cakes, jelly, and soft serve ice cream from the buffet line. I saved my dessert calories for evening desserts in the dining room that 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, share 2 (or 3) with your partner, but only take a few bites of each!
6. Substitute an appetizer for 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 select from. If you want to order the calorically dense French onion soup, go for it and pair it with a salad and a small appetizer. 2-3 servings of the appetizer are most likely less calories than an entrée.
7. Limit alcoholic beverages (and stay away from all you can drink packets). Alcohol is the number one source of empty calories for cruisers (a typical Pina Colada is over 600 calories!) Try to keep alcohol consumption to after 5pm. This will limit calories and also allow you to be more active earlier in the day – who wants to take the stairs or play around the track after a couple of beers?!? Trust me; a cold tall beer tastes much better after a hard workout at the gym. Speaking of my good friend, the Pina Colada and other delicious frosty fruity drinks – – try to limit these to 1-2 for the entire cruise and have a dry wine, beer or spirits mixed with water/club soda since they are a fraction of the calories. . Our ship had an all you can drink alcohol plan that cost $49.95 per person per day. Assuming the average cost of the drink is $7, you need to have 7 drinks to break even! Drinking less sure saved us money and calories!!!
8. Go over the bread basket. Each meal in the dining room was accompanied by a bread basket and a cute carved silver butter bowl. For breakfast, various Danishes were served before lunch. None of the breads or rolls were anything special. Skip them! Enough said!
9. Eat only at mealtimes. Make a pack with yourself to eat only at mealtimes. Our ship had a window big enough for lunch and dinner buffets, as well as a 24-hour pizza and ice cream station. Some boats even have chocolate buffets late at night. Stay away from the buffet room and go somewhere else between meal times.
10. Drink lots of water. Make it a point 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 fight the ill effects of too much alcohol. Forcing yourself to drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink will slow you down from increasing your calorie total. On most cruises, soft drinks are extra. My advice is not to buy this package and instead fill it with water and herbal teas. You can drink soda everywhere, because you want to drink your calories – – save 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, do not weigh for at least 3-4 days. Cruise line food tends to be salty, so it gives your body a chance to get rid of excess water. I usually find that the post-cruise week is a good time to “get back on track” with a healthy eating routine. You may find that your body craves lighter meals as it tries to adjust and cleanse from the previous week. Think of your cruise indulgences as a way to provide the impetus for a healthy lifestyle rather than a setback!
There is an old quote in the cruise industry that says “customers are brought on board as passengers and offloaded a week later as cargo.” Hopefully by following the advice above, you can be unloaded as a small “carry bag” instead of cargo.
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