The average person gains between 1 and 2 lbs. per day on a cruise. While this is far less than the 7 lbs. per hour gained by gorging humpback whales in the midst of summer, a human also does not – or should not – weigh the same amount as a small bus. The port manager in Whittier, Alaska delivered this news just before we headed off the train and as soon as I stepped on the cruise ship – I could see why. While this was my first cruise, I had been told of the unlimited food and drink offerings – but I underestimated the ability of people to eat.
I will venture to say that anyone heading to any all-inclusive environment is at risk of the 1- to 2-lb. per day weight gain. Although multiple activities and shore excursions exist – most, in my experience, are relatively sedentary in nature. The pools are way too small to swim laps and it takes 2.8 walking laps around the boat to complete just one mile. That’s if you can dodge the people just hanging out on the deck. If you stay up late or drink a little too much, you might be tempted to skip the morning workout. Even if you do make it to the resort gym, keep your expectations low. Plus, who wants to be the annoying person who is stressing over not getting in a workout when on vacation – you are not fun. You also want to enjoy some food and not be counting every calorie you ingest. Again, no fun.
However, having a good time does not mean you are destined to gain 12 to 15 lbs. on a 7-day vacation. Remember, just because the food is there, does not mean you have to eat it. The oft-recommended eat a meal every two to three hours does not apply on a cruise when each meal can contain over 1,000 calories. My advice to avoid weight gain on vacation:
1) Move whenever you can. You don’t have to go out for a structured jog, but if you can take the stairs – do. Opt for scenic hikes instead of bus rides. Take an afternoon walk instead of an afternoon nap.
2) Skip the dining rooms. On cruises, these may seem to offer portion control, and they do. But the food there is pre-set – you cannot build a salad, load up on fruit or opt for whole grains. Usually you can order as much as you want in the dining room, meaning it is no better than a buffet. Meals come with sauces, creams and dressings. Unless you are extremely good at navigating a menu and choosing the healthiest options, these dining rooms can really trip you up.
3) Look for whole grain cereal, oatmeal, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, plain yogurt, skim milk, fresh fruit and whole wheat bread at breakfast buffets. Ask the omelet station to use egg whites and vegetables, not cheese, whole eggs and bacon, if you choose an omelet. I watched one girl, she must have been 12 and slightly overweight, load up her breakfast plate with white pancakes, frosted flakes, a white bagel with butter and a chocolate chip muffin. Sausage, bacon, pre-scrambled eggs, French toast, bread pudding, muffins, croissants and eggs Benedict are all calorie and saturated fat land mines that will only contribute to weight gain. If you love these foods, then treat one or two days as a special breakfast day on the cruise and the rest of the time, stick to what you know to be healthy.
4) Make the salad bar your mainstay. Load your plate up with leafy greens (skip the iceberg), steamed vegetables and then add lean meats – almost every day and night there is roast turkey, pork tenderloin, grilled chicken or fish. Skip sauced foods, fried foods, buttery sauces and mayonnaise salads. Use a modest drizzle of dressing, preferably non-fat, or look for salsa, vinegar and citrus juice to moisture and flavor. Avoid pasta, fries, pizza and burgers – you can get those at home (but of course you shouldn’t). If you travel somewhere unique, enjoy the local flavors – but in moderation. Spaghetti night on a cruise to the Carribbean is not something special.
5) Taste the desserts. Don’t deprive yourself, but go for one that you really want to try. You may find, some just aren’t as good as they look and then, you won’t really feel like you are missing out.
6) Go through the line with a small plate, rather than the huge buffet plates. Visit the line only once, unless you are going back for extra fruit or salad.
7) Drink wisely. A fancy fruity drink may contain between 400 and 600 calories. While once or twice on your trip is fun, once or twice per day is at least one to two extra pounds in a week and that’s if you keep your eating under control. Free champagne also contains calories. If you choose to drink, opt for beer and wine most often.
8) The chocolates on your pillow and the cookies in your room contain calories – especially if you eat your cruise-mates. (Can’t imagine who would do such a thing…)
9) If you eat to “get your money’s worth” think of the money and time you will have to spend undoing the all-you-can-eat damage. Will you have to buy an extra 10 sessions with your trainer (thank you!)? Will you go on a “diet” plan that costs money (i.e., weight watchers or jenny craig)? Do you need a few new clothes because your 12 to 15 lb. gain means you went up a size or two? What about the cost in angst – feeling overweight, unhealthy and out of control?
10) If you have never tuned into your appetite sensors, vacation is the time. You do not have to worry about food not being available later or about fueling intense activity. You do have to worry about eating because it is there and you have little else to do. Before you go to lunch or dinner because it is “being served,” ask yourself – are you really hungry?
I can’t say I have come away from my 7-day Alaskan cruise without gaining weight. I am still on the plane home and haven’t stepped on the scale. I do know I had a few pillow chocolates, had fun in the dessert buffet line, ordered an extra appetizer and enjoyed a martini or two while watching the glaciers calve. But, I also did my best to minimize the damage.