No one — or almost no one — goes on a cruise expecting to lose weight. (A few specialty cruises do prepare diet or vegan meals intended to at least not add weight).
My friend Ed, a baby boomer who has struggled with a weight problem for years, has recently dropped 32 pounds through a strict diet averaging 1,300 calories a day supplemented by a vigorous walking routine. When I saw him a couple of months ago, I was impressed by his new look and his discipline at the dinner table.
He and his wife just got back from a Celebrity cruise in the Mediterranean that sorely tested his resolve, however. So I asked him how the diet went onboard, and here was his reply:
“The most difficult aspect of the trip for me was staying true to my year-old nutrition program. Having the chance to eat and drink 18 hours a day is a very tough assignment. I started every day with a cappuccino & a light fresh-baked pastry around 6 a.m. After waking my wife around 8:30, we had breakfast (eggs Benedict) in the dining room. Days were either spent reading and people-watching in the adult pool area or on a shore excursion. Local menus were fully enjoyed. If on ship, I only visited the cheeseburger café twice!
“I began each evening with a martini on one of several ship bars or cocktail lounges. Dinner in the dining room was always great with friendly tablemates and a great wait staff. I tried – and failed – not to have dessert each night. We also visited the three onboard specialty restaurants four times. The high-class gourmet spot – Murano – was one of the finest restaurants I have ever experienced. We dined there twice, with table-side lobster and filet mignon dishes among my favorites. The Grand Marnier soufflé was one of the very best desserts ever!
“While I haven’t added up the caloric damage yet, my guess is I went from about 1,300/day to around 1,800. I gained back about four pounds.
“As for exercise, better news. When on ship, I power-walked at least 30 minutes each day. When ashore, I averaged better than 120 minutes at a solid pace. I also walked about 30 minutes at JFK both coming & going.”
I would guess that Ed’s experience is pretty typical of most people on diets who go on cruises. It’s a tough assignment — so much temptation everywhere you look.
But it is temporary, and maybe taking a break from a strict diet can be justified for one week on a cruise — as long as you get back to your regular routine when it’s over.
Ed’s wife, Teeda, gave him this encouragement while they were walking the old city walls of Dubrovnik, in Croatia, which takes about two hours (and, by the way, is one of my top five “things to do” recommendations in all of Europe):
“You could never have done it a year — and 30 pounds — ago.”
Ed acknowledges that she’s right, and has this advice for others struggling with weight problems and being out of shape: “Those who want to get more from travel — shape up now. You’ll double your enjoyment of experiencing the destinations.”
Teeda wanted to be sure I gave Celebrity credit where it’s due: “There was a huge amount of food on the ship, but lots of choices,” she says. “One day I had fish at all 3 meals! There was also a spot that offered smoothies, salads, yogurt. The topper for me was a very overweight man on a scooter, hooked up to oxygen, eating a huge bowl of ice cream. Something for everyone!”
Ed also said that there were people at their dinner table who had pre-ordered vegetarian and “heart healthy” options and received them as requested.
So I’m not suggesting for a moment that cruise ships stop royally feeding their passengers — except to offer more low-cal options than perhaps the typical cruise line does. Could that be used as a marketing tool? I’m not sure. The words “cruise” and “food” have become almost synonymous.
But as more and more baby boomers fight the battle of the bulge, undergo hip and knee replacements and find it harder and harder to walk long distances, I do agree with Ed that getting into better shape before taking any trip — whether it’s a cruise or, certainly, an adventure trip that will require a substantial amount of walking or hiking — will do wonders in increasing your enjoyment.
Having lavish buffets and multiple bars on cruise ships while also offering onboard gyms, climbing walls and walking loops may seem like a contradiction of sorts, but it at least provides some balance.
My own solution, though, is much like Ed’s: if you indulge in the dining room and at the martini bar, go out and walk some walls. Then walk some more. You may still gain some weight, but you can stay in shape and not fall too far behind in your regimen.
What do you think, readers? Do cruises pose too much temptation to dieters? Is it OK to go off your diet “Just for a week”? I’d love to hear from other readers struggling with this issue — and whether or not cruise lines could benefit by marketing alternative dining options for those trying to lose weight or coping with diabetes or other health problems.
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