Come Sail Away and Don’t Gain an Ounce

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Nora Saul, M.S., R.D., C.D.E.

This editorial is by Nora Saul,  M.S., R.D., C.D.E.

The challenge: Take a seven-day cruise to the Western Caribbean aboard a floating hotel with an all you can eat prepaid 24-hour a day meal service and maintain boarding weight, while not feeling deprived of a potentially stupendous culinary experience.

The contestant: Yours truly, Nora Saul, diabetes educator by trade, food lover by choice, hampered with a medically imposed dietary restriction.

My adversaries: Perpetual food availability, the Grand dining room serving five-course meals every night, a bottomless cafeteria displaying endless rows of tempting cuisine from around the globe, four specialty restaurants ranging from a steak house, Italian pavilion, middle-eastern/vegetarian café and a seafood emporium, (not to mention a Panini bar, a crepe house, a gelato stand, a patisserie, cappuccino bar and, of course, the ubiquitous poolside hamburger joint). I haven’t even discussed the range of adult only liquid offerings, but they weren’t allowed on my mealplan anyway.

However, these barriers were trifles compared to the big guns: accompanying me on this trip was my husband, who believes one isn’t getting value unless one takes full advantage of what is offered.

All aboard. The first night we were tired from our flight and didn’t feel like dressing for the dining room. The buffet awaited: Indian, Italian, Mexican, American comfort food, a carving station. The aromas were incendiary, at least to the gustatory appetite.

After rushing around with an empty plate hither and yon, I finally settled on the Asian stir fry- chicken, vegetables and rice noodles, in some type of tangy soy sauce and two mini apple tarts.  (Did you think I was going for the fruit?) Not too bad, considering.

Next up-breakfast. We went to the dining room. Now at home I have yogurt and fruit or oatmeal, but I am here to enjoy myself (within reason, right?) so I had one slice of French Toast, one small waffle, two slices of bacon and fruit with tea. I avoided the eggs Benedict and the mountains of sumptuous pastries calling to me from my husband’s plate.  I stopped eating before I was full and when I got up from the table, I wasn’t stuffed. (Good sign! My own tried and true method for avoiding excess calorie intake.)

We went back to the cafeteria for lunch. This time I went for the hot meal of pork loin, potatoes, asparagus and a salad. I skipped dessert—or rather I delayed it (absence makes the heart grow fonder) and had a small gelato in the afternoon.

Dinner in the dining room. Five courses is a lot, so I didn’t have all of them. I chose the fruit cup to start, skipped the next two courses, and selected the trout with the beurre blanc sauce on the side, and a single (medium-sized) peanut butter cookie. It wasn’t on the menu, but I had spied them upstairs at the patisserie earlier. It is amazing what you can achieve by politely asking the right questions—quick chat with the maître-d and I had the dope on which selections would cause the least damage to the waist line as well as that peanut butter cookie of my dreams.  He was wonderfully well informed and able to guide me to lower fat, lower calorie selections, without limiting me to plain broiled chicken breast (heaven forbid!).

We went on like this for the next two days, with my trying to compromise between desire and the desired outcome…and then I discovered the Aqua spa, the cruise’s own answer to healthy eating. I don’t compromise—if it tastes like straw, I won’t touch it. Food has to taste good. The Aqua spa was great. Reasonable portions of imaginatively seasoned enticing food–Poached salmon with a quinoa salad, whole grain bread sticks and a blueberry aspic for dessert. Too bad it was open only for breakfast and lunch. I still had to maneuver the dining room and my husband’s late night forays to the cappuccino bar.

The last day came and I weighed in. I hit the mark, no extra pounds! It wasn’t easy, but I learned a lot.

What helped? Making my needs known to the staff, taking advantage of the healthy options available and climbing the stairs constantly allowed me to indulge my culinary whims. The ship we were on had fifteen stories. Our cabin was on deck seven; every where we went it was either up or down.

In addition to the stairs, I made use of the all the opportunities to move on the ship. When you are home there are a million things more that get in the way of exercising. But not on a ship. There is no folding the laundry, or hurrying to work, or getting the kids ready for school. They make it so easy to exercise; you don’t have to go anywhere, and aside from the usual gym equipment, there was yoga, Pilates, spinning class, zumba and the daily dance classes. I learned to cha, cha. And this is before the exercise I got on the off-ship excursions.

Hey, with a bit of strategic planning, I bet you could actually lose weight on a cruise!

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