Avoiding Permanent Weight Gain from Cruising

A recent Swedish medical study indicates that even a few weeks of over indulging, binge eating with little activity, can lead to permanent weight gain. For those of us who love to cruise, a cruise with unlimited food and days spent laying by the pool may sound all too similar to the circumstances of this study. However, for those of us who wish to break the pattern for permanent weight gain from cruising, the Swedish study may hold some answers.

The Study

In this study, participants of healthy weight were asked to reduce all activity to less than 5000 steps per day, (considered sedentary) and to increase their caloric intake by 70%. That scenario could indeed be what many cruisers do, relaxing by the pool all day and putting more than their normal intake of food on the buffet plate or enjoying a sinful dessert. In the study most participants ate fast food meals twice a day to increase their calorie intake which is perhaps somewhat different than gourmet cruise food. In the study the increased calorie/reduce activity participants gained an average of around 14 lbs. Participants in control group who did not increase their calories or decrease their activities showed no change in weight over this time period. In six months time, many of the binge eaters had lost the most of the weight, around 11-13 lbs. However, the researchers were most interested in the long term effects of periodic binge eating. Researcher continued to track both groups for two years. The effects two years later were perhaps the most amazing. The people in the control group tended to maintain the original weight, while the binge eaters continued to gain weight, had a higher percentage of body fat and had less healthy (higher) LDL cholesterol levels. The study seems to indicate that short term behavior changes can have lasting detrimental effects on our bodies’ metabolisms and perhaps our long term eating habits.

What Cruisers Can Learn

The lessons that cruisers can learn from this example is that while a cruise can be a great opportunity to relax and indulge, some activity and restraint should be applied in order to avoid long term weight gain. The old thought that one might just kick back and indulge for a week and then take the weight off upon return may no longer be the wisest course.

This study seems to indicate that maintaining a high level of activity even when on vacation is one element in long term weight management. Many cruise lines now emphasize their active lifestyle amenities. Royal Caribbean offers ice skating, inline skating, rock climbing, and sports courts on many of their ships. Carnival and Norwegian Epic feature water parks with multiple slides and most importantly, stairs to climb to get to them. Holland America is known for their wrap around promenades which double of walking tracks for those who wish to walk a mile or two every day. Most ships have full size, full service gyms. Sometimes classes are free of charge, others have a surcharge, but almost always the treadmills, elliptical equipment and weights are available for use at no extra charge. During port days cruisers can engage in “active” activities like walking in town, strolling on the beach, swimming, snorkeling and even bike riding. For those who enjoy night life, cruise ships afford many opportunities for social, ballroom, line or disco dancing. Some cruisers choose to take the stairs upon every opportunity rather than use the elevators. The important element, is to maintain at least the same level of activity in which you would engage in at home.

While maintaining a reasonable level of activity even while on vacation may help to avoid permanent weight gain, applying some moderation in food consumption may also help cruisers from gaining a life changing amount of weight while on their cruise. There are several ways of managing the amount of food consumed on a cruise. The binge eating study participants ate fast food to increase their caloric intake. Most traditional fast foods are high in two areas that provide its increased caloric quantity, fat and simple carbohydrates, in the form of burgers, buns, fried chicken, french fries and sugary fatty desserts. One way is to avoid these extra calories is to continue a weight management diet while on your cruise.

Those who are on a specific weight loss or weight management plan like Weight Watchers, can strive to stay with in the limits of their plan and utilize that program’s tips while cruising. For example some of the tips suggested to cruisers by Weight Watchers include ordering sauce and dressings on the side, eating lots of green leafy salad type vegetables, and just having a few bites of desert rather the whole serving. If you are currently enrolled in a weight loss or weight management program be sure to discuss cruise strategies with your weight loss counselors. Those who are on a reduced carbohydrate diet can fill up on a salad for a first course and order their entree’s minus the pasta, rice and potato. For desert they can request items like mixed berries with an artificial sweetener instead of cake or ice cream. Instead of rolls or bread sticks, they can request something like celery and bell peppers with ranch dressing be brought to the table.

For cruisers who are not on a formal program, tips like only having one or two buffet items, avoiding fried food and ordering off the spa menu may help them control the amount of caloric intake. The menus usually include up to five courses per night, so one strategy is to have a salad and entree one night, an appetizer, soup, and small dessert another, and other combinations that lower the overall amount of food consumed. Another tip is to eat until you are full and feel free to leave food on the plate. It is just as much a waste of food to over indulge as it is to leave part of an entree on a plate. Cruisers should also watch out for liquid calories in sweet drinks, cocktails, beer, and wine. Enjoying these beverages in moderation can also prevent excess weight gain.

Lesson from this Study

The results of this study seem to indicate that those of us who desire to maintain a long term healthy weight, the days of thinking “I’ll loose it when I get home” may be over. However, if cruisers maintain the same level of activity in which they participate at home and restrain themselves from overeating too much, they can still enjoy all the wonderful aspects of a cruise vacation and come home refreshed and renewed.