Contrary to popular perception, you can come home much fitter and healthier after a cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

Weight gain on a cruise – why does it happen and does it matter?

Author: Sue Baic

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It’s an oft-quoted 'fact' that cruise passengers put on a pound in weight per day but contrary to popular opinion, cruising can be one of the healthiest holidays around. Sue Blaic, a registered dietitian & cruise enrichment speaker, explains all

I’m sure you agree that one of the highlights of a cruise is the fabulous food and drink on offer. As a registered nutritionist and guest speaker on ships I know too well the challenges of all-inclusive, 24-hour access to food when I want to return without the souvenir of unwanted extra pounds.

Many cruise guests do avoid putting on weight on board and some even lose. However, for those of us who aren’t so lucky the typical gain can be as much as five pounds (2kg) over a two-week vacation.

On a longer trip, anywhere from three weeks to a three-month round-the-world cruise, even small increments will add up. It can start to feel as if the sea air is shrinking our clothes and waistbands with a bit of ‘give’ become our preference.

Of course, we could throw caution to the wind and deal with any weight gain when we get home, but scientific research suggests that prevention may be better than cure. Most of us tend to get heavier as we get older and this doesn’t happen steadily, but rather in bursts often coinciding with specific life events like holidays.

Vacations are good for us in many ways, but studies show that weight increases during these periods account for around half the weight we put on in a typical year. Despite our best intentions many of us struggle to lose it back home so it sticks around refusing to budge!

Menus list low-calorie dishes so you can choose sensibly should you wish. Credit: Virgin Voyages

This suggests some form of ‘damage limitation’ might be worth considering. I often get asked how to do this, but I’ve found very few resources to help with vacation weight gain generally let alone on a cruise. As a result, I’ve spent the last year researching the topic.

The basic laws of energy balance show that whenever we take in more calories than we burn up we store them as fat in our body bank intending to “spend” them later. Sadly, these basic principles still apply on vacation. One day of excess is unlikely to lead to noticeable weight gain, but repeated days can do.

On a ship some of the food will be higher in fat and sugar than we might normally eat. It’s all beautifully presented and very palatable. Dishes may also be served in larger portions than we would usually take leading us to eat more than at home.

In addition, we are often exposed to new foods and a wider variety of tastes and flavours with the temptation to try them all. Once we add in the influences of 24-hour availability and more time and opportunity to eat we start to see the potential risk for weight gain.

There is no reason why you must put weight on on a cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

The good news is a cruise doesn’t seem any more likely than any other similar vacation to lead to weight gain. True we are spoilt for choice and ease of access to food and drink, but the ships also offer some surprising opportunities to help us.

There are many advantages to having eating venues that move with us as we travel rather than us seeking out new locations each day. It’s a bonus to have a helpful crew who are keen to meet our needs. Once we get to know them we feel more comfortable asking for food to be cooked a certain way or for slightly smaller servings of particular items. They also start to anticipate our preferences, so we don’t have to start afresh at each new meal.

Relatively small changes or adjustments to what we eat on board can make a big difference to the likelihood of gaining weight. The variety of food and drink on board works in our favour and being a bit more conscious of the type of food we order for at least some of our meals can have surprising benefits. If we want them there are delicious lower fat and sugar options and plenty of fruit and vegetables readily available. These remove much of the effort healthy eating would take at home and give us an alternative to limit overall intake.

If the ingredients in a dish are unclear it’s easy to ask the waiting staff. They are very well-informed about the contents of their menu, happy to help and may even be able to suggest substitutions or modifications to reduce the fat content of our order if we wish.

We could even think about sharing a side of fries or a dessert rather than a whole portion since first few mouthfuls will usually taste the best. Once the appetite hormones kick in again they start to decrease the pleasure registered in the brain.

It's perfectly possible to avoid putting on weight on a cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

It’s neither realistic nor necessary to cut snacks out altogether to avoid weight gain but it can sometimes help think ahead and limit the quantities of some of the extras that might catch our eye. Energy intake from these can soon add up.

It makes sense to plan snacks, saving them for when we really fancy them and choosing something we will really enjoy. When we take time to sit down, savour the food and minimise distractions, we maximise pleasure and make it more memorable.

It’s also worth exploring the excellent range of sports facilities or dance classes, the gym, the walking track on the promenade deck or even some active shore excursions that can all help us be a bit more energetic.

Regular activity can be a useful part of the toolbox for weight control. It helps regulate appetite and burns calories whilst we do it and for some time afterwards. If we find enjoyable activities we are more likely to stick with them and they can become regular habits back home.

Sue’s new book Travelling Light: 50 Bite Size Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain on a Cruise Vacation is now available as an eBook (£3.99) or paperback (£6.99).

We have three copies of Sue's book to give away. To enter, simply email [email protected] by May 31, 2024. Good luck!

Sue Blaic's new book is out now. Credit: Sue Blaic
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