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How Not to Gain Weight on a Cruise

Janice Wald Henderson

Last updated
Aug 21, 2018

Maintaining weight when cruising is not a pipe dream. Sure, dining is a cruise highlight, tempting us nearly everywhere we turn. While national recommendations on keeping pounds off are constantly evolving -- and sometimes contradictory -- a combination of common sense and helpful tips can keep you from overeating on your next vacation.

We've got the secrets to success and are happy to share our best tips on how not to gain weight on a cruise. Pick some or all as guidelines, and get ready to applaud yourself on the post-cruise scale.

On This Page

  • In the Dining Room
  • At Specialty Restaurants
  • At the Pool Grill
  • At the Buffet
  • Room Service
  • Snacktime
  • At the Bar
  • At the Gym

In the Dining Room

Main dining rooms offer -- and servers encourage -- multicourse meals. Here are some tips to avoid overeating.

Minimize courses. Don't order an appetizer, soup, salad, entree _and _dessert every night. Stick to two or three courses to limit caloric intake. Agree with travel companions to order the same number of courses. Otherwise, a planned two-course meal can become four. Even if you limit yourself while others order more, you could find yourself reaching for the bread basket again while waiting for them to finish. Choose one meal per day to splurge, and eat mindfully at others.

Order "spa" dishes. Select the spa dinner menu -- especially if you ate a pancake breakfast and lunchtime burger. Or, order one or two spa courses, and indulge in one dish on the regular menu. Think balance, not deprivation.

Go easy on the bread. Tell the server no bread basket. Or, take one roll (whole-grain, preferably) and request the basket's removal (or that the server not bring it round a second time). Unless you are gluten-intolerant, skip gluten-free bread. You may think it's healthier, but it often has more calories than regular bread.

Limit sauces, creams and dressings. Avoid salads with cream-based dressings. Same goes for cream-based soups. When you do order salad dressing, request it on the side. Add sparingly, or dip your fork into the dressing, and then the salad. The flavor comes through with way less calories. Do the same with sauces.

Avoid high-calorie vegetarian dishes. Vegetarian isn't synonymous with low-calorie. Many such dishes contain rich dairy. Nut-based vegan meals can be high-calorie, too.

Win with fish. Stick to fish, preferably grilled or broiled. If sauteed, ask the chef to minimize oil or butter.

Dress the part. Avoid wearing elastic-waist pants and other loose-fitting clothes to meals. They make overindulging extra-easy.

Cut your calories in half by splitting your pasta.
Cut your calories in half by splitting your pasta. (Photo: Cruise Critic)

At Specialty Restaurants

Specialty restaurants are geared for indulgence, and, of course, we want to try everything. Here's how to dine mindfully at typical alternative eateries.

At the Italian restaurant: Order whole-grain or high-protein pasta, if available. Fill up on low-calorie soup, like minestrone. Stick to tomato-based, not cream, sauces; some sauces, with innocent-sounding names like vodka or pink sauce, contain cream. Ask before ordering. Split a pasta for a first course, and order fish or other lean protein as an entree. Instead of dessert, order a skinny cappuccino and enjoy the mini biscotti accompanying it.

At the pan-Asian venue: Seek steamed dishes; they are among the most healthful. Skip high-calorie peanut sauces for dishes like Thai satay. Avoid fried food, such as egg rolls, orange beef and lemon chicken; dishes named "crispy," like crispy beef or shrimp, are also fried. Pick steamed and baked dumplings, and skip potstickers. They're crisped in oil on one side. If watching sodium intake, avoid soy sauce-based dishes. Request low-sodium soy sauce for the table.

At the Japanese restaurant: Fill up on sashimi and limit rice-based rolls.Avoid "spicy sauce" on a sushi menu; it's made with mayonnaise. Choose teriyaki over tempura. Tempura tastes light, but it's still fried.

At the steakhouse: Onion soup sounds healthful, but has a thick cheese and bread topping. Order it plain; ask for a little grated cheese on top, instead. If calorie-giant Caesar salad calls your name, compromise. Request dressing on the side, and skip or eat half the croutons. Use dressing sparingly. Order lean meats, like filet mignon, over fattier cuts, such as New York strip steak or prime rib. If steaks are huge, share one. No one needs to eat 16 ounces of beef.

Forgo or share mashed potatoes -- so much butter and cream are whipped in. Enjoy a baked potato topped with seasoning and chives. Or, ask for plain yogurt as a sour cream substitute. If you crave "the works," add toppings yourself. Servers can overload spuds, upping calories. Avoid calorie-laden vegetables, like creamed spinach. Choose steamed spinach or grilled asparagus, instead.

Take your burger with lettuce instead of a bun for a lighter lunch.
Take your burger with lettuce instead of a bun for a lighter lunch. (Photo: lauro55/

At the Pool Grill

Here are five cool ways to munch lunch when the aroma of sizzling burgers proves irresistible.

Go low-carb. Order burgers wrapped in lettuce rather than a bun. Or, order normally, and eat only half the bun.

Look beyond beef. Try turkey or vegetarian burgers; they typically have fewer calories than beef.

Limit toppings. Choose raw onions over sauteed. Skip "special sauces," which typically contain mayonnaise.

Be smart about sides. Avoid fried sides like French fries and onion rings. Or, ask for a half-order and share. Ask for a small burger, if possible, and fill the rest of your plate with salad and fresh fruit.

Lean toward healthy options when eating in the buffet.
Lean toward healthy options when eating in the buffet. (Photo: Cruise Critic)

At the Buffet

Buffets are tough. Taste a little here and there, and suddenly, you've consumed three plates of food. Avoid buffets, if possible, if you're looking to decrease your caloric intake or follow these tips.

Load up on healthy options. Pile your plate high with fresh salads -- especially raw or grilled vegetables -- and poached seafood. You'll fill up on healthy choices and won't have much room left for fried or fatty foods. Choose entrees such as grilled chicken breasts and fish, and pass on heavy meats, like barbecued ribs.

Go easy on dessert. Fresh fruit is the obvious dessert choice, but next best is sorbet, angel food cake or _one _cookie. Or, pick a sole sweet for table sharing.

Start your day right. At breakfast, egg white omelets and frittatas are protein-rich healthy choices (avoid or limit cheese). If egg whites bum you out, order a "half-and-half" omelete with an equal amount of whole eggs and egg whites. It tastes traditional, just lighter.

Opt for a light breakfast when ordering room service.
Opt for a light breakfast when ordering room service. (Photo: April Turner/

Room Service

Eating anything at 3 a.m. is not a good idea for your vacation weight loss plan. If you must dine in your cabin, here are a few ways to keep it healthy.

Turn down turndown service. If nightly turndown chocolates are an amenity, ask the steward to not deliver them.

Hide the menu. Tuck the room service menu into a drawer. When it's on display, it's easy to spontaneously order cheeseburgers and ice cream sundaes delivered to the cabin -- especially if they're free.

Don't go crazy at breakfast. When ordering breakfast in -- always handy on early-morning shore excursion days -- forget about calorie-whopper croissants and blueberry muffins. Order whole-grain toast or a spa muffin, instead. (And pass or skimp on butter; sparingly add a little jam.)

Order healthy options. Enjoy a salad or a healthful sandwich, like turkey on seven-grain bread, for a lunchtime meal on that beautiful balcony. Ask for fruit or salad, instead of fries, for a side. Eat half the bread.

Saying 'no thank you' is always an option when snacks are offered.
Saying 'no thank you' is always an option when snacks are offered. (Photo: pathdoc/


Between-meal munching is the gateway to unwanted pounds. Here's how you can minimize snacking's caloric bomb.

Walk. If you crave a snack, force yourself to walk to it instead of picking up the phone and asking for food to come to you. Hopefully, your treat is sitting on a buffet a few decks (take the stairs) and a long stroll away. Grab just what you came for, ignore the many goodies on display and head back to your cabin to enjoy your "room service."

Don't go nuts. When enjoying a pre- or post-dinner drink, skip the bar nuts or snack mix and request crudites. Or, take a tiny handful of nuts and have the bowl removed.

Choose yogurt. Order nonfat frozen yogurt rather than ice cream when you crave a cool treat. At the ice cream bar, skip toppings or limit them to fresh fruit. Have only one scoop, and no cone. Should you ignore all of the above, eat spa cuisine that night.

Limit afternoon tea. Those scones with clotted cream and jam -- to say nothing of sandwiches and cake -- pile on pounds, more so if you go to tea every day. Indulge once to savor the experience. On other days, stop by for tea alone.

Save on calories with diet soda.
Save on calories with diet soda. (Photo: Paul Velgos/

At the Bar

It's easy to drink too much on alcohol-included or prepaid beverage-package cruises, so think about what you choose. Even if you're ordering a la carte, here are some rules to live by.

Choose lower-calorie drinks. Avoid cocktails, particularly tropical drinks served in jumbo glasses; they're crazy-high in calories. Choose light beer over traditional. Order low-calorie spirits like vodka. Infused vodkas are great; ingredients like pepper or citrus add flavor, not calories. Or sip spritzers -- white wine mixed with club soda.

Limit your pours. Allow yourself one bar drink and one dinnertime glass of wine. On alcohol-included cruises, watch servers who keep topping off glasses. One glass easily turns into three with good service. Skip after-dinner drinks or choose a light liqueur. Nightcaps like White Russians can have more than 400 calories.

Order the skinny latte. Many ships and riverboats have specialty coffee self-serve machines; these beverages often contain whole milk or cream, and sometimes, artificial flavoring. Request specialty coffee skinny-style (nonfat milk), where it's prepared to order. Besides, the cookie plate sits by the machine -- if you avoid the machine, you won't be tempted to grab an oatmeal raisin or snickerdoodle.

Say no to soda. Need a midday pick-me-up? Have caffeinated iced or green tea instead of soda. Or consider diet sodas; they're not exactly healthy but they are calorie-free.

Make sure to stay active on your cruise.
Make sure to stay active on your cruise. (Photo: Cruise Critic)

At the Gym

When you want to indulge a little at mealtime, burning calories beforehand tips the scale in your favor. Even if you're not a gym rat, you can still make exercise fun.

Walk. If you don't like fitness centers, walk or jog on deck. At sunrise and sunset, the views are peerless. Climb stairs; don't take elevators. On bigger ships, with multitudes of decks, it's a workout.

Exercise early. Hit the gym in the morning. Delay it, and a busy day gets in the way of good intentions.

Start small. Feeling too tired or jetlagged to exercise? Commit to a 10-minute workout. Once you get moving, you may wind up doubling or tripling the time.

Get in the pool. Use the pool, even if you don't love swimming. Walk or jog in place, tread water or hold on to the side and kick your legs. It's low-impact and rewarding.

Be active ashore. Sign up for energetic excursions, such as snorkeling, kayaking or hiking. Even a beginner's horseback ride still works core and leg muscles. On barges and riverboats, or cruise lines like SeaDream, take a bicycle out for a spin. Even if you can't do active tours, choose walking, rather than bus, tours for sightseeing options that also burn calories.

Publish date August 21, 2018
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