Healthy Eating On the High Seas

In a few months, we’re going on vacation. The same vacation we’ve taken four years in a row, a Disney cruise.

We’ve taken this trip over and over for the same reasons: our kids are still little enough to believe Mickey is a real friend to them and they genuinely delight in the organized, sanitized magic of it all, I’ve figured out many tricks to maintain my sanity among the masses (separate post about that in the future), and there is a kids’ club where they can be checked in to spend hours and hours a day, exhausting themselves in supervised Disney fun, while I relax in the spa and Spouse naps in the sun. Bliss.

Someday, we’ll do an adventurous trip to, say, Nepal, but that’s not happening right now. This crew? Forget it.

Cruises get bad raps for legitimate reasons. I get it. I really do. I would not want to aimlessly float for days at sea in a toilet-less incapacitated ship, for sure.

Food is almost always one of the things people complain about when they deride cruising.

To quote Woody Allen in “Annie Hall:”

There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Except that on cruises, the portions are ginormous. Quality can still be meh, as this is food prepared for the masses, not by a private chef. But one thing’s for sure: there are opportunities to eat 24/7.

So how do you stay healthy and avoid weight gain on a vacation like this?

My friend A., a dietitian, coach and my fitness inspiration, just came back from a cruise, and I asked her how she stayed slim and sane. Her tips:

• Pack a healthy mindset.
• Be active: take the stairs, use the track on the sun deck, rock climb, golf, play basketball.
• Go to the spa and relax. Enjoy some lemon or cucumber infused water.
• My top pick…Use side salad plates rather than the buffet platter. Be sensible with your portions. Don’t put yourself into a food coma.
• Don’t order room service for breakfast before you go to the dining room for breakfast [Sidenote from me: This is a thing? I didn’t realize people even could or would do this. Wow].
• Always choose the salad option as a starter. Order your dressing on the side.
• Cruise lines pride themselves in service so ASK how things are prepared and if you can get a substitution for a healthier option.
• Ask your waiter not to bring bread before dinner…that’s a meal in itself.
• Order double vegetables.
• Seafood is usually a healthy option but make sure it’s not swimming in butter or cream sauce
• Bring healthy foods with you like raw nuts, protein bars, Shakeology (protein drink)
• Avoid the umbrella drinks. A 7oz pina colada has 500 calories and 17 g fat. Opt for vodka with a splash of juice or a Corona light for 110 calories.
• Be mindful. Stay in the moment. Practice conscious eating.
Did I mention you should pack a healthy mindset?

Thank you, A!

I really appreciate this advice. Some of the things I do:

  • Run on the deck. Every day. It’s fun and challenging, as one side usually has a terrific headwind and the other a tailwind. Go as early in the morning as possible to avoid languid shuffle boarders.
  • Take the stairs. Elevator lines are often long when everyone is trying to get to the same place, like a show or dinner. Take the stairs! You could easily tally 20 or 30 flights a day if you just walk up and down.
  • Eat things that are special or unique, and try to avoid things that are easily available at home (unless you are hungry for it and it is a healthy choice, like fresh fruit). Last year I signed up for a chocolate and wine tasting, and this was worth it!
  • Stop eating things that don’t taste good. Last year I found myself eating stale tortilla chips and lame salsa at a late-night buffet, and I thought, ick, this is gross. I tossed it. I felt a tiny bit of guilt for the waste, but it wasn’t worth the calories to keep eating. Just walk away.
  • Better moral of the above story would be to avoid the late-night buffet altogether and eat only at regular mealtimes.
  • But don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry. A frequent pattern for us is that I will wake up the earliest, before everyone else (a curse of doctor-dom, waking at the crack of dawn after so many years of practice), and quietly head out to run on the deck for an hour or so. By the time I get back, the rest of the crew is waking up, and then it still takes a bit of time to get everyone presentable enough to show up for breakfast. This usually puts us in the position of eating much, much later than usual, and when lunchtime rolls around shortly thereafter, I’m usually not into it. I might have a snack later in the afternoon so that I’m not famished at dinner, but if I’m not hungry for lunch, I don’t force it.
  • Stay hydrated. With water. Bring your own water bottle and use it.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol during the day. Just because it’s five o’clock somewhere doesn’t mean it’s cocktail hour on the boat.

P.S. Here’s some more sensible advice for cruising here and here.

 

Lean and Mean for 2014

Hmm, what should I eat?

On Sunday night, I got home late from a weekend trip to run in this race (more below), and I found myself staring into the refrigerator and silently asking that exact question.

But notice: “What should I eat?” is very different from “What do I want to eat?”

Want: M&Ms. Tortilla chips. Pizza delivered to my doorstep.

Should: Well, really just about anything else than what’s listed above.

I know this. I do. But like most people, I wax and wane on how stringent I am in applying this template.

I really admire my friend Amy, who is a dietitian and fitness/wellness coach. She is very inspirational and always walks the talk. When it comes to clean eating and healthy living for her whole family, she’s got it going on. Thankfully she includes me in a wellness group and often sends poignant quotes, ideas or recipes (even for feeble me!) my way. Thanks, Amy! I really strive to apply her 80/20 principle, which is to eat well 80% of the time and leave 20% for (responsible) indulgences. The main problem is that if I am honest with myself, I’ve spent more time in 20/80 mode than 80/20.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve also been able to catch up on some magazine reading during my two cross country flights. A few blurbs got my attention. One was from the back page of this month’s Self (or was it Fitness? Sorry). I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist was that a friend of a celebrity asked said celebrity – known for her famously fit body – how she did it. Answer? She exercised for health and well-being, but what really made a difference is that when it came to diet, she didn’t cheat. Ever. Celebrity: “You know how you are doing really well and then you go on vacation or to a special restaurant and you go all out? I don’t. Ever.”

A second essay that spoke to me basically said this: Yeah, we all know it and don’t want to admit it, but 90% of how you look is what you eat. My good friend D. and I were talking about this point last week. D. recently completed a fitness evaluation and was – on the eve of a milestone birthday – deemed supremely fit for his age and was significantly leaner than when he previously did the eval five years ago. His numbers were enviable. How did he do it? Exercise was a key component, but he also changed the way he eats, particularly portion size and not stuffing himself to the point of discomfort. (Me: Guilty, Your Honor).

So where does this leave me? As I mentioned above, I ran the Tinkerbell half marathon at Disneyland (part of a series of races sponsored by Disney, which I will extensively post about in the near future) on January 19th. Conditions were perfect, the race went well, I felt strong and the miles quickly flew by. I was #1055 out of 11,490 runners.

But – I was six minutes slower than last year. Granted, last year I was slightly younger and in better shape, but I also weighed about 10 pounds less. Reportedly, every pound lost can yield 2 seconds faster per mile, so 10 lbs x 2 seconds x 13.1 miles = Nearly the whole time deficit. Ugh. To top it off, every pound lost also results in 4 pounds less stress on the knees, and mine have recently started complaining after more than 25 years of running. Double ugh.

So it’s time to do something about it. Here’s my plan:

  • Weigh myself every day. Numbers don’t lie!
  • Drink at least 64 oz of water every day (if you recall, one of my New Year’s Resolutions).
  • Almost entirely avoid alcohol (I already started doing this back in November for other reasons, and I feel great. I used to love a big ol’ glass of wine at night, and at first, I missed it – a lot – but now, not at all. And I sleep a lot better).
  • Continue to run, add new types of exercise, including stretching and some basic body weight exercises (think lunges and push ups) every day.
  • Here’s the hardest one for me: Be accountable for portions. Document calories. Budget them. Spend and save where appropriate.

Not really sexy, but it’s sensible. Now please excuse me while I fill up my water bottle.