When most people think of a cruise, they think of the ocean, fun drinks, and of course, tons of amazing food. Even if you have never been on a cruise, you may have heard about the legendary midnight chocolate buffets where fancy desserts, ice sculptures, and chocolate fountains are laid out on an altar to gluttony. So where does healthy eating fall into the equation? For most people, healthy eating is not even a thought beyond the first five minutes. And with good reason! It is overwhelming to constantly have tempting options right there for the taking. Everyone else is loading up their plates with stacks of pancakes, bacon, eggs, corned beef hash, roasted potatoes and french toast with syrup! So why shouldn’t you grab a plate and join in, right?! And that’s just breakfast.
But this isn’t my first rodeo. On several past cruises, I did indulge with no restrictions. I’ve had the “fun” of the eating frenzy, with the resultant bloat, tight clothing by the end of the cruise, weight gain, and constipation. This time, however, I wanted to challenge myself to a new way of cruising.
For this challenge, I defined healthy eating as eating slow carbs and low/no sugar or sugar substitutes. By slow carbs, I mean minimizing the consumption of white flour, white rice, and pasta and choosing whole grains like brown rice and quinoa when possible instead. This included swapping white potatoes, which are high on the glycemic index for sweet potatoes, which are ironically lower on the GI. I also included healthy movement and moderate alcohol into the mix.
If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’ve talked about this way of eating. I mostly refer to the book Always Hungry? by Dr. David Ludwig, a practicing endocrinologist and researcher who works at Boston Children’s Hospital. What I like the most about the Always Hungry? approach is it’s moderation. I could never do a low carb diet long term. What AH offers, however, is an eminently doable slow carb lifestyle that is not low in fat or ridiculously high in protein. All of that is to offer the context of what I’ll be talking about in terms of healthy eating.
So bottom line- how did I do? Wellllll…. for the most part, I accomplished my goals. Let’s break it down by category, shall we?
This was generally the easiest meal of the day to eat healthfully, as eggs in all their variety are a solid choice and plenty of fresh fruit abounds to provide some slow carbs. What was most disappointing was the lack of options. Because regular oats are fairly highly processed, I didn’t want to choose them very often. At home, I only eat steel cut oats. Also at home, I frequently have full fat plain greek yogurt. The closest thing I could find was low fat plain regular yogurt. All of the other options had added sugar and sweetened fruit. So by day 6, I was mightily sick of eggs and decided to branch out and have some (highly processed) oatmeal with honey and fruit. On day 7, I had some muesli, which was quite tasty, but surely had sweetened yogurt and processed oats.
I was disappointed in the dairy selections. There was whole milk available in cartons to drink, but the only half and half option was in those little individual containers and there was no cream offered at all. So if you are accustomed to cream in your coffee, brace yourself for disappointment, even in the dining room at night.
I only ended up having one lunch, which was the first meal when we arrived on ship. There were lots of healthy protein options, tons of fresh veggies and fruit, but disappointingly, not many slow carbs or legumes, aside from the major score of finding chickpeas.
Tim and I found that if we had a later breakfast, then we were plenty full until our dinner time of 5:30. Skipping lunch was one way of ensuring that we were actually hungry when it was time to eat again. If you know me in real life, you know that I NEVER skip a meal, ha! But on each cruise in the past, I would often head into the next meal out of habit instead of hunger. Being intentional about waiting to eat until I was hungry was a major victory for me in terms of health on this trip.
The only other time we had lunch was when we were in port at Cozumel. We had to stop and have some yummy Mexican food. I had a chicken enchilada and Tim had bean and cheese nachos. Of course, we had plenty of cerveza to wash it down.
Here comes the temptations!! Freshly baked rolls of all types and desserts galore! Sigh. I was surprisingly easily able to pass on the bread rolls before the meals. I’m actually pretty much a bread snob. You know what I missed most? The butter.
Dinner each night came with an appetizer, main course, and dessert. The appetizers were all so excellent. I’m kind of a soup aficionado, so that was my go to most nights.
At home, I don’t eat a lot of red meat, or meat in generally, typically. But on this cruise, I was all about the meat. I had duck, lamb two times, and several cuts of beef. They were so tender and flavorful. I do suspect that the sauces and marinades had sugar in them, however. There was not much I could do to avoid that, so I just rolled with it. Most of the sides were vegetables with some higher glycemic polenta or mashed potatoes. Those, I sampled a bite of and then skipped. One night, I was pleasantly surprised to have mashed parsnips, which made me very happy! I think several people at the table ate them, not realizing that they weren’t mashed potatoes.
Now let’s get to the desserts. Sigh. I tried, ya’ll. I really did. The first night, I got the fruit, which was beautiful, but honestly, disappointing. We also got coffee each evening, so I tried adding cream from the coffee to the fruit, but realized very quickly that it was not real cream. Bummer. I had a dessert each night, except for the one night I had two! Ha! But it all balanced out because the following night I didn’t have any.
Not pictured is the amazing key lime pie and a few nights where I had a scoop of ice cream. Oh well, you win some, you lose some!
I wanted to make sure that I included exercise on this cruise, so I signed up for spin class when they offered it each sea day. The first two classes were an excellent hour of sweat and fun. I felt like a million bucks afterwards, even though I felt pretty much like a martyr before class. Ha! The last sea day, I skipped class so I could spend the last day with my hubby, and I was fine with that decision. Exercise is something that I do on a regular basis at home, and I knew that workouts awaited me when I got back to land. We did take the stairs often, both going up and down. The wait at the elevators was looong, so most times we just gave up and hoofed it up.
I had one cocktail each afternoon. Most times, it was my current favorite of kahlua and cream. One afternoon, I had a toasted almond martini for old times sake. That was my favorite a few cruises back. One night, I had wine with dinner. In Mexico, I had 3 beers. I definitely had more alcohol than I normally drink at home, but I was totally fine with the amount I had. I didn’t overindulge this time, but I did fondly remember a past trip to Señor Frog’s- who can forget that, right, Dad?
All told, I think I managed to strike a balance between health and indulgence. Was I perfect? Definitely not. Did I feel good about my choices at the end of the day? Absolutely. And that’s a win in my book.
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