By Rachel Nadolsky, RN and Dr. Karl Nadolsky
A couple of years ago, Drs. Spencer and Jenna wrote a blog about “Living Lean” on vacation, specifically giving some tips about how to stay fit and healthy on a road trip. This year, we (Dr. Karl and Rachel, RN) went on a 7 day cruise to the Bahamas with a goal of writing about the habits we feel are important for maintaining health and wellness while still indulging in enjoyments of a cruise which certainly is not something that generally improves most patrons’ health! We will just briefly go over our tips within each section of our basic tenants generally geared towards fat loss and cardiometabolic health.
- While you may know this is possibly the most important aspect of living lean and controlling issues like blood glucose, its decadence is also one of the primary delights of going on a cruise to the potential detriment of body composition and underlying cardiometabolic health. So with the unlimited amount of food (good, bad, and ugly) available on a cruise, how can one avoid over-consumption of empty-calorie highly glycemic and lipemic (fattening) cuisine but still have fun and get your money’s worth? Here is what we did, and we certainly did not turn up our noses to the gratification!
- We stuck to our basic/fundamental dietary recommendations (see the Lean Pyramid) most of the time, but ate more than enough to satisfy our hunger and cravings.
- For breakfast, lunch, and snacks we tried to fill up on as many vegetables as possible while trying to choose the leanest sources of protein available. We ate a lot of eggs, smoked salmon, fruit, and chicken sausage for breakfast but infrequently did enjoy a slice of rye bread toast along with the veggies. As always, we avoided empty calories which were not of strong interest to us like juices, pastries, and heavy creams/sauces. Lunch was heavy in whatever veggies and meats were available and we avoided the obvious caloric loads of the dessert buffets, including ice-cream machines, because the quality really isn’t worth the detriments (more to come on treats…).
- Dinner was definitely our time for indulgence. We still tried to avoid empty calories we didn’t find worthy, but we loaded up on all the great appetizers and entrées they offered without much regard to their caloric load, especially the fat content (but protein remained high along with a lower carbohydrate load as we stuck with veggies). Then, of course, there was the issue of dessert…
- Treats are one of the highlights of cruising, so we obviously didn’t want to miss out. As mentioned earlier, we avoided the chronically available desserts which we felt were not worth their adverse effects. But after dinner, there was always a wide variety of higher quality treats which were fun to experiment with, though I’ll say we always found our way back to the delectable warm melting chocolate lava cake! In addition, most of the desserts (especially the lava cake) go well with ice-cream so we did choose the sugar-free option because pretty decent amounts were necessary! Also, in addition to desserts, there were other items which we obviously know are not part of our usual diet but we felt were at least worth trying like a trip to the onboard pizza oven.
- What about alcohol? It is well known that alcohol does have calories (7kcal per gram, but may be metabolically better in certain circumstances which is beyond the scope of this article) and partying on a cruise generally involves significant amounts of consumption. While we don’t generally drink much, it would be unrealistic to avoid some enjoyment of all the different fun adult beverages available on the cruise, and we certainly don’t expect others to cruise dry! So just like the treats, we picked our poisons wisely. We avoided highly sugary drinks, and opted for liquor mixed with diet soda and our favorite was the assortment of spiked coffees. No matter what though, remember to drink responsibly while having a fun vacation!
- By now, you know that we preach “exercise is medicine” frequently and immensely, but that is because it is so important! While the details of why acute and chronic exercise are vital for achieving and maintaining leanness and, more importantly, many aspects of health are also beyond the scope of this article, we will just highlight the habits we formed on the cruise which should be achievable for everyone of all ages and current health status.
- Cruises generally have nice gyms, so take advantage! We made it a goal to get to the gym every day, and we succeeded. Every morning we had room service deliver coffee so we enjoyed our “pre-workout” drink on our balcony until we were ready to hit the gym. We planned out a nice balanced schedule to include a mixture of some aerobic, and mostly resistance training (which we prefer in case you hadn’t noticed) but worked hard and at a fairly fast pace so as not to spend all our time there. We usually worked out in the gym for 30-45 minutes every day prior to breakfast.
- Have you heard of NEAT? That stands for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” which includes all activities of daily living. It is the basis of many of our recommendations to walk as much as possible (including before and after meals), stand as much as possible, take the stairs, and enjoy other recreational activities like dancing or leisure sports (sex too!). A cruise gives ample opportunity for a lot of NEAT. We walked a LOT on that huge ship and of course we explored our different ports. If you have cruised previously, you know that they are not only long, but really tall which provides many decks (floors) to utilize stairs. It seemed we were constantly walking the stairs between activities both on the lower decks at night and the upper decks during the day with pit stops at our cabin in between. Avoid the urge to take that elevator! In addition to those basics, take advantage of all the fun activities provided on board the ship and at the ports as there are outside games including swimming, dancing at night, and plenty of outdoor activities in the ports.
- I always tell my patients that sleep is the unsung hero. It is vitally important to have consistent quality sleep for appropriate quantity (7-8 hours per night optimally). Obviously while on vacation your sleep patterns may become disrupted but try your best! We didn’t stray too much from our normal habits.
- We still aimed for around 7 hours of sleep per night. Since we chronically get up at 5am and go to bed at 9pm, it was difficult for us to partake in late night activities past 11pm so we woke up around 6:30-7am. If you go to bed later, just try to get as much sleep as possible!
- If you have sleep apnea, please don’t forget your CPAP machine!
- Power naps while getting some sun may help too. 🙂
Hopefully these tips can serve as a positive reinforcement for healthful cruising habits if you choose to participate in the great enjoyment of a cruise. I think we proved to ourselves, and hopefully our patients and followers, that it is possible to thoroughly enjoy the pleasure (maybe even the hedonism?) of a cruise while warding off the adverse health consequences and gaining too much fat to some degree. Now I promise we did not come away leaner or healthier necessarily, but I think we mitigated some of the potential damage and now will get back to our baseline “Leaner Living!”