Many people think cruises are synonymous with weight gain, thanks to all the lounging around and endless buffets. But I actually love cruises and have found that they're fairly compatible with my healthy lifestyle: It's less than a five-minute walk from my cabin to the gym, and there are always plenty of fresh fruits and veggies at mealtimes. That said, it takes some serious willpower to pass up the dessert buffet, and I don't always return home at my pre-cruise weight.
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But what if you could board a ship, enjoy a vacation, and come back in even better shape than before? It might sound like a crazy concept, but several healthy lifestyle companies have taken on the challenge and are now offering spa-, fitness-, and nutrition-themed cruises.
I was skeptical but intrigued, so when I got invited to participate in the Weight Watchers Rejuvenation Vacation at Sea, I eagerly hopped aboard. I admit I wasn't sure what to expect. Would being on a diet-themed cruise kill the vacation vibe? Would I feel too restricted? Would the cruise somehow feel like work? Here's how it went.
The cruise sailed from Miami around the Caribbean; ports of call were Jamaica, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and the Bahamas, plus there were two at-sea days. Throughout the cruise—and especially on the at-sea days—there were optional meetings, lectures, fitness classes, and cooking classes. These were all designed to get people to think beyond the scale and to really focus on a healthy lifestyle. (Stay up-to-date on breaking health news, with these 10 updates from Prevention Premium.)
I decided to attend the cooking classes because I hate to cook and thought they might inspire me. I learned how to make some simple food swaps and adjustments, which seemed useful. Instead of deep-frying coconut shrimp, we baked the shrimp but used panko instead of regular breadcrumbs to cut calories while maintaining the crispy flavor. (Here are 9 more cooking secrets that seriously up the health-factor in your food.)
While I enjoyed the cooking classes, what I really loved was having the opportunity to explore some new fitness options. I'm an exercise junkie, and I hit the gym an hour a day at home. But I've always been of the mindset that if you don't sweat a ton, it's not worth it. Yet with several days free to try new things, I found myself signing up for tai chi.
It turns out I adore tai chi—not for the physical workout but for the mental one. I started out a bit stressed (I showed up a few minutes late and the place was packed, so it was hard to find a spot), and yet by the end I felt really good, super chill and relaxed. The "pushing away of the negative energy" and "bringing forward the positive" was definitely a bit woo-woo, but once I let go and really focused on the movement, it was kind of wonderful. I probably didn't burn many calories, but I left feeling healthier and lighter. (If you like tai chi, you'll love this low-impact workout that's a proven inflammation fighter.)
Being on the cruise also gave me the opportunity to tackle weight loss from a social perspective. Studies show that losing weight with a friend or partner increases the chances of keeping it off, but I've always gone down that path alone and wasn't sure how I'd feel about making it a group thing. The cruise included several focus meetings, so I figured I might as well check them out. They definitely felt like group therapy, but that wasn't a bad thing. I was also surprised about how much we discussed that didn't have to do directly with weight: One mom said her family wasn't connecting anymore, because there was too much screen time at home; others were dealing with sick relatives and demanding jobs. Most of the topics were pretty relatable, and I walked away feeling like part of a supportive community. And after talking about difficult situations, my desire to eat my emotions via a cookie didn't seem as strong.
But what about the food?
If you're trying to convince a diet-averse friend or partner to join you for this cruise, you should know that they actually offered us both a regular cruise ship menu as well as a special Weight Watchers one. The biggest difference—aside from the amount of fruits and veggies on the plate—was the portion sizes. Turns out what I thought was 3 ounces of chicken was more like 9 or even 10. Some people that I talked to on the cruise (including a few who had lost over 100 pounds!) said that they invested in a food scale to make sure they were measuring portions properly. In the past I might have thought that was a bit extreme, but it seems that many of us—myself included—could benefit from a reality check.
The food itself was really tasty. I always think of "diet" food as bland, but they used seasonings to really spice it up. The soups—mushroom broth, roasted cauliflower, split pea—were definitely favorites, and when I got back home, I tried making some myself.
If you're wondering if I lost any weight, the answer is no—but that's only because I recently lost a lot and am now in maintenance mode. After eating healthfully and being active throughout the entire cruise, I came back weighing exactly as much as I did when I left, which was perfectly fine with me.