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How To Enjoy A Cruise or Vacation-Without Going Overboard

By michelle_may_md on Jul 13, 2011 10:00 AM in Healthy Eating

By Michelle May, MD

On the first night of our cruise to Mexico, we met a nice couple at dinner with a cruise-mindset pretty typical of the sort of thing we heard all over the ship: "We already know we’ll gain ten pounds." With their cruise-mindset, I'll bet they did!

On the other hand, my husband and I continued to use our mindful mindset throughout the cruise and each gained just a pound - which we're blaming on the margaritas!

Overcoming the Cruise-Mindset

So how do you enjoy a cruise (or any vacation) without going overboard? You don’t need to deprive yourself but you do need to change your thinking from the cruise-mindset (CM) to a mindful mindset (MM). To show you the difference, I’ll use examples from each of the decision points in the Mindful Eating Cycle from Chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat

Of course, even if you aren't going on a cruise, this mindful mindset applies to any situation where there's an abundance of food—in other words, every day of your life!

Why do I eat?

CM: I'm on vacation so I'm going to eat as much as I want.
MM: I'm on vacation so I'm going to eat as much as I want, but not more than I need.

CM: I dieted before I came and I'll go back on my diet when I get home to lose what I gain. I better enjoy it while I can.
MM: I eat what I love and love what I eat every day.

When do I eat?

CM: Food is everywhere all the time so I can eat constantly.
MM: Food is everywhere all the time so I can wait to eat until I'm actually hungry.

What do I eat?

CM: The buffets are amazing! I’m going to try everything.
MM: The buffets are amazing! I can choose what I love and skip the rest.

CM: The food is so good!
MM: Some of the food is so good. When it isn’t, I don’t bother with more than a bite.

CM: I don't want to miss out on anything.
MM: The food just keeps showing up so there’s no need to worry about missing a thing.

CM: I’m not going to worry about what I eat this week.
MM: I eat to meet my needs for nourishment and enjoyment no matter where I am.

How much do I eat?

CM: I have to get my money's worth.
MM: I get my money's worth when I eat exactly what I need. More than that is a waste of food and makes me feel uncomfortable.

CM: I'm on vacation so I'm going to splurge.
MM: I’m on vacation so I going to enjoy some new foods and activities.

CM: I’m going to eat until I’m unconscious.
MM: I’m going to eat until I feel content then I’m going to relax with a good book.

Where do I invest my energy?

CM: I'll eat until I'm stuffed tonight but I'll hit the gym to make up for it tomorrow.
MM: I'll eat until I'm comfortable tonight. Maybe I'll check out the gym tomorrow.

CM: Why exercise? I'm on vacation!
MM: Why exercise? I'm on vacation! I can swim, walk on the beach, dance, kayak, and rock climb.

CM: I know I'll gain ten pounds.
MM: I know I'll enjoy an abundance of wonderful food and come home feeling great!

By changing your cruise-mindset to a mindful mindset, you'll enjoy your cruise or vacation without taking it home with you.

Your thoughts...

Does your healthy lifestyle take a break when your on vacation?  Either way, how does that make you feel? 

Michelle May, M.D. is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. Download chapter one free. Dr. May is also the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Workshops and Facilitator Training Program that helps individuals learn to break free from mindless and emotional eating to live a more vibrant, healthy life.


Who actually over-eats on a cruise? People take on cruise in active, high-metabolism and with additional excitement, food is the last thing on my mind... undereating is my problem when on a cruise. 

I know that I tend to gain weight when we go on vacation.  When we went on our honeymoon to Jamaica, I gained back a pretty big chunk of weight (for me, anyways), and last year when we went to the beach I put some back on, too.  However, we are going away for a week again this year,and I am determined to not gain all this weight back on.  I will definitely use some of these tips to help change my mindset, because I did believe that it was vacation and I could do whatever I wanted :)

whenever I cruise, I try to stick to fresh salads and fruits.  Those are costly at home and I tend to make not so good choices as its easier to pick up a burger rather than make a salad at home.  On a cruise, the salad buffet is always going and there are always obvious choices that are just as easy to make.  The last time I went on a cruise was this past new years.  I had just returned from my honeymoon in November, where we stayed at an all inclusive and I gained 5 pounds in a week by eating hamburgers, nachos, and yes salad, all for lunch.  Thats three meals in one!  So by the time we went on the cruise, I told myself NO hamburgers since that seemed to be my weakness.  I also told myself only ONE entree per meal unless I am just taking a bite of each thing.  I ended up gaining 2 pounds (no exercise + alcohol + desserts every night will do that to you though!)

These suggestions are great! I used to think with a mindfull mindset naturally... but somewhere along the way I lost it. Reading those really helped me to get back to that place again, thank you! :)

I've been on many cruises and usually don't gain more than 2 lbs. That's easy enough to get off during the first week back.  I take the stairs instead of the elevators, try working out at least once or twice, and only eat 3 meals.  I stick with low carb/low fat options and don't eat dessert every day.  The "drink of the day" is what puts on those 2 lbs! 

It's almost impossible to resist "cruise food" Regulating portions is the best way. Also, when I'm faced with buffet style food, I go for stuff I would never cook for myself or stuff I can't usually afford to buy. Lobster, filet mignon, other expensive sea foods. Don't make the food the big selling feature on a cruise. Stay away from the fancy drinks too. They have lot's of activities and most ships have decent gyms. When the ship docks in port, skip the taxis and walk the island!! If you can't find a way not to keep from gaining weight on a cruise. find another way to go on vacation. (this is why they call it lifestyle change!)Cool 

I love to travel, but will probably never go on a cruise because of the food situation. Traveling on your own involves a lot of activity and you are in control of when you are exposed to food. Who says you need to go on a cruise for vacation? Probably the same person that wants to drag you to the local Chinese buffet. Know thyself.

The first time we cruised I was in total awe of everything  --- the ship, the food and the total feel good atmosphere.  At dinner I was like a kid in a candy shop and had to have one of everything. I have since been on several cruises and now know what to expect and can make healthy choices when I go up to the buffet. I don't deny myself by any means  --- but I only choose one entree for a meal not 3 or 4.

Skip the over priced drink of the day and you save tons of calories and cash.

Also I am in the workout/gym room everyday on the treadmill and taking the stairs as much as possible. 

Having an abundance of food at your disposal is no reason  not take a cruise.  It is just a matter of mindful mindset.  I can't wait till our next cruise in October to Spain, Italy, and Greece.

I ate through everything (yes... even the midnight dessert buffet) gained like 2 lbs? not so bad for eating constantly. I did exercise but had no alcohol. i lost it when i got off the ship too ;)

i can not do buffets.  i get major anxiety around them always.... afraid i will miss something, so stupid by the way. but my one buffet rule is that i never eat some thing that i can make for myself....usually better at home,  and take only a spoon of something i KNOW is very bad,  and i can have as many vegs i want and i love vegs so that is never a problem.  but I NEVER go to a buffet on purpose. 

I love to cruise and do it every year. Normally, I do gain 10 pounds while I'm gone, but I think it is mostly because of sodas. I usually get the unlimited soda card, because I'm not one for water during a meal and I never drink sodas at home. This last cruise I decided to switch to Sprite instead of Coke. I only gained 5 pounds this time. I really think a lot of the weight gain is from your body retaining water. I have in the last 3 weeks lost that 5 pounds and 3 more.

I was on a 27 day cruise in May/June and gained only two pounds!  Normally, I'm a "clean the plate" person, but on this cruise I gave myself permission to taste things, but not finish them.  We also had late seating, so I wasn't that hungry at breakfast.  Instead of eggs benedict, potatoes, sausage, etc., we often had cereal and fruit delivered to our cabin and ate on the balcony! Most days we were too busy to snack between meals.  We exercised a lot on our excursions, and I made sure to use the treadmill on sea days.  I really had to stick to this routine, or I knew my clothes wouldn't fit by the end of the cruise!!

What about eating low sodium meals on cruises?  We never gain weight on cruises because we take the stairs and dance til dawn, but now we need to eat low sodium and are afraid to take cruises, since they don't post nutrition information.  We know to eat fruits and vegetables, but what about prepared meats?  How do we know if they already are seasoned with salt?  The cruise lines won't tell us.

I leave on a cruise to Alaska in less than a week. I am going to take a copy of this article with me to remind me to eat mindfully and not mindlessly. I am also taking a photograph of when I weighed sixty pounds less. My goal is to return to that weight.

Original Post by: apoapostolov

Who actually over-eats on a cruise? People take on cruise in active, high-metabolism and with additional excitement, food is the last thing on my mind... undereating is my problem when on a cruise. 

Have you ever actually been on a cruise??  Food is EVERYWHERE at ALL times!  So to say, "Who actually over-eats on a cruise?" is pretty mind boggling to me...

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I gained like 6 lbs on our cruise. I ate a ton, but I was working out as well. The 6 lbs I gained came off within 2 weeks of us coming back home.


I'll have two lobster tails dipped in garlic butter sauce, 1 filet mignon and half a prime rib. Have plenty of veggies and fruits, and have a small dessert(I can actually control that much lol!). On a cruise the ship is huge so i do a lot of walking and outdoor recreational stuff that requires mobility - hey even swimming burns calories and tones muscles. I'll maintain or lose weight just doing all those things and then some.

Im sure tommorrow will be a different buffet menu. So I'll start over. This time I'll take what I like and add even more veggies and only eat portions of the bad stuff and leave the rest . At least I'm not denying myself. of course back to the walking, swimming and all those other activities. Repeat until the entire vacation is over however I might go a bit overboard on the last day but I'll walk and exercise some more.

I wouldnt be feeling *THAT* guilty when i get home and go OMG THE SCALE! lol


Does this sound like anything someone else would do?


I have been on three cruises thus far.  I have never gained more than 3 or 4 pounds, and everyone is right - there is food hanging around 24/7.  What works for me is that 1) I only eat things I wouldn't make at home, 2) the fruits and vegetables are the best quality, so it's easy to enjoy those. 

With our tablemates, we all order something different and everyone tries a bite of everything.  We walk and swim and enjoy all the ship's activities.  One year, we went and one friend gained so much weight he had to buy a pair of pants to wear home!  I never want THAT to happen!

Cruise food is good, and enjoying a little is just as satisfying as enjoying too much.  In fact, studies have shown that the first bite of something is the most satisfying, the 2nd less so and so on.  So I like to take a few bites of a lot of different things.  Wink 

I really like how you wrote the whole cruise mindset part, I need to read this blog before I go on any vacation or any place wheres there's going to be a lot of food.

My husband and I went on a cruise last summer and be truthful, I lost weight. We ate wonderful meals, had fabulous desserts, went to martini tastings, it was the best vacation ever! The difference is that we walked the ship, we took the stairs almost every time we went anywhere on the ship and we did the more physical excursions (zip-lining and snorkeling).

I did learn why some people gain so much weight on cruises, though. I noticed these people who would sit at a table for hours just eating continuously! We'd be finished with our meal and just sitting and chatting while these other people were going for 2nds and 3rds. And it wasn't to go back and have a little dessert, it was another full plate of food. I couldn't believe it! It's like they thought they weren't going to get any more food...ever!

So, anyway, it is possible to eat wonderful foods on a cruise and not gain weight. Just eat what you like, then walk or dance or swim. Don't be afraid of the cruise, just be mindful of your intake and use the wonderful facilities the cruise ships the full gyms, yoga classes, pilates, etc.

This is easy for me. I've never been on a cruise and I don't ever plan to go on one. I HATE boats, and being with a ton of people around me and the possibility of getting some illness is too much for me. Ugh, I do go on vacation though, but I have never viewed it as an excuse to eat whatever I want. Why would I do that? I like eating healthy and nutritious foods, but I hate when I overindulge and feel sick or sluggish. Why would I want to do that to myself on vacation when I want to be having fun not feeling like crap?

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Here's my cruising tips:

1. Take the stairs! The only exception is "formal" night and I'm getting pictures taken.

2. When dinner is served, cut the serving in half and only eat half.

2a. When going to the Lido deck and the buffet, take a minute to see what is available. Then plan what you will eat and how much.

2b. Breakfast is in the main dining room or room service (1/2 bagel, 1 Tbs cream cheese, smoked salmon with fresh fruit and coffee)  The only problem is when I cruise with my sister, we order 1 bagel, 1 cream cheese and 1 serving of smoked salmon, 2 fruits and 2 coffees -- a the beginning of the cruise, 2 bagels and 2 cream cheeses are delivered because the staff thought I forgot to order two.

3. I enjoy 1 "boat drink" and one glass of wine a day.

4. I take my pedometer and walk 10,000 steps a day. If the steps have not been completed by dinner time, after dinner activity is hit the jogging track and walk until the steps complete. (Some nights, I hit the dance floor.) Port excursions always include a lot of walking or swimming, not laying on the beach.

There's probably something that I forgot.

Want a vacation that makes you lose weight?

Check out Disney World! Whether it's with your kids, for a family reunion, or as an anniversary trip, with the right choices, it can be a fun and healthy vacation.

Disney World holds 4 parks that involve lots of walking to get through the different parts of each one. Sure there are lot of opportunities to eat, but the food is priced highly so buy only what you need and you'll be fine.

There are venues selling all kinds of salads, chicken sandwiches, and other diet-friendly items. There's ice cream and other treats not to be passed up, but if you're walking to and from attractions and making other good choices, you'll be fine!

It's the only vacation I go on where I feel like I'm indulging everyday and come home in great shape.

I'm taking several small trips this year. I went to Washington for a graduation...lots of wine sampling & cake. This month we are heading sound to get my Mom's house ready to sell gonna watch my diet there. In the desert will have to walk early. August is camping on the coast gonna try and walk lots & not over eat. September is Vegas with the girls---gonna have to hit the gym there!!! I'm not always good but try to relax & eat sensibly. Booze is empty calories but sometimes it is fun to party a little. Being a senior weight loss is hard & life is short so I try to be healthy & not to hard on myself.

I ate and drank too much on the first day on the cruise..I was then awake most of the night with heartburn, cramps in legs (alcahol dehydration) and other discomfort. For the rest of the cruise I ate and drank in moderation, the foods I liked most and certainly enjoyed the rest of the cruise. Best of all my weight stayed the same as when I first stepped on the boat.

The only cruise I've been on was around the Hawaiian islands and I ate fresh pineapple every single day for breakfast, along with eggs.

We toured the islands daily as each stop was a different port or island so we missed lunch on the ship.  There were some things available in the late PM when we returned but I would just nibble or have a hot dog.  Not terribly healthy but okay and simple.  The food was fair unless you upgraded to a nice restaurant so we did that a couple times during the week. 

We walked on the tours, did some swimming, hiked all over the ship, drank a ton of water, participated in several on-ship activities, and hit the bar daily.  Despite that, I didn't gain weight although I didn't lose any more either.  We stayed busy and had fun.  That's what the cruise was about, and sightseeing someplace unusual and learning the history of the locals.  The food was great but it shouldn't be the main focus of the trip.

I love to go on cruises and have been on several and have always enjoyed myself.  Before I went on my last cruise, I printed the menus from the Cruise's website online.  I reviewed the menu choices and looked up the calories for the items I like to eat.  I discussed each item with my weight loss consultant and made my decisions before I went on the cruise.  Planning ahead helped me to not gain any weight on my cruise, and I did not go hungry.

For those of you who said you don't want to go on a cruise because you might catch some sort of illness, you will catch illness every day from going to the grocery store, your favorite restaurant, department store, walking on the street, or anywhere you go.  Most people are very pleasant on cruises because they are having a good time and their attitudes are very infectious.

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