LAS PALMAS, SPAIN, Aboard the Regent Seven Seas Mariner: Finding a scale on a cruise ship is like looking for a clock in a casino. They don't have them. They're bad for business.
Think of a cruise, and food comes to mind. It's usually excellent and abundant. A travel agency poll found that passengers on average gain 13 pounds on a two-week cruise.
I've taken about 30 cruises over the last 20 years and I've gained weight on all of them. Following a lifetime struggle with weight, I was able to lose 30 pounds before this cruise, a 17-night crossing from Monte Carlo to Rio de Janeiro on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner.
I was determined to keep the weight off, perhaps even lose a few more pounds, but how? I've sailed on this luxury line 10 times. Everything is included in the cruise fare -- all the food, alcohol and wine.
You can get anything to eat anytime you want it. If what you want isn't on the menu, they'll make it for you.
I also have a butler, Soumya; yes, a real butler, who brings food to my cabin every afternoon. And the last thing you see at night are chocolates on your pillow. How could an overweight person like me resist all this delicious temptation?
The key for me is that this time the will to succeed has to be greater than the weakness to fail. I still have another 30 to 50 pounds to lose, and I didn't want this cruise vacation to set back the progress I had made on the first 30.
I decided I could use the food component of the cruise to work in my favor. Yes, they would prepare anything I wanted to eat, so I could make sure there was always something healthy on my plate.
That doesn't mean eating only cottage cheese and sprouts. You can have normal meals. Just favor fish and chicken over red meats. Don't deny yourself anything. Just make healthier choices.
In the first six days of this 17-day cruise, I have had beef twice for dinner and veal once. The rest was fish or chicken. The two beef dishes were small portions, about four ounces. The veal was Osso Buco, but it was prepared from the cruise line's "Canyon Ranch Spa" menu. The veal dish was 490 calories.
Strangely enough, I have not felt deprived. One advantage of being on the cruise is that the fish items on the menu are so good and so varied that I don't mind trying them and passing up the heavier meats.
If there is a sauce on the fish, I'll eat the sauce. I also eat a few servings of bread each day. And I'll either order the low-calorie dessert or take a bite or two from a regular dessert. That way I'm not denying myself anything.
After six days on the ship, my clothes weren't getting any tighter but I needed a way to make sure I was on track. One morning I asked my steward if he could find a scale for my cabin. He said he might be able to locate one by evening.
That evening, there was a scale in my cabin. I didn't get on it until the next morning. I held my breath and stepped on the scale. It was broken.
I have eaten two nights at the ship's steak house restaurant, Prime 7. The crab legs, shrimp cocktail and tuna tartar are very healthy. So is the lobster if you go easy on the melted butter. And you can order healthy sides like mushrooms and green beans and skip the twice-baked potato and fried onion rings.
It's the steak that will get you if you are not careful. I ordered the surf and turf, lobster tail and filet mignon, the first night. But I probably overdid it even though the beef was only four ounces. The rest of the steaks can range from a 10 ounce fillet to NY strips, porterhouses and prime ribs, about a pound each. That's a lot of beef and a lot of fatty calories. I know because that's what I used to eat.
The biggest adjustment is being willing to eat at a steakhouse and have fish while everyone else has red meat. During our second visit I ordered grilled perch as my entrée. It was good and I didn't feel disappointed. I passed up the key lime pie and cheese cake and had mixed berries. But I did have one of the little pre-desert chocolate cakes they brought to the table.
A new scale has appeared. A close inspection finds this one only registers in kilograms. I'm going to have to go on line to find out how to convert.
I make it to afternoon tea every day, popular with my friends who like to play trivia. But afternoon tea is another opportunity to eat sweets. Scones with cream and jam and plenty of desserts. But fruit is also available and as long as my willpower remains strong I take the fruit, maybe once a little taste of a profiterole.
Last night was dinner in the gourmet French restaurant, Signatures. Watching what you eat there was easier than I had expected. There were scallops, lobster, crab and salmon on the appetizer menu, all healthy choices. For the entrée there was halibut. I stayed away from the beef with foie gras. Dessert was berries, with a little taste of one of their regular desserts of marinated figs.
It has been three weeks since I weighed myself. During that time my regular schedule has been disrupted. There was a trip to Cleveland to cover a presidential campaign event, followed by a trip to western Maryland to cover the snow storm caused by Hurricane Sandy, then a drive to Richmond for election night coverage. And the same day I returned from Richmond to D.C., I caught the plane to Europe for the cruise which I have been on for almost a week.
I finally get on the scale and see my weight in kilos. I know to multiply by 2.2. My weight remained the same. I didn't gain anything in the last three weeks. I'm happy with that. I never expected to lose weight with all of that traveling going on. But now, I can work on trying to lose a few more pounds.
In part two I'll venture to a place I've never been on a ship in 20 years of cruising, the fitness center, otherwise known as the exercise room.