The Cruise 13: How to Avoid Packing on the Pounds

ABOARD THE REGENT SEVEN SEAS MARINER EN ROUTE RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL: In 20 years and 30 cruises I could tell you where every restaurant and every buffet was on every ship. And if you saw what I looked like, you wouldn't doubt it. But if you asked me where the fitness center was, I'd have a dumbfounded look on my face.

Now, I had lost 30 pounds before this cruise, a 17-night Atlantic crossing from Monte Carlo to Rio on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, and I wanted to keep it off. Not an easy task given that I would be surrounded by incredibly delicious and tempting fattening food.

During the first week I was able to defy the odds and keep the pounds off by eating healthy: more fish and much less red meat. I didn't lose any weight but I didn't gain. Could I keep it up?

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With five days at sea coming, I knew I had to get some exercise. It wasn't going to be easy. This was my third time sailing on the Mariner and I had never been to the fitness center. I asked a few people where it was.

I walk in and quickly see that the entire exercise room is filled with skinny women. Very intimidating. They're all wearing special workout clothes, and I just have shorts and a polo shirt. Just as youth is wasted on the young, exercise is wasted on the svelte.

I meet the fitness manager Meilei, who is from Hong Kong. She weighs 85 pounds and has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of minus 5. We chat a bit and I tell her I'll come back later when it's less crowded.

Here's why a poll showed people gain an average 13 pounds on a two-week cruise. Your entire day at sea revolves around food. At 9 a.m. you have breakfast. It ends at 9:30 a.m. and you go three full hours without food until you have a three-course lunch at 12:30 p.m. Lunch ends at 1:30 pm and if you avoid the ice cream social at 2:30 p.m. you go another two-and-a-half hours without food until the dessert buffet rolls out at tea time, 4 p.m. When it's over at 5 p.m. I go back to my room where my butler has brought shrimp and crab claw canapés to have with pre-cocktail cocktails. At 6 p.m. our cruising group meets in a lounge for pre-dinner cocktails and hot canapés. Then by 7:15 p.m. it's time for a five-course dinner. Dinner takes about two-and-a-half hours. Then it's off to one of the lounges for entertainment and more cocktails.

I'm sure you're thinking, They can't possibly do this every day of a cruise. Yes, we pretty much do it every day. But not everyone is overweight. They must know something I don't. They get more exercise.

I become friends with Kathy Kuzminski, one of the ladies in our group, a bubbly, retired flight attendant from Ft. Myers, Fla. She teaches me how to use the treadmill in the fitness center and what all the settings mean. I'm so proud of myself when I get it up to 3.5 mph. Then some showoff with another BMI of minus 5 gets on the treadmill next to me, sets it to 6 and starts running. I have a long way to go in the exercise department.

In spite of being surrounded by all the food on the cruise, I'm keeping my food in check. I am definitely eating more than I would eat at home but I'm sticking to the more healthy foods. I have not had a French fry or a hamburger in two weeks on the ship. I have had a bite or two of chocolate desserts but have never finished one.

Soumya, my butler, brought chocolate truffles one evening a few days ago. They are still on the plate wrapped in plastic. On any other cruise they wouldn't have made it to bedtime. I debated whether to ask him to take them away but decided instead to keep them for a cocktail party.

I make it to the fitness center every day we are at sea. Eventually, a few men show up too. I do 20 minutes on the treadmill. It seems everyone on the ship is in better shape than me.

I'm not really feeling deprived by avoiding the heavy fattening foods. If anything, I'm feeling guilty over eating too much of the healthier foods. Last night I felt I ate too many scallops; the night before too many crab legs.

But that scale, the one that only displays weight in kilograms, faces me every day in my cabin.

I get on the scale two weeks into the cruise. My weight remains the same. My feelings are mixed. I wish I could have lost a couple of pounds but at least I didn't gain weight. It's more than I've ever been able to accomplish before.

Next stop, Brazil, the end of the cruise and the final part of the story. Can I hold off temptation until I walk off the "gangweigh?

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