Is a Cruise Vacation Without Weight Gain Possible?

One poll showed passengers gain 13 pounds on a two-week cruise.

November 27, 2012, 6:42 AM

Nov. 28, 2012— -- Editor's note: This is the final installment of a three-part series on weight loss on a cruise vacation. ABC News producer Tom Giusto shares the challenges of maintaining a recent weight loss while surrounded by food all day long.

RIO DE JANEIRO, ABOARD THE REGENT SEVEN SEAS MARINER: There's an old joke in the cruise industry, people come aboard as passengers but they leave as cargo. When you look at how much food people stack on their plates at the buffets it's easy to realize there's some truth in that joke.

In fact, one poll showed passengers can gain 13 pounds on a two-week cruise.

It's time for me to leave this luxury cruise after 17 days sailing from Monte Carlo to Rio, surrounded by the most enticing food anyone could want, available constantly all day and all included in the cruise fare, along with beer, wine and liquor.

READ: Part I: Fighting the Bulge on the Blue Sea

READ: Part II: The Cruise 13: How to Avoid Packing on the Pounds

I had lost 30 pounds before the cruise and I was determined not to gain any of it back. I still have more to lose but since I have always gained weight on cruises it would be enough to just keep the weight off.

Now I have to face the final weigh-in. Unfortunately, the captain's gala farewell dinner with its caviar, lobster and Beef Wellington was last.

My best advice to cruisers to avoid piling on pounds is five simple words, "stay away from the buffet." If you're disciplined you can eat at the buffet, but if you overeat, the buffet is the worst place to be. The temptation toward large portions is too great. In the dining room you can have much better control over what you eat. The portions are usually small because passengers order several courses. You can order healthier options like fish and chicken. There are even good choices for dessert; fruit, berries, no sugar added ice creams.

My ship, the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, usually has two buffets at lunchtime, the standard indoor buffet with a daily variety of meats and fish, and a themed outdoor poolside buffet that could be Mexican, Italian, Asian, Moroccan or anything the chef decides. They're dangerous for someone like me. In 17 days on the cruise I ate at them only twice, when shore excursions got back to the ship after the main dining room had closed. Now it's time to see if the avoidance had paid off.

In the end, it just comes down to the willpower to make healthier choices. It doesn't mean denying yourself anything, it just requires going with the healthy choices most of the time and the poor choices much more infrequently. In the 34 lunches and dinners on my cruise, I had beef four times and pork twice, each serving no more than 4-5 ounces. All other meals were chicken or fish.

There was an abundant variety of healthy fish; lobster, crab, salmon, halibut, cod, tuna, perch, haddock and Dover sole. There was also a "Canyon Ranch Spa Menu" which featured dishes less than 500 calories. The healthier food has been tasty, with decent-sized portions.

So what did I pass up? I have not eaten one hamburger or one French fry and I have not ordered one ice cream cone. I have also not had any beer, wine or liquor. I'd rather save the calories for the food.

I do eat bread and desserts but I limit them, especially desserts, I'll try to pick lower-calorie options or have fruit or berries. If I really want a particular chocolate dessert I'll order it and eat half, something I would never do before.

This is the first cruise I've ever used the fitness center, walking at least 20 minutes on the treadmill on sea days. I hate to exercise, which I guess helps to explain why I'm overweight.

And while the food is great, of course there's much more to this vacation. We have had wonderful port stops and tours in Monte Carlo, Monaco; Barcelona, Cartagena and Malaga, Spain; Casablanca and Agadir, Morocco; Cape Verde; and Recife and Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Then we spend three days in Rio de Janeiro.

The cruise has been an opportunity to see new places with great friends. But this time I wasn't gaining weight in the process. Others on the ship weren't so fortunate. There were complaints at dinner about clothes that fit just fine before the cruise that were now a tad tight. I spoke to one man who said when he goes on a cruise he figures he consumes 1,500 calories a day in alcohol.

Shipboard life is a bit of a fantasy, and now it had ended. No more having three meals a day served to me. No more Soumya the butler bringing me shrimp and crab and shining my shoes. No more staff addressing me by name as I walk through the ship.

I just have one more thing to do before I step off the gangway-- step on the scale for the last time on the ship. I'm not expecting any surprises and I don't get any. When the ship rolls for a second it almost looks like I've lost two pounds, but the needle on the scale settles down. The display in kilograms tells me my weight is the same. I made it through the cruise without gaining weight.

There's another old joke among cruisers, "What's your favorite cruise? Answer: My next one." Well, for me, this is my favorite cruise.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events