Story and photography by Lori Ross
Lose 10 pounds on your summer cruise! These are words that we, who are weight challenged, dream about. Imagine losing, rather than gaining weight, on your two week cruise! The only time I ever lost weight on a cruise was last Spring when I took the our Fleming 55 from Ft. Myers, Florida to Annapolis, MD. I was learning to handle the boat without my husband through SeaSense, The Women’s Sailing and Powerboating School (www.seasenseboating.com).
Because I was training to walk the 26.6 mile Marine Corps Marathon and needed to keep my training program going during the trip North and I planned to do all the cooking for the trip, I decided to make an effort to drop a few pounds during the 17 day cruise. I clean out the boat before we left, stocked it with lots of fruits, veggies, lean meats, seafood and pasta, rice, beans, olive oil and whole grains and planned a menu around the popular “Mediterranean diet”, a nutritional model inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean such as Greece, Spain and Italy.
We ate lots of salads, vegetable soups, seafood, grains, pasta and fruit. We had wine for dinner every night and ate at fish/seafood restaurants a few times too. The trip was delightful and to my surprise, I lost nearly 10 pounds! I decided that cruising might be a great way to jump-start a weight loss program!
Actually, this technique worked for me when I broke another bad habit. I was a three pack a day, 10 year smoker who desperately wanted to quit, but didn’t have the treatments we do today that help make the transition. Some avid anti-smoker college friends suggested that we go cruising for 10 days on a sailboat around Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. I decided that I would join them in an effort to quit. The first night aboard, I smoked my last cigarette and before 5 witnesses, threw the rest of the pack overboard. For the first three days of cruising, we anchored out and stayed aboard – swimming, singing, eating and drinking, snorkeling and having fun. On day number four, we went into Edgartown for dinner. In the early 1980s, people still smoked in restaurants and though I was tempted, I didn’t give in to the cigarette machine that was beckoning me. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since the day I quit. During that cruise I changed some key habits so that I wouldn’t be reminded of smoking. For example, I loved a cigarette with the taste of a smoky Scotch whisky, so I replaced whisky with wine (which I could now smell and taste since I quit smoking!). The other major change I made, inadvertently, was to switch from coffee with milk and sugar to black coffee, because we forgot to bring milk aboard the boat. While I was accustomed to smoking with my coffee, enjoying the mix of sweetness and smoke and once I quit, switching to black coffee gave me a taste in my mouth that I had never associated with a smoke.
All of this to say that a cruise is an ideal way to start building a new set of new habits – whether dieting, exercising or eliminating a behavior. I propose that we begin to look at a boat cruises in a new way! Let’s use the cruise to jump-start a diet and develop some new habits!
While I continue to be baffled by variety of weight loss schemes that offer the promise of rapid weight loss with age comes wisdom, and I realize that the bottom line is everyone is different regarding how they best lose weight. Jim, my husband, loses 5 lbs a week on Atkins, while I plateau after losing 4 lbs of weight loss on the same diet! Several friends had good luck on South Beach diet (Low GI) while others followed an “almost vegetarian” diet like the Mediterranean diet I used. Low fat, low calorie vs. high protein, low carb – liquid diets vs. prepared foods -- my personal observation is that every diet works for someone, but no single diet works for everyone!
You will need to plan ahead and get organized whatever eating and exercise plan you choose. Pick out your diet of choice – the Mediterranean diet worked well for me – then create a menu and inventory your boat. Take any food off the boat that will tempt you to overeat and then provision with only the foods that adhere to your diet. Finally, take a little extra time each day to do the prep work to ensure snacks and meals are quick and easy, for example, peel and slice fruits and vegetables you want to eat that day, marinate meats and vegetables you plan to cook and make soups in advance, so you just have to pour, heat and eat!
Look at the exercises you usually do. Is it aerobic or strength training? Experts suggest we do both types of exercise to increase metabolism thus increasing weight loss. If you don’t do much exercise, consider something simple like walking or swimming for 20-30 minutes three days a week and alternate with strength training, Pilates, Yoga or Tai Chi on the other three days. If you already exercise regularly, decide what you could add to increase intensity, metabolism or distance. For example, if you usually walk 20 minutes a day, try increasing it to 30 minutes during your cruise, add a daily swim or take your bicycle along and explore new ports. Do you like rowing or kayaking, bring your rowing shell or kayak aboard or purchase an inflatable kayak for the boat and explore shallow areas of your anchorage. Or simply add weight-bearing exercise to build muscle and increase your metabolism. Once you decide what you will do each day as exercise during your cruise and do it for 20-30 minutes.
The following guidelines come from a wide range of experts’ advice and some personal experience from my “Lose Cruise”:
- Eat when you are hungry and until you are comfortably satiated (not stuffed). Before you take a second helping, sit back and take a few minutes to have something to drink (water, wine) and decide if you are truly still hungry. If you are, have more; but if you are not really hungry (but like the taste!), save some of your meal for later as a snack. Many people eat smaller meals 5-6 times a day so they don’t feel hunger pangs and use this technique as a weight loss strategy.
- Consider bringing snacks that are filling or satisfying and have them “at the ready” so you don’t have to hunt for them when you get hungry. The top most filling foods (in order of satiety index) include: grapes, fish, oatmeal, beans, potatoes, whole grain pasta, eggs, oranges, apples, chicken breast, lean beef, whole grain bread, popcorn (takes longer to digest than chips), low-fat cheese and high-fiber cereals, low fat yogurt, chicken soup, low-fat chocolate milk.
- We ate as close to the source of our food as possible – it was part of the adventure of cruising! We went to local farmers markets for produce when possible; we bought at local seafood markets, butchers, delicatessen, bakeries and cheese shops. We tried to shop a little at every port and we ate food that was fresh and tasty soon after it was purchased -- lots of raw veggies, whole fruits, shrimp, salads, breads, cheeses and we waited until we ran out of fresh foods to break into the processed or prepared foods. Often, you don’t have much choice when cruising, but we were fortunate that there were good shops in Ft. Myers, Stuart, Hilton Head, Charleston and other ports on our way north.
- Write down everything you eat and drink and what you did for exercise and for how long. This will make you more conscious of the quantity and quality of the food you eat. Each week, look at your food lists and see what you might improve.
- Boredom and stress are key culprits in overeating according to experts. While we are underway, I’m too busy to eat mindlessly, what with negotiating boat traffic, navigation, docking, etc. However, in the evening, after my 30-40 minute walk, I found myself a bit bored and found myself over- consuming food and drink. So, I advise that you, bring a couple new books, favorite hobbies, games or projects that you can work on during the evening or lay-days of a cruise. I love to sketch so I have lots of paper, charcoal and pencils to entertain myself. I also enjoy writing, so I’ll outline several articles during a cruise. And I have several authors books aboard that I “save” for cruising (e.g. Patrick O’Brian). We also like to get movies that we watch in the evening, while I do galley chores or prep food for the next day. Think about healthy snacks like cut up fruit or berries (we devoured blueberries, cherries and raspberries in the evening during the cruise), or veggies and low -calorie dip, or popcorn (hold the butter!).
- Give yourself a “day off” every week to eat and drink what you want. You will feel much less deprived and it won’t stop you from losing weight.
Some Things You should NOT do:
- Weigh yourself every day – you’ll simply be discouraged if you don’t make progress.
- Throw in the towel if you overeat or neglect to exercise…instead make small adjustments! Walk, bike or swim an extra ten minutes the next day or reduce your portion size at the next meal or simply start over again the next day.
- Misinterpret your body’s signals. I often think I’m hungry when I’m actually thirsty or bored. Become conscious of the difference. I also tend to ignore the first signs of fullness, thus I overeat. After you’ve eaten half of what’s on your plate, ask yourself if you are satisfied. If you are still hungry, don’t hesitate to eat. But don’t ignore your body’s signs of satiation and inadvertently stuff yourself either!
- Avoid restaurants – think of them as a challenge. Ask yourself, what are the healthiest items on the menu for me? My eyes are bigger than my stomach and I like to taste several items on a menu, so I usually order two appetizers rather than a main course. Ask for dressings and sauces on the side so you can control your intake.
What follows are recipes for some of the dishes we had during the cruise plus some favorite cookbooks and websites for guidance on diet and exercise.
We made minestrone with leftovers several times during the cruise and one day when it was very warm, I even ate it cold and it was delicious. If you want to make a meal out of it, add some cooked beans and pasta or rice during the last 5 minutes of cooking to make it more filling. Top with a tsp of pesto for a special treat.
1 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves -- crushed
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup each of sliced carrot and chopped celery
1 ½ cup raw green beans sliced into ½” pieces
2 chopped fresh tomatoes or 4 canned plum tomatoes -- drained
1 cup shredded cabbage
4 cups low-fat or defatted* chicken broth (fresh or from cubes, powder or base)
1 cup spinach, coarsely chopped
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each of dried oregano, thyme and rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
Optional (not included in nutritional values below:
1 cup cooked cannelini or other white beans
1 cup cooked pasta or rice
2 cups fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
Heat oil in pan over medium heat until hot. Add onion, carrot, and celery, and sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add 2 garlic cloves; cook 1 minute. Add green beans, cabbage and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spinach, salt and herbs, then remove from heat. Ladle soup into bowls, and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of cheese and top with one or two tsps of pesto.
*To defat fresh chicken broth: Make stock, by cooking chicken carcass in 2-3 quarts of water with 1 tsp of salt and several carrots, celerysticks and one chopped onion in a stock pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for one hour to 1 ½ hours until it is flavorful. Drain stock into a bowl. Cover and chill overnight. Fat will rise to the top of the bowl one chilled. Carefully remove visible layer of fat to make low fat chicken stock.
Per serving (2 cups soup, 1 tbsps cheese and 2 tsps of pesto without pasta, beans or rice): 170 Calories; 2.5g Total Fat; 20g Carbohydrate; 446mg Sodium
Thai Beef Salad
This salad is terrific with fish, shrimp, scallops, chicken, pork tenderloin, beef and all by itself!
1 lb. flank steak, skirt steak or tenderloin (leftovers sliced thin are terrific)
¼ tsp. salt and pepper
4 cups cabbage or romaine lettuce, finely shredded
1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
1 cup fresh mint sprigs (basil is nice if you cannot find mint)
2 cup snow peas, trimmed
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsps lime juice
2 tbsps fish sauce* (also called seasoning sauce in the supermarket)
2 tsp to 1 tbsp brown sugar (according to your taste
1 tsp sesame oil
Optional: ¼ cup dry-roasted peanuts (not included in nutritional analysis)
Trim any excess fat and sinew from the steak. Season with black pepper and salt. Grill, broil or saute (in nonstick skillet) steak until medium rare. Remove from heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice across the grain into thin strips. For the dressing, mix chopped chili, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and sesame oil in a bowl. Combine the cabbage or romaine, half the cilantro, mint, snow peas, cucumber, onion and tomatoes and toss the salad well with half the dressing. Divide salad among 4 plates. Top each place with the sliced steak, drizzle with remaining dressing and garnish with cilantro and mint sprigs.
Per Serving (with beef but no peanuts) : 233cal; Total fat 4.6g; Saturated fat 1.6g; Protein 30.0g; Carbohydrate 18.0g; Fiber 1.9g; Sodium 649mg
* If you cannot find fish sauce, replace with soy sauce
Seafood or Vegetable Risotto
I made this risotto for several dinners on the trip and it met with rave reviews. The first time, I used bay scallops, the next time I used fresh morel mushrooms and the third time, I made it with lobster. I also made it once with brown rice and barley! It can also be served with saffron and fresh or frozen peas (added at end of cooking) or unadorned, as is!
4 cups low fat or defatted chicken broth
1 tsp olive oil
3 tbsp finely chopped onion
3/4 cup uncooked Arborio rice, brown rice or barley
3 tbsps minced fresh parsley or rosemary or thyme
½ tsp each of salt and fresh ground pepper or to taste
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 pound cooked seafood (shrimp, scallops)or fresh mushrooms or peas (not included in nutritional information)
Heat broth in a saucepan to a simmer. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes. Add rice; reduce heat to medium and cook rice 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly; cook until each portion of broth is absorbed by the rice before adding the next ½ cup. This should take no more than 20 minutes in total or about 2-3 minutes per addition of broth. Once rice is cooked al dente, stop adding broth and stir in parsley, other herbs or seafood or vegetables and cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring constantly. Spoon onto plates; sprinkle with cheese. I also like to make this risotto with about 2 tbsps of fresh lemon juice and ½ tsp fresh grated lemon peel at the end of cooking. .
Per serving (without seafood or mushrooms): 229 Calories; 3g Total Fat; 21g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 292mg Sodium
This dish is normally more than 500 calories per serving with 43 grams of fat. I reduced the calories to almost half by using half and half instead of cream and replacing the butter with defatted chicken broth. You will never completely fool anyone who has had the real thing but this version tastes great especially topped with lobster, crab, shrimp or scallops!
4 quarts of water plus 1 pint defatted chicken broth
8 ounces dried or fresh fettuccine
3/4 cup half-and-half (or fat free half and half*)
1/8 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring water and broth to a boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup of the half-and-half, the nutmeg, and to a simmer (NOT a boil or it may curdle) in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Whisk 1 tsp of the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup of half-and-half together, then whisk it into the simmering mixture. Continue to simmer the sauce, whisking constantly, until it has thickened, about 1 minute. If it doesn’t thicken sufficiently, add the ½ tsp of cornstarch to 2 tbsps of cold water and whisk in a little. The sauce should thicken sufficiently with the addition of more cornstarch. Cover and take the pot of sauce off the heat.
Stir 1 tbsp salt and the pasta into the boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, until al dente, 6-8 minutes (keep tasting it every minute after 8 minutes, so it doesn’t over cook). Drain the pasta.
Return the half-and-half mixture to medium-low heat and slowly whisk in the Parmesan. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook 1-2 minutes, coating the pasta evenly with the sauce. Season with pepper to taste, top with fresh herbs or parsley if you wish and serve.
Per 2 ounce serving (with half and half): Cal 300; Fat 11 g; Sat Fat 6 g; Chol 70 mg; Carb 36 g; Protein 15 g; Fiber 2 g; Sodium 580 mg
* Using fat free half and half: Cal 200; Fat 4.5 g; Sat Fat 1 g; Chol 50 mg; Carb 32 g; Protein 13 g; Fiber 2 g; Sodium 550 mg
Strawberries dipped in Sour Cream and Brown Sugar
2 cups whole strawberries
¼ cup brown sugar
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream (or low fat yogurt)
Fresh mint leaves (optional)
Wash and dry strawberries. Serve strawberries in a large bowl, place two-three tbsps of sour cream on each guest’s plate and two tbsps brown sugar near the cream on the plate , Ask guests to dip strawberries, first in sour cream, then brown sugar and eat!
Garnish with fresh mint leaves, if desired.
Per serving (1/2 cup strawberries and 2 tbsps each of sugar and sour cream): 65 Calories; 1g Total Fat;; 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1mg Cholesterol; 21mg Sodium
No matter what eating and exercise plan you choose, first check with your doctor, then, start it during your next cruise. You’ll be distracted enough by the joys of cruising with activities such as navigation, boat maintenance, exploring new places, meeting fellow cruisers and begin to build new habits while doing something you enjoy!
Useful online and print resources to help you with diet and exercise:
• My Pyramid Tracker. Launched in April by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), this Web site stores up to a year's worth of food and physical activity records. It also takes the guesswork out of meeting the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Free.
• Nutridiary provides free electronic way to record daily eating habits and activity trends for up to six weeks. The site offers a daily basal metabolic rate plus a recommended calorie level that can help you lose -- or gain -- weight. There's a place to log body measurements from neck to calf size. In addition to the standard meal records, special logs track water consumption, fruit and vegetables, percent body fat and physical activity. Free.
• NutritionData. If you've ever wondered how many calories are in your homemade lasagna, this is the program for you. Plug in recipe ingredients to get a nutrition label that lists calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat grams, fiber and more, just like the labels found on commercially prepared foods. It also offers better eating alternatives by linking to lists of healthier options and features a fullness factor rating for foods and a lengthy list of fast food. Free.
• eDiets (http://www.ediets.com) – for a quarterly fee of $39, choose your diet and the exercise program you like and the site provides printable meal plan, recipes, shopping lists, weight loss tips, advice from nutritionists and personal trainers and a progress of your accomplishments. The Diet Channel (http://www.thedietchannel.com) is a creation of eDiets.com but it is clever in that is asks you to answer a few questions and then selects diets most likely to work for you based on your personality, which conveniently resides at ediets.com site. The Diet Channel received a Forbes award for best of the web.
• Dr. Mirkin’s Health Reports and Healthy Heart Recipes - (http://www.drmirkin.com) - A practicing physician for more than 40 years and a former radio talk show host for 25, Dr. Mirkin and his wife Diana have developed hundreds of tasty, easy recipes based on Dr. Mirkin's healthful eating guidelines. They feature whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruits, flavored with lots of interesting seasonings.
• A New Way to Cook (SallySchneider.net or www.anewwaytocook.com) – Great site for recipes and sources of information about healthy cooking.
Books: These are not “diet” books but only a few cookbooks that I often use that contain great recipes, taste great and help me to avoid “overindulging”.
• The Best Light Recipes by Editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine ( Mar 1, 2006) Every recipe was tested and retested and every one I’ve tried is delicious!
• Martha Stewart's Healthy Quick Cook by Martha Stewart (October 28, 1997) No nutritional information but some nice, easy recipes that are satisfying and flavorful while being healthy.
• A New Way to Cook, Sally Schneider, (October 2003). This book is the ultimate guide to cooking for the Mediterranean diet. Wonderful recipes and excellent ideas for a lose cruise!
• Canyon Ranch Cooks by Barry Correia and Scott Uehlein ( Oct 10, 2003)
• Spa Cuisine: Spa Food Menus by Edward J. Safdie (June 13, 1985). This book is out of print but used copies of this excellent book from California’s Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa are available online at www.amazon.com