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2014-10-18 16.41.59Some sources estimate that cruisers gain 1-2 pounds per day. There are always a few dedicated gym-goers on every cruise, but most of us go on cruises to relax, not to chain ourselves to an elliptical between ice cream binges. To hedge your bets for an enjoyable, gym-free cruise without the post-cruise belly roll, ditch the diet and follow these 10 simple rules instead:

1. Don’t show up to any meal hungry. Drink at least a cup of water before you go each meal. Sometimes I add a handful of almonds or half a banana.
2. Approach buffet with caution. The buffet can be overwhelming and if you’re like me, saying “no” to anything is difficult, especially if I can eat it. If you try something and don’t love it, push it aside: mother will not yell at you for failing to clean your plate today. Take a little less than what you think you can eat, knowing you can always get more if it’s delicious. Wait before you go back for seconds. I try to drink a full glass of water before I do.

If you don't absolutely love your dinner choice, ask for something else!

If you don’t absolutely love your dinner choice, ask for something else!

3. Make your calories count. At sit down dinners, there are often a few options for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. If you order the gazpacho appetizer and the first bite renders your face into an unhappy scowl, politely ask for a different appetizer. The staff will be more than happy to accommodate your request, and there is certainly no shortage of food. It won’t take but a minute, and will ensure that you actually enjoy the calories you’re consuming.
4.  Swim some laps. The pool is usually empty right before dinner, so that’s a good time to get some exercise and soak up the last of the sun. You don’t even have to get your hair wet; just do a few laps back and forth to get your heart rate up. Enjoy a few minutes in the hot tub before you go. It’ll make your day feel longer, and let’s face it, and swimming in a pool– on a boat– in the ocean– is inherently awesome.
5. Stairs, not the elevator. Take the stairs as often as possible. Self-explanatory.

6. Get Lost. Walk around the ship. Explore each deck. Wander down the halls of rooms and imagine what you’d do if Leonardo DiCaprio was chained to a wall somewhere nearby and the water was rising and only you had the key to save him. [Insert Titanic romantic fantasy here].


Amble around town and you might stumble across cute local spots like this alley in old town, Stavanger in Norway.

Amble around town and you might stumble across cute local spots like this alley in old town, Stavanger in Norway.

7. Walk, Bike, and Try Public Transportation. Do your own walking tour instead of an arranged bus tour. If there are long distances to cover, explore public transportation options like the train or local metro systems. You’ll see first-hand what local life is like, get to know the city better, all while walking more.
8. Stick to 3 meals a day. “I was worried that when I came on board for 6 months that all I’d do is eat eat eat, but sticking to 3 meals a day has helped keep me healthy,” says Caroline Bigley, an officer on a Holland America boat.  Food is always available on cruise ships, and it’s easy to keep eating from dawn until dusk, especially if you’re at sea for the day. You’re on vacation so it’s absolutely ok to treat yourself, but keep it reasonable: ice cream and fries are not a breakfast food. (Ok, maybe just once). If you want to treat yourself to chips and ice cream for brekkie, fine, but do it once, not every day, and drink a big glass of water beforehand. The key is moderation.
9. Protein. Make sure you’re getting enough protein in your meals. Starting the day with protein will keep you fuller, for longer, and reduce the likelihood of a dessert-bar-bender. I like scrambled eggs with fresh salsa.

10. Gin and Tonic. Limit the sugary cocktails like mai tais and piña coladas and opt for lighter drinks like a gin and tonic. Though tonic is admittedly as sugary as a soda, it’s nothing compared to the pre-made drink mixes, which pack a sugary, caloric punch that will maximize your hangover and sabotage your efforts to avoid the  “cruise cushion” around your middle.

Keeping healthy while cruising is all about minimizing the damage. Cut corners where you can and splurge when it’s worth it. But most of all, relax and enjoy.