Cruising and Weight Management

I just got back from a cruise, a first time endeavor for me and my husband. We did ten days in the Mediterranean, starting in Athens and ending in Barcelona, with a couple of days at each end in those cities, and arrived home late Sunday night.

Here’s what I learned:

-There are healthy options on a cruise, but they are sometimes very hard to find, and some of the menu descriptions can be deceiving, so ask. For example, I learned the hard way that “crisp” can mean deep fried. Ugh. You’re welcome.

-You’re better off doing the seated dining where it’s an option, because a buffet is an invitation to overindulgence. (buffets are my natural enemy in the wild, and I avoid them at all costs whenever possible).

-Food is available 24/7. That doesn’t mean you need to eat it 24/7.

-The quickest way to eat regrettably, and inflate your cruise tab, is alcohol. As always. This is the same on land or sea.

-Air France has the worst airplane food I’ve ever encountered on an international flight, hands down. I wasn’t expecting that!

Anyway, as I mentioned before I left, I didn’t want to gain a pound a day like my pal Rick Steves says can be common on a cruise (aieee!). Nightmare scenario for me!

Here were the strategies I employed:

  1. Don’t snack between meals. This had an unintended consequence for me, unfortunately, because when you eat lunch at noon or 1 and your dinner seating isn’t until 8:15, that’s a very long gap between meals. I normally try to eat every 2-3 hours, and this caused me some headaches I probably didn’t need to have. Due to the complete upending of my usual routine inherent in any travel, sometimes the first sign I’d have that I was hungry was a splitting headache. NO BUENO. Were I to do it again, I would plan in some healthy snacks every few hours, by stockpiling fruit from the breakfast buffet (which I started doing eventually but not at first).
  2. Load up on lean meats and veggies for dinner. Most meal options come with veggies, but also you can order sides of extra veggies. One night lobster was a menu option – YES PLEASE!
  3. Dessert was always a fruit plate. And a fruit plate was always an option on the dessert menu. I took the view of, which of these options would leave me feeling the best? Almost every time it was fruit plate.
  4. SO MUCH WALKING. I definitely got more walking on the days we didn’t book excursions from the boat, because we ended up walking off the boat and exploring the port city all on foot. But, even some (not all, but some!) excursions netted us up to 8 miles of walking, which was a surprise!. (Personal high was about 12 miles the day we explored Athens, all on foot!)
  5. Eat the local delicacy when on shore. Life can’t be all boiled chicken and broccoli, my friends! Pizza in Naples, tapas in Spain, daube provencal in Arles. The walking will take care of it!

I’ve lately been focusing my mindset on fueling my body in the way it wants to be fueled, and that means avoiding sugar. Protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates work best for me, but things like desserts that are pure sugar will leave me feeling sluggish and bloated for sure, so when it came time to choose dessert, it was usually pretty easy for me to pick the thing that would help me feel my best. Somebody in our dinner group commented one evening that I was “being so good” with my dessert selections, and I could honestly say that I just liked fruit better than the other options. I wasn’t trying consciously to be on a diet, I just want to not feel crappy while I’m on vacation!

So…you may be wondering…how did this all work out for me?

Well, last night I went to my class and weighed in up 3.2 pounds, so that doesn’t sound very great, does it?

Unless you know, like I do, that my body always freaks out when I take an inter-continental flight, and that it would take a day or two to settle down.

This morning I weighed in down 3.5 pounds from yesterday. So that means I had a net change of just about nothing. That was my goal. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

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Week 2 Complete: Other Signs of Progress

After last Monday’s annoying results, I’ve been keeping my head down and focusing on working my program to the max. So if my results are less-than-great this week there is absolutely no biological or physical reason for it. None that I can think of.

I stayed on target all week, no slips or eating off-plan (this is a given for me when I’m in the groove). I had 52 servings of fruits/veggies (4 more than last week – more is better!). I had 38 meal replacements. I burned 4,345 calories in physical activity (550 more than last week!). I averaged a net caloric intake of ~820 calories per day (last week it was 860, all of that difference is due to exercise because my total cals was more this week than last week).

However, since I need that silver lining, that glimmering prize, that sign of life, some sort of signal that all this effort is paying off, I got out the measuring tape this morning and I am a solid three-quarters of an inch down at both waist and hips. Suck it, scale!

My next challenge: A weekend getaway coming up wherein I try to not be a total downer because I can’t eat at restaurants. I foresee a lot of picnicing for us – picnics are fun! Even hotel-room picnics are something my husband and I occasionally enjoy on vacation. Packing a cooler full of delicious, healthy food then staying in for the evening can be a nice change and inexpensive, too (compared to going to a fancy, crowded eatery)! The best thing I can do is reframe the experience into something good, instead of letting it be a downer or something onerous.

Staying Tough in The Big Easy

I just got back from a week in New Orleans to celebrate Christmas and New Years! New Orleans…the biggest, baddest food city in the country. I mean, that’s a city where good food has been elevated to an art form and a civic duty! And so, so much of it is fried, battered, and alcoholic! Here are the things I did to try to counteract and avoid a big gain:

  1. Seafood! The biggest, best thing to eat in New Orleans is seafood – oysters, shrimp, crab, and crawdads are on every menu, and if you don’t get them fried or smothered in butter it’s a healthy meal! I ate oysters almost every single day. Raw or chargrilled, they are delicious in NOLA.
  2. Walk it off! Avoid getting a car or taking taxis, and ride the streetcars everywhere you want to go. Once you get there, you’ll be walking. A lot. If you’re not getting enough walking, pick up a guide to walking tours and see some sights that aren’t in the French Quarter. The Garden District, Uptown, Audubon Park, the CBD, Carrollton – there’s way more to New Orleans than Bourbon Street.
  3. Dance it off! Head down to Frenchmen Street for some excellent live music and hit the dancefloor for some bonus exercise. Most of the clubs featuring swing and jazz have a space for dancing. Use it.
  4. Speaking of Bourbon Street – avoid it. That scene is played out and sad these days. All you’ll get there are shitty frozen cocktails and drunken crowds. Ugh. Believe me when I say you’re not missing anything by not staggering around with all the other tourists carrying a plastic novelty mug and a weak, sugary mess of a “drink” in your hand.
  5. Make room for some treats, but make them the good ones. You know you’re going to want to get some beignet at Cafe du Monde, but make it an event that only happens once. A treat’s more special for being rare. Go for it and enjoy every bite, but not every day.
  6. Slow down and savor. Don’t skip out on the headline experiences – go to the finest restaurants, like Commander’s Palace, but really take your time. This is some of the best food in the country so let your palate linger over every bite, and be mindful of how full you are. Stop when you feel sated – that’s easier to do when you’re taking your time with every nuance of flavor.

Am I up a pound or two? Probably. But not much more – my measurements say I’m a little bloated but not badly and nothing that won’t come off in the next couple of days. I’m feeling pretty satisfied with my trip and my efforts to navigate the food landscape in the toughest food environment around.

I made the decision that I would enjoy my trip (within reasonable boundaries like those I listed above) and not beat myself up afterwards for enjoying myself. I have a plan, I’m back on target this week, and excited to see what 2016 has in store for me!

Planning Around My Hard Week

I had to be in the office this week, completely disrupting my exercise schedule. As I mentioned earlier, I shifted to doing my workouts in the evenings the moment I got home from work, then getting on with trumpet practice and dinner and other evening things.

Today I was able to work from home again, so back to normal. But, since I’ve been eating in restaurants with my co-worker who is in from out of town this week, I felt like a little extra oomph might be a good idea so I went with a full hour workout this morning.

That’s pretty much all I have to report – I had a schedule shake-up and I worked through it. I’m such a creature of habit so these sorts of changes really cause me to draw on the super-planning powers to try to figure out a way to still do all the self-care things I need to do.

The other thing I noticed is that after a day of sitting in an office hunched over my laptop my shoulders and neck tends to be pretty tense and sore, and doing a hard workout at the end of that really makes it feel better! Getting blood flowing loosens things up and keeps what might have turned ugly (possible migraine?) into feeling better. I must keep that in mind the next time I’m feeling tense and sore and worn out. Even though I started my workouts thinking I really wasn’t “feeling it,” I did them anyway and got rewarded by feeling better.

Work(out) Schedule Juggling

Really quick update today. I’ve been apprehensive about how this week was going to go because I need to actually be in the office for work every day from Monday to Friday – completely upsetting my routine apple-cart! Over the last 6 months I’ve been working from home exclusively and doing my workouts in the morning, but sometimes they need me there in person to test stuff I’ve designed or collaborate with people who are building my designs. Hence this week, and my apprehension about my inability to do my workouts, and worry that with entertaining out-of-town co-workers I wouldn’t have time to exercise at all!

Yesterday went about as well as I could have hoped. I got into the office early, worked all day heads-down with my team, and got home around 4:30pm, with the understanding that I’d meet up with them for dinner at 7pm. That gave me just enough time to do my Jillian workout DVD (25 minutes), hit the shower, then practice my trumpet for 40 minutes before touching up my makeup and heading out to dinner, where I ordered an appetizer and soup for dinner.

I’m very pleased with how I managed yesterday and I’m looking forward to continuing this pattern of good problem-solving for the rest of the week. How’s your week going?

The Scourge of Decision-Making

If you’re looking to manage your weight, to maintain or even lose a few pounds, one of the very effective tools you can use is to reduce the number of decisions you have to make. This is because decisions you make when you are hungry are likely to be bad, and as the decisions you make each day pile up the quality of the decisions you make deteriorates.

The best way to ensure you don’t make bad decisions is to have a plan for the day. It’s easy to make a plan and it doesn’t take long. If you practice it a few times you’ll find it can improve your day, not just in what you eat but in fewer distractions.

For example, I just went downstairs for my mid-morning snack. If I hadn’t made a plan I would have opened the fridge, perused the food I had available, looked through all the cabinets to see what I had, and either made or just grabbed something at random, likely the thing that seemed tastiest (but possibly not the healthiest or supportive choice).

Since I had a plan I went downstairs, grabbed a pear from the fruit bowl, and ate it. Then back to work. Saved me both time and calories.

So make a plan. First, take a sheet of paper (or open an excel spreadsheet), and create a row for each time you normally eat during the day. For example, I eat every couple of hours, so mine looks like:

  • Breakfast
  • Snack
  • Lunch
  • Snack
  • Dinner
  • Snack

Of course, yours may look different, there’s growing evidence that eating small meals more often is not necessary for weight loss. It’s all about what works for you, so if you prefer 3 larger meals, that’s fine.

Then, next to each entry write down what you intend to eat for each meal. The great thing here is you can even count up your calories (or whatever counts for you – protein, carbs, etc) in advance to know you’ve made a good plan! Knowing what you have on hand and where you’ll be for each meal will help. This also gives you a chance to think about what your options are if you are out of the house – are you going to be eating at a restaurant? Will you be in transit? Do you need to take something along with you to meet your goals and reduce temptations?

If you’re going to be eating at a restaurant or in transit, it’s a great time to look up the menu online and see what the options are for healthier choices. Heck – sometimes I stalk a menu beforehand and decide hours or days before I get there what I will order. It’s easier to make the healthier choice when you’re not hungry!

This can take mere minutes, and gives you a blueprint for success all day long. Give it a try, and let me know how it went! If you find that it helped you stay on track, consider adopting a couple of templates that you can use every day. I have a couple standard plans for weekdays (which are usually pretty much the same) and a couple of different ones for weekends depending on my plans.

A Weekend of Food Challenges

I had a really fun weekend full of non-stop eating opportunities! Friday night my husband and I went to the restaurant of a friend of ours, who is an amazing charcutier. That means there weren’t a lot of veggie options, and honestly that’s not her forte anyway, so I went for it and ordered the lamb shanks, and also split a charcuterie plate with my husband. I ate about a quarter of the lamb dish and had the rest boxed up.

My stomach has shrunk over the last 6 months as I’ve been losing weight, and I’m going to protect that as long as I can. When I eat now I focus on being mindful about how much food I eat, and how full I’m getting. I aim to stop eating when I’m satisfied, not full. I don’t need to be completely full to feel satisfied, particularly if I’m eating high-density foods like lamb or sausage, so I have been having a lot of restaurant meals boxed up lately. I don’t know if my stomach has physically shrunk, or if my sense of portion sizes has just adjusted down, or what is exactly going on, but I know that I am able to be happy eating smaller portions than ever before in my life, and I’m doing what I can to keep that going as long as I can!

Saturday we had TWO parties to attend (after a morning run), starting with a birthday celebration at a seafood restaurant. I have a default when I’m at a seafood restaurant. Yes, going with a baked, poached, or broiled fillet of fish will work fine, particularly if I can replace whatever starch usually comes with it with extra steamed veggies, but that’s not my default order at a fancy fish place. I almost always order cioppino. It’s a very tasty, low-calorie option!bluedress

After the birthday party we headed to a house party, where staying on target was relatively easy, for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t drinking at all because I’ve recently had a spate of migraines and cutting out alcohol reduces the obvious triggers and 2) the party was laid out on two floors, and the food was only on the second floor – it was really easy to avoid the snack table. Perfect! Here’s a pic of the outfit I whipped up by putting together a dress I love love love but often feels too short for my comfort (hence it doesn’t get worn often enough), paired with my $7 thrift shop jeans.

Sunday was yet another birthday party. And it was a food-focused one – my friend Andrew makes an amazing spread of Russian food when he throws a party, and Sunday was no different. I was very careful about my choices, but was able to easily limit my calories by sticking to vegetarian Borscht, grilled marinated mushrooms (I ate a LOT of mushrooms!), and marinated cucumbers. And I split a small piece of birthday cake with my husband, because I’m not a total killjoy!

Overall I’m very pleased with my successful navigation of the weekend food challenges!