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posted: 11/19/2013 6:00 AM

Avoiding weight gain on a dream cruise

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  • Familiarize yourself with the ship's exercise options in order stay fit while cruising.

    Familiarize yourself with the ship's exercise options in order stay fit while cruising.

By Lavinia Rodriguez
Tampa Bay Times

Vacation cruises are popular for the adventure and relaxation they promise. But they're also associated with big buffets and weight gain. It's not unusual to hear people complain about gaining 10 pounds on what otherwise would have been an enjoyable experience.

My husband and I just returned from a cruise through the inside passage of Alaska, a trip we'd anticipated for some time. Although my main concern was my history of getting seasick, I also considered how to maintain our health and weight-management habits while on the cruise. Fortunately, my husband and I have similar fitness interests. I was curious to see how difficult it would be to avoid weight gain on a cruise while not depriving ourselves.

Since being prepared is essential for successful weight management, my husband and I made a plan. We agreed to:

• Use only the stairs -- never the elevators.

• Focus on putting a lot of colorful foods on our plates and talking about how nutritious and visually pleasing our choices were.

• Have a salad as one of our meals each day.

• Eat in the dining rooms that allowed us to maintain the same eating schedules that we have at home.

• Have a high-fiber breakfast with fruit and whole grains each morning, delivered by room service. This way we would be less tempted by seeing the high-calorie options in the dining room.

• Familiarize ourselves with the ship's exercise options as soon as we boarded.

• Take a brisk one-hour walk around the ship immediately after breakfast each morning to get our exercise in early.

• Take advantage of the ship's gym and spa, working out on treadmills and weight machines before enjoying massages and hot tubs. Being pampered after working out would also serve as reinforcement.

• Choose active excursions when offered. That meant more hikes and fewer bus trips.

• Leave most technology behind. We stayed away from computers and used phones only if absolutely necessary.

We enjoyed the trip to its fullest. We went to nightly stage productions, had quiet times on our balcony and went to a special food event that included some unique desserts. But by setting a plan and following it, we stayed on track with our long-term health goals while we enjoyed a new experience. And we weren't the only ones on the ship who were following a healthy lifestyle while on vacation. We had plenty of company on our walks, at the gym, on the stairs and on the hikes.

I found out that cruise ships provide plenty of opportunities to stick to your usual fit lifestyle, if you want to. The ship had a beautiful promenade for running or walking while watching out for wildlife on the open water. It had all the exercise equipment you could possibly want and the experts to help you. In addition, it provided plenty of healthful food choices that were beautiful to look at as well as pleasing to the taste buds.

With the right intentions, some planning, mindful choices and a positive attitude, staying on track with fitness felt natural and fun. And what was the result? Exactly what I suspected it would be: no weight gain and spectacular memories.

• Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa, Fla., psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management."

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