Cruise Ship Buffets: Tips for Feasting Without Gaining Weight!

(Gaining weight while cruising is a hot topic on the cruise boards, so I thought I’d share an eating plan that works for me.)

Are you planning a cruise ship vacation, but you are worried about falling victim to the siren cry of the cruise ship buffets, and the subsequent weight gain?  Or have you cruised before, so you’ve already packed your “fat” pants for disembarkation day?  Well, you’re not alone.  Many travelers, men and women, gain weight during ocean voyages.


Weight gain, following a luxurious ocean voyage, can outweigh the joyful memories of your last cruise.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here’s a simple controlled eating system for piling up those wonderful cruise ship memories, without piling on the extra pounds.  And the beauty of this system is that is doesn’t require severe changes in behavior, just slight moderations to the way you eat, and the way you think about eating.



Cruise ship in Italian waters.(Note:  If you are under a doctor’s care for weight or other health-related issues, then the following plan may not work for you.  Remember, you should abide by medical advice given you by professionals you trust.  If, however, you are an average Joe, simply prone to over-indulging, then this controlled eating plan may be perfect for you.) 

Change the way you THINK about eating first:  Stop thinking like the child you once were.  You don’t have to try everything; you don’t have to eat vegetables if you don’t want to; you don’t have to eat everything on your plate; and you can eat your dessert at any time you choose, even at the beginning of your meal.  If you are craving protein, then eat an entire meal of just protein.  You’ll make up the difference at another meal.


But be on guard against white foods (pasta, bread, rice, and anything made from white flour or white sugar).  These are high carbohydrate and calorie rich foods.  Select these foods with care, and in reduced amounts, much reduced amounts.  With that in mind, hit the buffet.


Plate sizes:  This is your first line of defense.  Where possible, use a smaller plate; avoid the platter-size plates offered by most cruise lines.  Go to the dessert area or the salad bar, and use one of those plates instead.  A smaller plate means less room for food.


Portion sizes:  Cruise ship buffets offer very tempting desserts but just because cakes and pies are cut into wedges, it doesn’t mean you must take the portion size offered.  Instead, cut the piece in half, or share a piece with your traveling companion.  It also helps to keep a quick calorie chart in your head.  A large fruit muffin is 400 calories.  A wedge of chocolate cake is easily 500 plus calories, while two shortbread cookies are about 160 calories.

Eat desserts WITH the main course:  This is one of the most sensible things I have ever done.  How many of us (especially the chocolate freaks) eat a full meal, and then can’t resist at least 2-3 desserts like gooey fudge cake, chocolate mousse, or pecan pie?  And because we want the yummy flavors so desperately, in spite of being full of the main course, we cram in the desserts. 

Go for a balanced plate instead (that’s ONE plate).  You know you want the sweet stuff, you know you are going to eat it anyway, so add it to your main course plate and eat it at the same time as you eat your roast beef, your broccoli, and your salad.  You will sate your sweet tooth, your cravings, and you won’t overeat.  Try it—it really works.  (Note to Baby Boomers:  Forget what Mama taught you—eat your dessert during your main course.)



Eating frequency:  Come to the buffet because you are hungry.  If you are there because you are bored, you are in trouble.  Bored people who eat are also people who will gain weight.  Come to the buffet only when you are hungry, REALLY hungry. 

Ignore what you’ve learned about “three squares” a day; instead opt for five smaller meals.  Thin people tend to eat smaller meals, but they eat more often.  It’s a smart behavior to emulate.

Explore the buffet:  Don’t start loading your plate until you have perused the entire buffet.  Don’t put a single thing on your plate until you have decided what you would like to eat.  In other words, don’t graze.  Be very choosy, and select only those items you absolutely must have. Once you have decided what items you are truly craving, begin loading your plate, with items from everywhere including the hot courses, the salad bar, and the desserts.  It works like this:  You have limited space in your stomach.  If you overeat on the main courses, and you are still craving dessert, you will cram in that yummy chocolate cake, no matter what.  It’s what we overeaters do.

Slow down:  Once back at your table, remember you are not on a timetable.  You have lots of time to eat—slowly. Try to drink a half glass of water laced with lemon (makes the water more palatable and it acts as a detox) in between food portions.  Once you’ve finished your plateful, drink more water, and then evaluate your desires.  If you are still hungry, if you are still craving something, go ahead and eat, but keep the portions small. 

Midnight buffet:  Let your eyes feast all they want, but don’t touch.  Better still—avoid this caloric-rich temptation altogether.  Go dancing instead.  Or take an evening stroll.  Luckily, for those weak of will, many cruise lines are now eliminating this unhealthy, albeit highly delicious, midnight fiesta.

Walk and then walk some more:  Use the stairs, if you are able.  Avoid the elevator—the waiting time is usually long anyway.  Take in the view from the panorama deck, or jog around the track if you are up to it.  Just be sure to move.

Quick guidelines for controlled eating onboard a cruise ship:

  1. Make several trips to the buffet, with a smaller plate.  It’s fun to browse and select only a couple of foods at a time.  Besides the walk will do you good.
  2. Slow down.  Select your foods carefully and thoughtfully.  Eat slowly.  Drink lots of water as you eat.
  3. Reduce your portion sizes.  Take only a partial serving where whole parts are offered.  Have half a piece of cake, half a pork chop or half a bun.  You just want the flavor anyway; you won’t miss the other half.
  4. Arrange your food on your plate so that one type barely touches another.  Keeping visible space between your foods helps keep down the calories.  And it looks more appetizing, too.
  5. Select wisely—for health, of course, but for taste, too.  Don’t take a food just because it’s part of the suggested food guide.  Select a food only because you are craving that flavor.  You aren’t a baby anymore; choose what you want—just try to opt for better food choices like a mix of fresh vegetables and lean meats.  In smaller quantities.
  6. Think—don’t just shovel!  Do you really want that second half of your potato?  That piece of beef?  That pecan tart?
  7. Water!  Drink lots of water during your meal.  It will help you to feel fuller, without the calories.  Give your body a chance to metabolize this smaller meal, and then have another, a few hours later.
  8. Skip a meal if you are not hungry.  Add meals on days that you are hungry. But keep them small.
  9. On shore excursion or port days, eat a hearty breakfast onboard, a light lunch on shore, and a hearty dinner back on the ship.  During “at sea” days, skip the first breakfast, eat an early lunch (brunch), and an early supper, with a couple of snack times in between.
  10. Ignore what you were taught as a kid.  Stop eating when you are full, leave food on your plate.  No one will hold you accountable for uneaten mashed potatoes.  I promise.
  11. Above all, eat for pleasure, and because you are hungry, not just because the food is sitting there.


Sheree Zielke

4 Responses to “Cruise Ship Buffets: Tips for Feasting Without Gaining Weight!”

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