What I Ate on Vacation—without Gaining a Pound

Well hello, Balancing Active—long time, no see!  We just got back from vacation and I’m finally getting my bearings to get back on the blog train.  It’s been way too long, and I have lots of posts swirling around in my brain (and on random Post-It notes everywhere), so look for more to come soon.

We're on vacation!

We’re on vacation!

To start, I wanted to share the results of what was kind of a forced experiment in eating while on vacation.  I say forced because we were “confined” (poor us) to a cruise ship for about five of our days away, which limits the options as far as what to eat, even more so than vacation normally would.  You hear stories of cruise-goers gaining a pound a day on vacation, and I really did not want that to be me, especially given the amount of time I’d spend in a bikini.  My workouts would also be limited, as I wanted to focus on enjoying an action-packed music festival style ship, rather than on getting to a (crowded and hot) gym everyday.  Running on the treadmill while trying to get my sea legs and going from 15 to 75 degree weather?  No thanks.


So the question was, could I not starve, maintain my weight, not bloat, and eat mostly gluten free and moderately plant-based?  I’ve really been preaching that weight is mostly about diet lately, so it was time to put that strategy into action.


Since we cruised with Norwegian, their “freestyle”, cafeteria-like dining option allowed me to eat basically on my schedule and according to my appetite.  While we had the choice of several sit-down restaurants for dinner, there were no dinging bells or waiting for a meal that might not even have feasible options.


Despite the lack of detailed labels in the cafeteria (one of my few criticisms), I did my best to guess which foods, dishes, and portions best suited my needs.  The most important factor was being open to assembling a meal out of non-entrée items, like a huge pile of sautéed mushrooms from the burger bar, sans burger.  Another key was keeping portions of each item small so I could sample lots of different foods in one meal.  This gave the feeling of “indulgent” vacation eating because I wasn’t the girl just having salad at lunch every day (see below for an idea of what my plate might look like at lunch).  Using these strategies, below are some of the items I filled my plate with at each meal, and my approach to snacks, sweets, and drinks.

First food on the boat

First food on the boat

Breakfast – three to four of the below

  • Smoked salmon slices (a favorite I don’t eat regularly at home)
  • Scrambled or hard boiled egg
  • Oatmeal with about a teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Breakfast potatoes with onions and peppers
  • Cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple, and/or grapes—I tried to pick fruits that aren’t in season at home.


Lunch – packed my plate with a variety of the below.

  • Cheese cubes (about half a dozen)
  • Chickpea, red bean, or potato salads (a third of the plate)
  • Lettuce or spinach from salad bar (skipped dressing, since there were only bottled, processed dressings)
  • Fresh or sautéed vegetables and mushrooms from salad bar or hot bar
  • Hot entrée vegetarian option, such as veggie enchiladas or lentil cakes (small portion)
  • Fresh fruit



  • Similar to lunch selection, but heavier on the vegetarian hot entrée or bean portion size
  • Addition of some cooked meat or fish



  • Organic pumpkin seeds and almonds that I packed
  • Fresh fruit (often watermelon)
  • Cheese
  • Late night pizza, but in moderation.  A couple of nights, I had one or two slices right before bed.  Not the best choice.  However, I made the conscious decision other days, and shared it with Steve for accountability, that my only late night snack would be fruit, nuts, or dark chocolate in the room.  I was also somewhat guilt-tripped when a fellow elevator rider applauded my 1 AM to-go plate of pizza.  Um, yeah, I’m not going to be eating this in bed?
Apparently we need fake backgrounds in the middle of the Caribbean

Apparently we need fake backgrounds in the middle of the Caribbean

Sweets – You know how the desserts usually look in a buffet line, right?  It was about the same situation on board, and it was pretty easy for me to resist a pre-cut slice of fruity cake that might have been sliced yesterday.  Fortunately, I’m also not a big sucker for fro-yo, which was available 24/7 on the ship.  As such, my sugar consumption was confined to a square or two of the dark and milk organic chocolate bars that I packed for the trip.  I’d say the cruise actually helped me cut down on my sugar consumption with the scarcity of my usual weaknesses, candy and cookies.


Drinks – This was vacation, and I knew I would be drinking more than usual, which helped me to stay disciplined in my eating.  I didn’t go hog wild, though, and I managed to keep my weight constant even with one or two morning champagnes, followed by four to eight drinks throughout each afternoon or evening.  I did stay away from gluten-filled beer, only having one Bud Light Lime (my favorite) on our beach day.  My usual choices for drinks were wine, vodka soda (with the occasional splash of pineapple), or tequila shots.  Avoiding overdoing it on carbonated beverages really kept bloating down, and I incorporated plenty of water consumption throughout the day and between alcoholic drinks.  I also had a coffee or two daily, with half and half added (I don’t use sugar unless the coffee is really terrible).


Another bonus of spacing out my alcoholic drinks (read:  not getting wasted) was that my inhibitions were never low enough that I compulsively downed half a pizza at two in the morning.  Go me.

It worked!

It worked!

Given that I’m writing about this in hindsight (and that I’m sharing it at all), you may guess that my “strategy” worked.  I went in with an open mind, committing to not being ultra high maintenance and doing the best I could with what I had, with some room for “cheating”.  I also made sacrifices in some areas (food choices, giving up desserts) in anticipation of other splurges.  Most of all, I listened to my body.  If I started to feel “gross” and disgusted at my choices, I used the feeling as a springboard for change at the next meal.  I can honestly say I felt satiated at almost all times and wasn’t thinking about food I wanted or what looked good that other people were eating.


Note:  I’m not affiliated with either Norwegian Cruise Line or Sixthman/The Rock Boat.  All opinions are 100% my own!

2 Comments What I Ate on Vacation—without Gaining a Pound

  1. Brittany

    Great post, Tessa. I have two vacations on the horizon that I know are really going to test me. This post is full of easy to apply advice, and it’s nice to see that someone else has done it successfully … Thanks!

    p.s. I wish I looked like that in a bikini :)

    1. Tessa

      Good luck! Where are you headed? I didn’t think of this at the time, but I think “food destination” vacations would be the caveat to my advice. And seriously–it’s 50% in the pose–STRETTTCCCCCHHHH the abs haha.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *