Don’t Let Your Body Sink: How To Survive a Cruise Ship

For many young dancers calling a cruise ship “home” is the job of a lifetime.

You get to travel the world, do what you love, and put money in the bank.

Not a bad life, right?

As a serial cruise ship performer, I can attest that it is a life of adventure and self growth.

After finishing my most recent contract, and making my way back to US soil, I was greeted by people who eagerly inquired, “What was your favorite port?”

Barcelona, duh.

Their follow up?  “You look AMAZING! How did you stay in shape?”

And that’s what I’m here to talk to you about!

I accepted my first contract for the ms Eurodam after four months of living the stereotypical, starving artist-life in Chicago.

Sleep, eat, work, dance, work some more, repeat.  I was conditioned to scout out all free food and carefully calculate each grocery store trip.

So when I started living on a ship where a full, free buffet was available to me every day for every meal, self-control was non-existent. Instinct kicked in as I ate every meal like it was my last.

On top of eating more, I was moving less.  I was no longer dancing four hours a day and running job to job.  What does one do with so much free time when working on a cruise ship?

Drink of course!

Even the fastest metabolism cannot withstand the dastardly effects of this combination. Within a few short months, I packed on almost ten pounds.

I did, what I assumed was the most sensible approach to dropping the weight and went on a crash diet.

This turned out to be the worst decision I could have made.

I’d like to refer to this time as “The Dark Ages”, marked by low energy, irritability, injury, and general unhappiness.

It turns out carbs are kind of important for sanity.  Not only was it miserable, but it was unsustainable.

Luckily, a few short months later, as I walked up that gangway onto my second contract, this time aboard the ms Koningsdam, I was equipped with the knowledge and training tools (shout out to DWL!) to not make the same mistakes.

Six months later, I walked off that ship in the best physical shape I’ve ever been in through diet and exercise… and here is how I did it!

Contract 1           VS.              Contract 2

First, exercise.

Make the gym a hobby, not a chore

If you see the gym as a daunting task you HAVE to do instead of something you WANT to do, you’ve already set yourself up for failure.  Going to the gym became something I looked forward to almost every day because it got me out of my small, dark, A deck cabin and gave me time to myself.

It also got all those “feel good” chemicals moving, and my mood always skyrocketed after a good gym session.

(TIP #1: Investing in a pair of wireless headphones and a killer playlist can really take your gym session to the next level!  My wireless beats by Dre changed my life…. No kidding.)

Next, LIFT WEIGHTS

Amber has been telling me to lift for a while.

I was always hesitant because I build up muscle quickly, and didn’t want to be “bulky”.

But no matter how much cardio I did, I couldn’t seem to drop stubborn fat.  I finally conceded that it was time to lift a dumbbell or two.

After getting into a regimented lifting routine (another shout out to DWL!), I finally started to see results.

On top of lifting, I swapped out steady rate cardio for HIIT training.  I would hit the treadmill for 20 minutes of various sprint intervals or join in for crew spin class (it’s more fun when you suffer next to friends!).

Not only was I looking better in my costumes on stage, but I also saw a difference in my dancing.

I could balance longer, jump higher, and move with more control.  Pains from past ankle and hamstring injuries went away almost entirely as I built up strong, supporting muscles.

So hit the weight room.  It’s a no-brainer.

Bulky or strong?  You decide.

Little things add up

On ships, as you can imagine, it is very easy to become sedentary.

The next thing you know you are eight episodes deep in Orange is the New Black as you wonder where the day went (Oops).  I found another trick for staying in shape was to get my heart rate up sporadically throughout the day. I made it a habit to always get up in between episodes to get a tea, fresh air, or even do a few push-ups.

(TIP#2:  Take the stairs!!!!!!!!!!  No matter what I’d take the stairs nine floors up to breakfast.  It all adds up!)

(TIP #3: GET OUTSIDE!  A walk, jog, or hike can get you some vitamin D, much needed fresh air, and that step count for the day up. Norway had some stellar hikes, and I’d try to do one whenever it wasn’t raining. )

Two hours uphill was worth this view from Pulpit Rock in Stavanger, Norway.

Next, diet.

This is a big one.

Stop making food a reward.

How often do we find ourselves with a slice of cake in hand after a hard day saying, “I deserve this!” I used to do that all the time.

If I made it through a family dinner without rolling my eyes I’d earn a cookie, or if I made it through two cuts in an audition I’d get a milkshake.

On the ms Konnigsdam, I started rewarding myself in new ways.

If a show went well, I’d treat myself to a $5 internet package, if I made it through a new training goal, I’d buy those earrings I wanted in port.

That whole pizza is gone in 30 minutes, but that manicure will make you feel good for a few days.

You might be thinking, “But Katie, money!!!!”  You’re preaching to the choir!  But those $6 milkshakes are no friend to the wallet either.

Beware of Hidden Calories

At the end of the day, weight loss is about being in a calorie deficit. Simple as that, you must be eating less than you expend (or expending more than you eat).

This means that it is imperative to know exactly what you are putting in your body.

Unfortunately, on ships, you don’t have the luxury of the often taken-for-granted nutritional label.

On top of that, the food is cooked in heavy oil and drenched with fat, salt, and sugar-laden sauces to make it last longer and satisfy demanding guests.  To avoid these calorie traps, I opted to eat what I knew I could control when possible.

Here are some simple swaps I made:

Eggs Benedict –> Hardboiled Eggs

Cashew Chicken  –> Roasted Chicken Breast

Fish in Chile Sauce –> Grilled Salmon

Vegetable Curry –> Salad Bar

Roasted Potatoes –> Baked Potato

Dirty Chai –> Black Coffee

(TIP#4: Sauces normally come with a plethora of unneeded calories. Add some Tabasco instead.  It is low cal, and can liven up a bland dish!)

Sharing is Caring

Personally, I can do without pizza, chips, and fries, but I cannot give up my sweets.

Whenever my favorite desserts were at the liddo (peanut butter silk cake on embarkation day, in case you were wondering), or the carrot cake in port looked particularly good, I’d split it with a friend.

It would satisfy my craving at half the calories and half the price.  It’s a win-win!

Check out the best piece of carrot cake I’ve ever had in Alesunde, Norway.

Hunger and Boredom Are Different

It would be midnight, and we would be on the third episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.  Someone would say, “room service?”

Was my stomach rumbling?

Or did I just want to eat for the sake of eating….  More often than not, it was the latter.

Learning to say no to food when I wasn’t hungry was a lesson in self-control, but a vital part of keeping that unwanted fat off.

(TIP#5: Herbal teas became my best friend.  “I Love Lemon Tea” with extra lemon would satisfy my cravings, and normally inform my body that I wasn’t actually hungry, just bored.)

Alcohol, Fun But Deadly.

The officer’s bar (known as the OB) is the major hub of ship social life.

I would say, “I’ll go up for one.”

Suddenly, I’m on my third glass of wine with a bag of chips.

Then, what seems like minutes later, I’m on my sixth glass of wine and headed to the bakery for a 3am chocolate croissant.

This, my friends, is the where the real danger on the waist line lies when working on a cruise ship.

Not only are you drinking your calories, but you are lowering your judgment and are far more likely to eat crappy foods.  Then you wake up in the morning feeling less than great, making it hard to go to the gym, and a slippery slope begins.

To avoid this, the first rule is moderation.

Having a glass of wine is totally fine as long as it’s just that, one glass.

If I did want to drink more, I would opt for liquor WITHOUT the soda.  I would either get a jack on ice or a vodka water with lime.

Cutting the soda not only saves calories but money as well… another win-win!

(TIP#6: To avoid making poor dietary choices, I would be sure to keep a healthier snack option in my cabin.  A quest bar over that 3 am muffin, cinnamon roll, AND cookie (because I’m reasonable…) saves a lot of calories.)

My tips and tricks for staying fit on a cruise ship can easily translate to land life.

Having a healthy body and a healthy mind leads to a healthy life.

At the end of the day, it’s all about feeling good in order to perform your best, from the office to the stage.

Those are my tricks, what are yours?

XOXO,

Katie Askegaard

@KatieAskegaard

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