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Cruising With a Dietitian: How to Avoid Gaining Weight While at Sea
My husband and I just returned from a 7 night cruise from Baltimore to the Bahamas on the Carnival Pride. Since we shot, I’ve had a lot of people ask me the million dollar question, “How much weight have you gained?” Since this article is about my experience, I’ll tell you: about 3 lbs. So, let me rephrase my title:
Cruise with dietitian – – how to gain “a little” weight while at sea.
You see, not being allowed to gain weight would be unrealistic and just no fun! I must admit I’m a bit of a foodie and we did indulge in many of the culinary adventures the ship and ports had to offer: The Chef’s Table galley tour and 7 course tasting menu, an evening at ‘David’s’ Steakhouse, several servings of Molten Chocolate Cake and Fried Cracked Conch in the Bahamas I even indulged in a couple of Pina Coladas while lazing around in the hot tub.
My measly three kilos isn’t that much considering the statistics. The personal trainer from the ship’s gym quoted me a figure of 7-14 pounds per cruise. A UK poll published last year by the Daily Mail reports 1 pound a day. CruiseReview.com found the average weight gain on a 7-day cruise to be between 5 and 10 pounds. Judging by some of the eating behaviors I saw on board, I’d say that could be accurate for those who really “let loose”.
Here are my top 10 tips for minimizing cruise weight gain:
1. Be a “picky” eater. No, I’m not implying that you should order chicken fingers at every meal like my son does. What I mean by “selective” is about the quality of the food. “Picky” really means two things: 1) not indulging in chicken fingers, mac and cheese, soft serve ice cream, and other items you can easily grab while not on vacation. Save your calories for more epicurean adventures. On my cruise, there were many unique options, including oysters Rockefeller, escargot, and frozen mango soup. 2) “Picky” also means not eating something unless it’s REALLY good. If the fish is dry and cold, do not finish it. If your buffet food tastes bland, let the waiter pick it up. If the cake is tasteless, just take 1 bite and stop. Remember: the “clean slate club” does not meet on cruise ships. Clean your plate only if you really like the food and if it is a “4 star” dish.
2. Use the gym. Lack of time cannot be used as an excuse while at sea! You should exercise more, not less. Most ships have cardio equipment, free weights and exercise classes. Sign up for a fitness class. My husband and I signed up for a group cycling class at 4pm. one day, which saved us a few hundred calories in afternoon cocktails – – we didn’t enjoy a drink until class was over. If the gym isn’t your thing, there’s also usually an outdoor walking/jogging track. Walk the halls and explore every nook and cranny of the ship. Take the stairs as much as possible instead of the elevators. Think of your cruise as a “spa vacation”: take care of your body, exercise, use the steam room, indulge in a massage, and more. All these activities are without food.
3. Choose the dining table over the buffet. Yes, you can order anything you want, but you have to wait for the different courses. Slowing down meal times will reduce the amount you eat. It can take 10-20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that it’s full, so it’s helpful to have downtime between each meal. As an added bonus, the portions served in the dining room on many cruise ships are small – just don’t order 2 entrees! For most meals, I ordered a salad, a soup, an entree, and shared a dessert with my husband.
4. “Scout the Buffet Line.” If you must go to the buffet, look for your options. Choose 3-5 total items that you most want to eat. Remember there will be another buffet and more things to try for the next meal. Food researcher Brian Wansink writes in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine: “Thin people are more likely to seek out food. They’re more likely to consider different alternatives before attacking something—heavy people just tend to pick up a plate and look at each item and say, “I want that? Yes or No”.
5. Eat dessert only once a day. On cruise ships, desserts are offered 24 hours a day: before breakfast (in the form of sweet breads), on the post-brunch menu, on the lunch buffet, after dinner, 24-hour ice cream, midnight chocolate buffet, etc. you can “have your cake and eat it too” but only once a day. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on the dry cakes, jelly and serving ice cream from the buffet line. I saved my dessert calories for evening desserts in the dining room that were more decadent and often served warm (molten chocolate cake, bread puddings, crème brûlée, etc.). If you have a sweet tooth like me and can’t decide on 1 dessert, split 2 (or 3) with your partner, but only have a few bites of each!
6. Substitute an appetizer for your main meal. Many nights, I found the appetizers much more interesting than the meal options. They usually had 2 interesting soups, salads and small bites to choose from. If you want to order the calorie-dense French Onion Soup, go ahead and pair it with a salad and a small appetizer. 2-3 servings of appetizers are probably less calories than one appetizer.
7. Limit alcoholic beverages (and stay away from all-you-can-drink packs). Alcohol is the number one source of empty calories on cruise ships (a standard Pina Colada is over 600 calories!) Try to keep your alcohol consumption to 5pm. This will cut calories and also allow you to be more active earlier in the day – who wants to take the stairs or jog on the track after a few beers??? Trust me; a tall ice cold beer tastes so much better after a hard workout in the gym. Speaking of my good friend the Pina Colada and other yummy frozen fruity drinks – – try to limit them to 1-2 throughout the cruise and stick to dry wine, beer or spirits mixed with water/club soda as they are a fraction of calories. Our boat had an all-you-can-drink alcohol plan that cost $49.95 per person per day. Assuming the average cost of a drink is $7, you would need to drink 7 drinks to break even! Drinking less definitely saved us money and calories!!!
8. Pass the bread basket. Each meal in the dining room was accompanied by a basket of bread and a cute little silver bowl of carved butter. For breakfast, various danishes were served before the meal. None of the breads or rolls were anything special. Pass them! Enough has been said!
9. Eat only at mealtimes. Make a package deal with yourself to only eat at mealtimes. Our ship had a fairly large lunch and dinner buffet window, as well as a 24-hour pizza and ice cream station. Some ships even have a late night chocolate buffet. Stay away from the buffet room and relax somewhere else between meal times.
10. Drink plenty of water. Make sure to drink 2 glasses of water with every meal and 1 glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume. This will fill you up, keep you hydrated and help fight the negative effects of too much alcohol. Forcing yourself to drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink will slow you down from increasing your calories. On most cruises, soft drinks are extra. My advice is to not buy this pack and fill up on water and herbal teas instead. You can get soda everywhere, because you’ll want to drink your calories – save them for the good stuff on the cruise. The same rule applies to juices (which are also free) – skip them and go for fruit instead!
When you return home, do not weigh yourself for at least 3-4 days. Cruise line foods tend to be salty, so give your body a chance to get rid of excess water. I usually find that the week after the cruise is a great time to “get back into the fold” with a healthy eating routine. You may find your body craving lighter meals as it tries to adjust and cleanse from the previous week. Think of the pleasures of cruising as a way to fuel a healthy lifestyle, not a failure!
There is an old saying in the cruise industry that “customers are brought on board as passengers and disembarked a week later as cargo.” Hopefully by following the advice above you will be able to get off as a small ‘carry bag’ rather than cargo.
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