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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’ve been back, several people have asked 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:
Sailing with a dietitian – how to gain weight “just a little” at sea.
Look, not allowing you to gain weight would be unrealistic and just not fun! I have to admit I’m a bit of a foodie and we enjoyed the many culinary adventures the ship and ports had to offer: the ‘Chef’s Table’ tour of the galley and the 7 course tasting menu, a night at ‘David’s’. “steakhouse, several servings of molten chocolate cake and deep-fried cracked clams in the Bahamas. I even enjoyed a couple of Pina Coladas while lying in the hot tub.
My measly three kilos really isn’t that much in terms of statistics. The personal trainer from the ship’s gym gave me a figure of around 7-14 pounds for a cruise. A British poll published by the Daily Mail last year cites £1 a day. According to CruiseReview.com, the average weight gain on a 7-day cruise ranges from 5 to 10 pounds. Judging from some of the eating behavior I witnessed on the ship, I’d say that might be accurate for those who really “let go”.
Here are my top 10 tips for minimizing weight gain while traveling:
1. Be a “picky” eater. No, I’m not saying you should order chicken fingers with every meal like my son. By “picky” I mean the quality of the food. “Picky” really means two things: 1) don’t indulge in chicken fingers, cheese, soft serve ice cream, and other items that you can easily get when you’re not on vacation. Save calories for more epicurean adventures. On my cruise, there were several unique options, such as oysters Rockefeller, escargot, and chilled 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 the buffet food is bland, let the waiter take it away. If the cake is tasteless, just 1 bite and stop. Remember: the “clean plate club” does not work on cruise ships. Only clean your plate if you really enjoy the food and if it is “4 star” food.
2. Take advantage of the gym. Not having enough time is no excuse at sea! You should practice 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 from afternoon cocktails – – we couldn’t have a drink until the class was over. If you don’t like the gym, there is usually an outdoor track where you can walk/jog. Walk the halls and explore every nook and cranny of the ship. As much as possible, take the stairs instead of the elevators. Think of your cruise as a “spa vacation”: take care of your body, exercise, use the steam room, treat yourself to a massage, etc. All these activities are free of food.
3. Choose the dining room instead of the buffet. Yes, you can order whatever you want, but you have to wait for the different courses. Slowing down the time you eat will reduce the amount you eat. It can take 10-20 minutes for the stomach to send a message to the brain that it is full, so it is useful to have a rest period between each course. 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, soup, entree, and shared a dessert with my husband.
4. “Exploring the buffet line”. If you need to go to the cafeteria, check out the options. Choose a total of 3-5 foods that you like to eat the most. Remember that there will be another buffet for the next meal and more things to try. Food researcher Brian Wansink writes in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine: “Thin people are more likely to reach out for food. They’re more likely to explore different alternatives before hitting on something—heavy people. We just tend to pick up a plate, look at it.” every object and say, “Do I want it? Yes or no.”
5. Eat dessert only once a day. On cruise ships, desserts are offered around the clock: before breakfast (in the form of sweet rolls), on the menu after brunch, at lunch buffet, after dinner, 24-hour soft ice cream, midnight chocolate buffet, etc. you can have your cake and eat it too, but only once a day. Personally, I didn’t much care for the buffet of dry cookies, jelly and soft ice cream. I saved my dessert calories for evening desserts in the dining room, which were more decadent and often served warm (molten chocolate cake, bread puddings, crème brule, etc.). If you have a sweet tooth like me and can’t decide on 1 dessert, share 2 (or 3) with your partner, but just a few bites of each!
6. Substitute an appetizer for your main meal. Many nights I found the appetizers more interesting than the meal options. They usually had a choice of 2 interesting soups, salads and small snacks. If you want to order high-calorie French onion soup, choose a salad and a small appetizer. 2-3 servings of appetizers probably contain fewer calories than a main course.
7. Limit your consumption of alcoholic beverages (and stay away from drink-only packs). Alcohol is the number one source of empty calories for cruisers (a typical Pina Colada has over 600 calories!) Try to limit alcohol consumption after 5pm. This limits calories and allows 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 cold beer tastes so much better after a hard workout at the gym. Speaking of Pina Coladas and other delicious frozen fruit drinks my good friend – – try to limit them to 1-2 on your entire cruise and stick to dry wine, beer or spirits mixed with water/soda as they provide a fraction of the calories they make up. . Our ship had an all you can drink alcohol program that cost $49.95 per person per day. Assuming the average drink cost is $7, you would need 7 drinks to break even! Less safe drinking saved money and calories!!!
8. Pass the bread basket. Each meal in the dining room was accompanied by a bread basket and a cute little silver plate with carved butter. A variety of danishes were served for breakfast before the meal. None of the breads or rolls were anything special. Avoid them! Enough said!
9. Eat only during meals. Take a packet with you to eat only during meals. Our ship had a fairly large window for lunch and dinner buffets, as well as a 24 hour pizza and soft serve ice cream station. Some ships even have a late-night chocolate buffet. Stay away from the cafeteria and hang out somewhere else between meals.
10. Drink lots of water. Make sure you drink 2 glasses of water with every meal and 1 glass of water with every alcoholic drink you consume. This replenishes, hydrates and helps combat the harmful effects of too much alcohol. Forcing yourself to drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink will slow down your overall calorie intake. Soft drinks are extra on most cruises. My advice is not to buy this package and fill with water and herbal teas instead. You can get soda everywhere, why would you want to drink your calories – – save it for the good stuff for the cruise. The same rule applies to juices (which are also free) – skip them and go for fruit instead!
When you get home, don’t weigh yourself for at least 3-4 days. Cruise line food is usually salty, so give your body a chance to get rid of excess water. I usually find that the week after a cruise is a great time to “get back on the wagon” with a healthy eating routine. Your body may crave lighter foods as it tries to adjust and cleanse from the previous week. Think of cruises as a boost to your healthy lifestyle, not a setback!
There’s an old quote in the cruise industry that says, “Customers are brought on board as passengers and unloaded as cargo a week later.” Hopefully, by following the advice above, you can load it as a small carry-on instead of cargo.
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