Duncan ditches donuts as destroyer embraces healthy living

She’s the newest, most potent surface ship in the RN arsenal. Come December, when HMS Duncan returns to Portsmouth from her maiden deployment, she could also be the leanest, fittest, healthiest.

The destroyer is leading a specially-devised healthy lifestyle trial throughout her tour of duty in the Gulf.

If the efforts of the scientists and medical experts at the Institute of Naval Medicine, Duncan’s sick bay team, chefs, physical training instructor, and the co-operation of the 240 sailors and Royal Marines aboard, the ship’s company should return home thinner and in much better shape than other RN warships on lengthy deployments.

The initiative has been driven by the rise in obesity levels across society ­ the result, largely, of poor diet and lack of exercise.

So before the sixth and final Type 45 destroyer left Portsmouth at the beginning of March, around three quarters of the ship’s company had various measurements taken. They’ll be recorded again at the half-way point and finally when Duncan comes home.

We pit departments against each other, which helps to maintain interest and gets a bit of competition going

Surgeon Lieutenant Laura Morrow, HMS Duncan’s medical officer

In addition, sailors are keeping ‘food diaries’ of their daily intake, of the 30 or so smokers aboard, six have committed to a quit programme, attendance at physical training sessions is being recorded, adventurous training activities and, for slightly less adventurous, countryside walks organised when the destroyer puts into port.

“We pit departments against each other, which helps to maintain interest and gets a bit of competition going,” says Duncan’s medical officer Surg Lt Laura Morrow – chief among them, Duncan’s Biggest Loser (of weight/waistline, that is).

It’s the daily diet, however, that is big talking point. The best way to eat healthily is, says MA Tom Laws, to “eat like a king at breakfast, like a prince at lunchtime, and a pauper at tea time.”

Which isn’t necessarily possible all the time. But with some thought, patience (preparing healthier meals takes the chefs longer) and money (acquiring fresher, healthily ingredients does cost more than the usual £2.80 daily allowance for three square meals per sailor), a new menu is available.

So there’s chilli con quornie (“actually better than the beef,” says Tom), curry nights with less oil used, fish on Fridays – but with the option of it poached, rather than battered, and accompanied by wedges, not chips. Any leftover fish goes into a seafood jambalaya, instead of a fish pie. And on Saturdays, there is still steak. But with salad (although you can have fries if you want them).

Breakfast is much more continental – fruit, yoghurt, cereals – with a full English only available on three days a week (which has provoked grumbling from some shipmates).

Others, however, have filled in positive feedback forms: “The food is 100 per cent better than it was – and I’m someone who loves well-cooked food”; “better healthier choices”; and “I think that everyone needs to be healthier in their food choices, so this is good.”

Images taken by LA(Phot) Nicky Wilson