When I think about going abroad, I think about eating amazing food, sitting at little cafés, exploring new places, going out with friends, etc. I hardly ever think of the consequences that an American abroad lifestyle can have, and it can have its consequences.
Before leaving for Europe, I would go to the gym every day and I had a healthy, balanced diet. But here, I realized one day I hadn’t done any actual exercise for a solid month and I was letting myself get away with too many treats too often. I am a sucker for the bread in Spain– it is so soft and delicious and I love it. I also love chocolate con churros and ham sandwiches, so I ate them whenever I had the chance.
I told myself I was just enjoying my time and enjoying the deliciousness of European food, which is true, I was. But there comes a point when you may be enjoying too much. So here are some tips for how to indulge during your time abroad, while still staying healthy and active:
Get walking! Take advantage of the view. Wherever you are, it will look way different from your home university or your hometown, so take it in! Whenever you can, walk! Enjoy looking at incredible architecture and maybe meeting new people along the way. On your way to class, find the scenic route that may be a tad longer, but worth looking at. Also, going on walks with friends is a great way to get exercise, chat with friends and explore your city.
Be mindful of what you are eating and drinking! The food can be so, so different from the United States, in both good and bad ways! Everything that my host mom cooks is very, very healthy, but I was still gaining weight from all of the bread I was eating and the chocolate croissants I constantly snacked on. Luckily, here in Spain, the majority of food is very healthy and natural, but it’s the little random treats that add up, especially without exercise. At first, I felt rude by not eating everything my host family gave to me. Now, I start with my salad and the protein, then move on to pasta or bread. My host mother understands if I can’t eat everything, and I know that what I have eaten is the healthiest part! Also, as much as we forget, sodas and alcohol add extra calories, but no nutritional value, so watch what you drink as well! There’s nothing wrong with getting a Coke here and there with friends, but water, tea or coffee is better for you and no calories.
Join a gym. I found a gym that is a 10 minute walk from my apartment and I love it. Not only is it a great way to exercise, but it is also a great way to meet locals through classes or just socializing at the gym. My gym was a little more expensive than I wanted it to be, so do your research first. However, the time I’ve spent there showed me more differences between Spanish and American culture, but also that we both value physical activity. And getting your friends to join with you is fun motivation and a great way to get to know them.
Invest in healthy snacks. Here in Spain, I eat about every 4-6 hours and I get really hungry. One of the best things I have done is invest in small granola bars and nuts to keep in my backpack in case I get hungry. It’s never comfortable to be hungry, but in this culture it is common to have a small snack or drink between meals. Apples, kiwi and bananas are some of my favorite things to pack in my backpack for a long day of classes.
Drink plenty of water. Seventy-five percent of the time when you feel hungry you are really just thirsty! Make an effort to drink at least one glass of water every hour and drink water while eating. This will keep you hydrated and energized and also stop you from eating when you don’t need more food. It is difficult and expensive to find water here, so I brought a water bottle with me and constantly fill it up, especially at home, right before I go to class.
Forget the packaged donuts, candy bars, etc. You’re in another country! Why have a Snickers bar or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when you can enjoy healthier, local treats? This also goes for eating at McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, etc. I was in Madrid and my friends and I really wanted Taco Bell, so we walked 45 minutes to find one and I felt awful after! Not to mention I missed out on trying new Spanish food. All of those American places will still be there when you return, and you’re not missing out on much.
Make exercise a priority. Set time aside each day or every few days to get in a good workout; you will be happy you did! You don’t need an elliptical or free weights to stay in shape. Running through your city is a great way to explore and also get exercise. There are lots of “park workouts” you can find online and spend some time outdoors with. Also, at home workouts with a chair or just doing some squats, crunches or push ups can be effective. And a great way to get in exercise is taking the stairs whenever possible.
Although eating a lot is a given while abroad, if you stay active and, generally, enjoy things in moderation, you can stay fit while still enjoying everything being abroad has to offer.