Sorry, Study Abroad 15. Not Today

Authored by:
Hannah S.

There's a little something called the Study Abroad 15. It's similar to the Freshman 15, which, if you aren't familiar with, is the 15 pounds every college freshman supposedly gains due to their sudden freedom regarding food. The Study Abroad 15 isn't because of freedom, rather the largely meat and bread diet which characterizes Spain, France, and many other popular study abroad countries. Coupled with the fact that people here eat 5 meals a day and exercise is not nearly as emphasized as it is in the US, it seems only natural that everyone would gain 15 pounds, if not more, right? Well, not necessarily.

As someone who is generally pretty health conscious and very small (there's a lot less space for all of the jamón to go than in most people), I was pretty worried about this going into my exchange. I can happily say that after 6 weeks, I haven't gained any weight, and I've still been able to eat all of the chorizo and bread I want. So, here's my advice on enjoying all of the Spanish food you want and not feeling all that bad about it. 

Join a gym

I love going to the gym, so this was something I wanted to do anyway. In general, I've noticed that Spanish people tend not to be as intense about the gym as Americans (especially in my host family), so it took a bit for them to get used to the fact that I like to go more often and for longer than they do (and for me to get used to the fact that they like to go less and for shorter periods of time), but after a couple of comments about how American and "professional" I am, they got used to my habits (and I got used to theirs) and now my going is much more natural. My gym here is great! It's only a 12 minute walk from my house and it offers a lot (including classes and the exact same treadmills and leg presses as my gym in the US). The only confusing/different thing about it is that all of the weights are in kilograms, so it took me a little while to figure out which weights I should be using. 

Side note: My gym here does this really cool thing where instead of scanning a card to get in, it uses your fingerprint. It's so much easier and I don't understand why all gyms don't do it.

Walk when you can

Sevilla is a beautiful city to walk in, so take advantage of it! There's so much more you can see when you're walking than when you're in the car or on the metro (granted, the metro is really efficient and nice here). 

Go to the supermarket

Your host family isn't going to know what types of food you like unless you tell them, and in many cases, show them. They might make comments about what you buy (I've heard my host dad say some version of "How American!" at least a hundred times now), but so long as you shrug it off, you can buy your peanut butter and juice.

Eat the food you want to eat when you can

Obviously, I can't determine what I eat for lunch or dinner, when my host mom cooks large meals, but for recreo and merienda, I can. What I've found works for me is an apple during recreo and some dried fruit or nuts for merienda, instead of the sandwiches and prepackaged donuts my host sisters like.

Portion control

This was really hard for me to get the hang of here because I didn't want to hurt my host mom's feelings by not eating as much as my host sisters, but when it comes down to it, I know how much food I should be eating. It sounds like such a simple thing, but once I worked up the courage to tell my host mom that yes, one serving was enough, I started to feel a lot better. It doesn't mean that I'm not eating all of the delicious Spanish food I can, it just means that I'm doing it in a way that feels good for me. 

Drink water instead

By now, I'm sure you're familiar with how much I love my Nalgene water bottle. Spaniards tend to drink very little water and a lot of soda. I'm not a huge soda fan, so while I'll still drink some every so often, I find that I feel a lot better about myself when I have my Nalgene around.

Honestly, food is a very important part of being an exchange student, and it's something that everyone relates to differently. It took me a lot longer than I expected to get used to the food here, as well as the customs surrounding it, but I think that I finally found a way to manage it while still feeling healthy and good.

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