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How to Avoid the ‘Foreign 15’


Dodging the infamous “freshman 15” was one thing, but avoiding weight gain during a semester abroad is another story. While you may not be given infinite access to dining halls full of burgers and fries, you may be exposed to buttery croissants, endless pizza and tons of foreign foods you’re eager to try before your time’s up.

But don’t worry; you’ll be able to live your study abroad experience to the fullest without making too many sacrifices and without gaining the “foreign 15.” Just follow these seven tips from collegiettes across the country!

1. Maintain your lifestyle from home

Naturally, living in a different country can completely change your lifestyle. While there are definitely some benefits in immersing yourself in your experience abroad, you should be making sure that these changes are beneficial. “It is important to realize that any break in routine, particularly one that suspends all semblance of ‘real life,’ presents a risk for weight gain,” says Mary Hartley, a nutritionist in a private practice.“[So be sure to] have a plan.”

As soon as you start to get into your daily routine in your new home country, think back to what your habits have been like back home. Moving, jet lag and time differences will be enough shock to your system, so try to keep some consistency in your life. Try to eat the same amount of meals every day with similar portions to what you would have at home. Make sure you’re as active as you’ve been, and, perhaps most importantly, try to keep to your regular sleep schedule.

Keeping track of your lifestyle and how it transitions when you go abroad can really be a lifesaver. When you’re in a new situation, it’s easy to develop new habits. This can be a great thing to take advantage of, but it can also be a little dangerous if those new habits include more junk food and less sleep! Always try to keep some sort of consistency in your lifestyle in order to maintain your health.

2. Walk everywhere

Now that you’re in a new place, there’s a lot of exploring to be done. And what better way to get to know a place than to walk everywhere? Setting out on foot not only lets you explore your new home, but it’s also good for burning off those extra calories.

“From going to school to exploring your city, make sure that you walk as much as possible,” suggests Sarah, a graduate of Bucknell University who studied abroad in France. “My nightly cheese plate was negated by daily 20-minute walks to and from class every day.”

Walking isn’t necessarily a high-impact exercise, but it beats taking the bus when it comes to burning off those calories from extra snacks. Try skipping the bus and walking to class next time around!

3. Eat in

Not only does eating out drain your wallet, but it also puts on the pounds. When you’re in control of what’s in your fridge, it’s a lot easier to measure your intake of food.

“I vowed that I would only eat out once a week, tops, before I even got to Scotland,” says Alex, a junior at New York University. “I originally did it to save money, but it ended up keeping my health in check, too.”

Instead of hitting up your favorite restaurants, take a trip to the grocery store and try stocking up on healthier, heartier meals and snacks – and stay away from junk. This will motivate you to ration your food and stick to the healthier choices that you bought yourself.

“I liked buying my own groceries because I was able to control what I ate and how much I ate, and I think it really paid off,” Alex says. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t indulge every once in a while, but try to keep eating out for weekends and special occasions.

4. Join a gym

Even if you don’t consider yourself a gym buff, consider taking the step to join a gym during your study abroad semester. While they can be a bit pricey, having a membership will motivate you to get the most bang for your buck while also shedding those extra pounds. Not to mention, gyms can offer you those extra resources, equipment and classes that wouldn’t be available to you otherwise.

“My study abroad friends and I all joined a gym a few days after we arrived,” Sarah says. “It was a great way to meet new people, stay in shape and experience what a gym was like in a different country.”

If you’re unable to join a gym – whether it’s the cost, the location, etc. – there are still ways to stay active. Try mapping out running routes in your neighborhood, gathering a group to play soccer (or, should we say, football) in a local park or doing some research to see if you can find a yoga class in the area!

5. Have everything in moderation

While being in a certain part of the world that’s famous for their cuisine makes it harder to stick to your healthy habits, keep in mind that you should be eating in moderation. You may be inclined to indulge in pizza every day if you’re in Italy or cheese and baguettes if you’re in France, but reality is that you need to keep a balanced diet to remain at a steady weight.

“Indulging in local specialties is part of the fun, but you need to indulge carefully,” Hartley says. “When it comes to large, rich menu items, have a plan. Eat either a half portion, share with a companion, skip the next meal or eat dessert in lieu of regular meal.”

It’s one thing to take advantage of the setting, but you don’t want to overdo it! Try to limit yourself so you can enjoy the experience without sacrificing your health.

“You have a whole semester to experience the cuisine, and [you] don't need to experience it all in one day or one sitting,” Sarah says. “So make sure you're balancing out the delicious cultural delicacies with some healthy eats, too!”

6. Look into fun activities that sneak in exercise

“Physical activity is the ticket to enjoying extra calories without weight gain,” Hartley says, so you’ll have to make sure to sneak in some exercise here and there. Even if you’re not super into working out, there are still some sneaky ways you can fit exercise into your time abroad. In addition to walking whenever you get the chance, seek out some other opportunities for that extra calorie burn. Depending on where you are and the resources around you, there can be tons of opportunities to get a little bit more exercise in.

Stop by your new school’s student life office or check out their organizations online. Perhaps your university offers intermural sports or outdoor clubs that may include a bit of exercise in what they do. Even if your school doesn’t have a group for something you’re interested in – like, say, soccer/football – you can always take initiative! Get a group together and head to a local park. Working out doesn’t always have to be work, so try to make it fun and tailored to your own interests!

7. Track your eating habits

We know that writing down everything you eat doesn’t sound like much fun, but trust us when we say that it’s effective! Keeping a food journal or even a note on your phone with what you’ve eaten that day can really be a wakeup call.

Writing down what you eat will help you notice what you’re taking in every day – including all those snacks you fit in here and there. If you want to go the extra mile, think about your calorie intake as well. Tracking your food intake and calorie count is a huge help in maintaining your health.

There are lots of different resources that can make food and calorie tracking simple and much less of a headache. Think about investing in a fitness tracker like a Fitbit or downloading an app like MyFitnessPal or MyPlate. These resources are a huge help when it comes to writing down food, counting calorie intake and logging exercise.

The cheesy pasta in Italy, fresh bread in France and fish and chips in England can be tempting! And while you don’t want diet limitations to hinder your study abroad experience, keeping track of your health can be a good idea. It’s easy to focus on other things and lose track of how your eating habits change in a new environment. Follow this advice and you can easily steer clear of the foreign 15!

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