The second semester of my sophomore year I studied abroad in Bilbao, Spain. This was the first time I had ever been truly independent, and I was in another country with another language and culture on top of that. This was one of the best springs of my life, followed closely by the six-week backpacking excursion I took all over Europe afterwards. My time in Europe further solidified my desire to study Spanish and Anthropology, as I was introduced to a vast array of cultures and worldviews while further perfecting my Spanish speaking skills.
It was Europe that inspired me to adopt a healthier lifestyle. The entire time I studied and traveled abroad, I only ate in two fast food restaurants, and I didn't even realize that I had been missing this American staple until well into the third month of my stay. I felt no remorse for losing this American habit, and I still avoid fast food to this day. What really made me rethink my eating habits, however, was the realization that I was slowing losing weight, yet feasting like a queen every day thanks to my host mom's amazing cooking (shout out to Mama Cristina). She made the best food - and so much of it! Seriously, when my real parents came to her house to meet her, she made three appetizers, an enormous seafood paella, cod fish prepared two ways and dessert. We all wanted to explode.
These were the appetizers alone that Mamá Cristina served us when my boyfriend at the time came to visit.
That gives you an idea of the volume of food I was eating while studying abroad. It was definitely more than I typically used to eat in America. The main difference, I realized, was the ingredients and the almost complete lack of processed food in my Spanish diet. Once I noticed this, I started to also notice how much more active I'd become. I was walking almost everywhere I went. I spent more time outdoors. I joined a running group with fellow study-abroaders, which we maintained for almost two months before the semester ended. After noticing the changes that my Spanish lifestyle was offering me, I vowed to carry as much of them back with me to the States as possible.
Now, I'll admit, I took my commitment to a healthier lifestyle to an unhealthy extreme. I used training for a half marathon as an excuse to excessively exercise. I abused my knowledge of nutrition and food to make sure I burned far more Calories each day than I was consuming. For about a year I probably didn't weigh 125 pounds soaking wet (and I'm 5'9''). That is NOT healthy, and it did not look good. As one of my friends put it, "No guy wants to literally jump your bones. This skeletor look has to go." But only I could make that change. It was a painful process (mentally) for me. I boomeranged to the unhealthy polar opposite of a stationary lifestyle with unhealthy, excessive, eating choices. Two years after all of this began, I'm just now starting to find a happy medium.
I am no longer scared of moderately indulging in food. I have found a balanced diet that focuses on a very healthy array of foods while also including some of my favorite treats. I truly enjoy the things I eat now, and I’m not just dieting on bland, repetitive vegetables to save calories. But I don’t close myself off from treats and indulgences when the opportunities arise. I exercise on a routine basis, but I am no longer obsessive about it, and I am getting better at not feeling guilty if I miss a few days here and there. Life is too short to worry about one’s waistline or deprive oneself of that delicious cupcake when you know you’d love to take a bite.