I gained about 11 pounds between September, when I arrived in Spain, and May, when I left France. Ironically enough, I have already lost some of the abroad weight since coming back to the United States. Most of my weight gain happened in Spain with all the gelato, churros con chocolate, napolitanas, and maxi Milka chocolate bars. I did not do a lot of working out there since I did not plan on joining a gym. I did do a lot of walking but it was not enough compared to the amount of desserts and food I had been eating. While I was in France, I was able to better maintain my weight by controlling the amount of pastries and crêpes I ate and doing lots of walking, as well as weekly Zumba classes.
The funny thing about Europe is that Europeans like to make fun of how big American food portions are, as well as how sugary everything is. I have found from my experience in Spain and France that they eat pastries and cakes that are just as sugary. The French do not eat pastries all the time, but a study abroad student’s logic is: Well…I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to eat this again; gotta enjoy everything while I can! I think that could be a reason why Europeans say they gain a lot of weight in the United States. There is a stereotype that we only eat fast food. This is not true. Myself, my family, and other Americans I know eat healthy meals that include more fruits and vegetables than we were served over in Europe. Not to mention, when we go to a restaurant in the United States, we have the option to pack our meal if we don’t finish it. This is an option I rarely had in Europe.
My travels all over Europe have caused me to want to try many desserts. When I am at home, I tend to pace myself more when it comes to sweets. But who wouldn’t want to try all of that?
Lunch in Spain is a big deal. It is their biggest meal of the day and at times I thought they ate a lot more than Americans are stereotyped for eating. My host mom would make a main dish and bread, then we would have a second course that consisted of meat and salad, and then we could have a fruit for dessert if we wanted to. The hard part about trying to eat healthy is that you cannot put all your courses on the same plate and even them out. Different courses had to go on different plates. My host mom would misunderstand me when I tried explaining that I wanted to save room for the second course when I didn’t end up putting a lot of food on my plate during the first course. To not have to go through the same thing in France, I told my host parents right away about what happened in Spain and that I don’t eat much. It was funny when a French person would see how much I ate and remarked how little it was, being American and not fitting the stereotype.
One thing that surprised me after my semester abroad was my preference for Spanish food over French food, which I have heard is one of the best types of food in the world. I was also surprised by the fact that there were some American restaurants and foods that I missed while I was away.