Finding Balance with Spanish Food
The Freshman 15 is nothing in comparison to what you can find yourself gaining if you go all out during your year abroad (or longer) in Spain. While the Mediterranean diet is supposedly one of the healthiest in the world, it is easy to tip the scales into unhealthy territory if you are not careful. Why? Because Spanish people love their food and when you eat out (or in a familia) they love to eat fried foods and most dishes are accompanied by french fries or potato chips.
Personally, I enjoy the pleasure that Spanish people get out of food and, therefore, like to join in when I can, but balance is the key. I will start off by saying that I am naturally thin and am fairly active (I usually play soccer twice a week, ride my bike to give English classes, and walk everywhere else). Compared to some of my Spanish friends, I even eat a lot―my dad says that, as an American, I can’t help it―but I do find a lot of balance in my eating style. This means that I am always up for tapas, sometimes four or five plus times a week, but overall I feel as though I am pretty healthy. This is what seems to work for me:
Note: while this is what works for me, please remember that all bodies are different and that you should take care of yours.
For starters, I love salads and fresh vegetables! And trust me when I say I take advantage of the selection and quality of the produce available here. Like Dani, I love shopping at a frutería for my veg, although, when I can, I try to buy organic and local for personal reasons (supporting local farmers, supporting the environment). However, even if you buy in a ‘normal’ frutería the quality is different from what you find in the US because food regulations are different in the EU. So stock up on your veggies and make sure to get your five colors at every meal (or was this just my mom?).
I also love fresh fruit! From topping cereal for breakfast to a quick and easy snack, fresh fruit is like the veggies here―abundant, good quality, and fairly inexpensive. There are some fruits that I cannot find at a reasonable-to-me price fresh (raspberries, blueberries, other berries), so I buy them frozen at the Lidl. I know I am lucky to like fruits and vegetables as much as I do because they are healthy, but try a bunch and see what you like because the options here are wonderful!
I tend to eat meat and fish, but sparingly. I am happy to get either (or both) at a restaurant, but find that at home I tend to get my protein from (organic farm fresh) eggs and legumes. Is this necessarily healthier than eating chicken breast? I don't know, but it makes me feel good, so I figure that it is my balance.
I snack everyday! There are people who say you should be constantly eating throughout the day and people who go with three big meals. I am one of those people who needs to eat every couple of hours, so I take advantage of the small style snacking with desayuno at 11 (after my real breakfast) and a merienda in the afternoon. While my second breakfast is usually a café con leche de almendras (almond milk) and a cookie to boost my caffeine and sugar levels to get through the rest of the morning work hours, my afternoon snack tends to be fruit or dark chocolate with peanut butter or nuts and a cup of green tea. This is how I find my balance.
It is also really important to me to avoid foods that make me feel bad. I am lactose intolerant which means that there are no cheese tasting or ice-cream binges for me. However, if my body feels better, I tend to be happier, so giving up dairy isn’t a sacrifice but a way to take care of myself. If you find that eating certain types of foods really bother you, I would suggest cutting down or removing them from your diet. I also feel that it is easier to be healthy when my body is happy.
Finally, I worry about what I need and not what other people need. If I ate like my brother I would probably feel overfull and slow all of the time, but if I ate like my super healthy roommate I would be so hungry I wouldn’t be able to function. However, each of them is working towards their own balance. So enjoy yourself and find what feels good to you.