From personal experience I know it is very easy to give in to unhealthy habits while abroad such as tasting everything, drinking a lot, and going out to eat for every meal. If you are just on a short holiday it is okay to indulge every once in a while, but if you are living abroad, those small indulgences will soon become your lifestyle if you don't control them from the start. When moving to Madrid I developed some unhealthy habits I would have never even considered back in the states, I was going out to eat all the time, eating prepackaged food instead of meals, and even drinking fancy lattes with tons of sugar and milk (I didn't even like the taste of them but I felt like it was the European thing to do)! Of course those habits soon caught up with me, forcing me to make some changes. It takes some will power but trust me it is worth it. A cold, being tired or irritable, and just feeling gross are all things that can change your outlook on all the new things you are experiencing.
Since this is the third European country I have lived in I feel it is necessary to share the tips that have been gathered over the years. Staying healthy while living abroad is crucial and a lot harder to do than it is at home (new surroundings change everything). Your health is always worth it and you will be amazed at how much better you feel once you take control of the bad habits.
1. Don’t worry about trying everything
When arriving in a new country it feels like a race to try all of their signature dishes and best foods. Trust me you will eventually try them all, there is no need to race or unnecessarily over eat because you are afraid you will miss something. Just breathe, take your time to enjoy what you have in front of you. You must remember that you are living here not just visiting, you have time. When you are living somewhere new and exciting it is hard to step back and look at the bigger picture, like how will you feel after devouring 25 croquettes? Important questions. Make sure you take the time to stop and think about if you are actually hungry for these things.
2. Figure out what is actually the local cuisine
I've lost count of how many times I have traveled with people (myself included) who say they want to try the local food and actually don't even know what it is. Just because you pass a gelato shop in Madrid doesn't mean it is something you have to try or that pizza place in Dublin you stumble upon is going to be good. Do some research on the country you are living in. It won’t be that hard especially living in a city, their local cuisine will be advertised everywhere, the hard part is finding out where to get the best quality! Don't waste your time and money on food that is just mediocre.
3. Learn how to cook
Now that we’ve gotten the restaurant part over with it is important to note how beneficial learning to cook can be. Before I lived abroad the only thing I could cook was a box of macaroni and cheese. America makes it so easy to buy instant and user friendly meals that you don't ever experience the need to cook for yourself, learning to cook not only keeps you healthier, but it also eliminates a lot of processed foods you probably didn't realize you were eating. I learned how to cook here in Madrid, I also learned how much processed food and unnecessary sugar I was eating, while I assumed I was a very healthy eater.
4. Take time for yourself
This is a big one. Things can get pretty hectic while living in a foreign city, the crowds, the commute, pollution. Not only can this stop you from exercising, but it can stop you from actually taking time to do things that make you happy. It’s very important to continue to do the things you love or find something new that makes you happy! Even just waking up 30 minutes earlier to stretch or relax goes a long way.
5. Join a gym
If you are trying to save money by working out outside that plan may backfire in the long run. There are many affordable gyms popping up all over Europe that are easy to join, very clean, and offer group classes. I always assume I will be running everyday in the park, but the act of actually getting to the parks and away from crowds can be very stressful. With the stop lights, people, and crosswalks, a nice run can turn into a massive stressful commute. Also, public parks can get pretty crowded when the weather is nice. I found that I can get a quick workout in a lot easier at the gym than I can outside or in my tiny apartment.
6. Learn how to read labels in the language
This sounds tedious but it is crucial to know what you are putting inside of your body. Preservatives, hidden sugars, hydrogenated oils, etc are all listed on the ingredients, you just have to know how to spot them. If there is a mysterious ingredient that you don't know off the top of your head then its probably worth looking into.
7. Prepare your food
This will go a long way. If you prepare all your food at the beginning of the week it will be a lot harder to squeeze in unhealthy things. Pack a lunch when you go to school or work to avoid last minute restaurant outings and school lunch. Make sure to prepare full meals and snacks because you will find yourself grabbing a croissant on the way home from work if you didn't bring snacks. This is by far the most useful tip I have to offer, it has really made a huge impact on my overall health and wellbeing. Having a healthy food only rule in the house makes eating out at restaurants more fulfilling. I usually make quinoa and vegetables for the week and then go out to eat on the weekends.
Well, these are my tried and true healthy tips for living abroad. I have lived on both ends of the spectrum, one where I went crazy and ate everything, not caring at all about my health because ‘hey I’m living in another country’ and being obsessed with eating healthy all the time and never setting foot in a restaurant. The first option managed to make me feel so sluggish and tired that it was ruining my experience and putting a huge damper on all my travels. Making up for it too intensely also caused me to feel alone when all my friends would go out to eat and I would be at home eating some dry quinoa. It’s all about finding the balance. What works best for me is healthy on weekdays and whatever I want on weekends. This has worked out really well because I will allow myself to have something I normally wouldn't eat but it’s only that one time and won’t cause me to feel drained and lethargic all week. I really hope this tips can offer some help to anyone feeling caught in the whirlwind of unhealthy travels.