After studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain last fall, I came back with lots of love — for the culture, the independence, the food, the sexy accents, and unfortunately… love handles.
During my four month stay in the beautiful city in southern Spain, I managed to pack on the pounds by not following European eating habits. Here are eight easy tips to not break the scale while abroad.
1. Eat like a local.
The Spanish diet consists of healthy fats (cue the olive oil), off-the-bone meats, decadent dairy products, and lots and lots of vino. However, it was a challenge to find anyone overweight in the city. Why? The portion sizes are tiny in the form of tapas, small dishes meant for sharing.
Although the plates have seemingly unhealthy foods, they are in such small portions that eating like a local will make it hard to gain weight. Stuck in America? Try out these tapas recipes.
2. Explore cities by foot.
One of the coolest aspects of Europe is the walking culture in every city. Avoid driving and underground transportation if you can help it, and get moving. While ambling down mysterious streets, you are bound to chance upon quaint and authentic cafes with food that will make your belly sing.
3. Remember, it’s not a four month long spring break.
Although you are technically “studying” abroad, we all know that is a very loose term. It is not uncommon to stumble home at 5 am from a discoteca and catnap before your 9 am class.
The Spanish drinking culture may seem aggressive, but in reality Spaniards drink alcohol very responsibly. Yes, it is common to see students and workers enjoying a cerveza (beer) or two during lunch, but that doesn’t mean that they are binge drinking.
American students see daily drinking and take that to mean it is culturally acceptable to get blacked out every night. It is a rarity to see a Spaniard wasted, even at the discoteca. Stick to a few beers or tinto de verano (wine with Fanta), and steer clear from the chupitos (shots). Nothing will make you stand out as a foreigner faster, and less alcohol = fewer calories.
4. Don’t forget to sleep.
Siestas are part of the culture for a reason… Take advantage of the socially required nap time. With dinner being served at 9 pm at the earliest, you can expect late nights ahead. Keep your waistline trim by partaking in this afternoon delight. Proof why naps are great for you and your figure right here.
5. Savor treats.
It won’t be long before you try enough tapas that you’ll discover your favorite savory bite. My personal favorites were croquettas. These twice-fried balls of flour, milk, and minced meat contributed significantly to my need to buy new jeans. Every time I saw them on a menu, I would buy two orders as if they were going out of style.
Spaniards only eat these fried balls on occasion because they are so unhealthy, yet I was eating them daily. Same as in America, view treats as treats and savor them sparingly.
6. Don’t have multiple dinners.
It may sound obvious, but it can easily happen. If you live in a homestay, you will be fortunate enough to have meals prepared for you by your señora. As great as her cooking may be, there will be times that you will want to venture out and try different restaurants and cafes with your new amigos.
Be sure to tell your señora that you will be missing dinner or else you will end up eating an extra meal a day, which will result in extra pounds.
7. Sharing is caring.
Continue to eat like a local and spend quality time with your friends outside of the home at cafes, restaurants, and bars. Order an abundance of tapas to share between large groups. Be sure to only sample a little of each. I promise you will get full quickly, because the Spanish food is so rich.
8. Carry water with you.
If you can, always ask for tap water at restaurants, but sometimes that may not be an option. The summer months are excruciatingly hot, so carrying around water is key to stay hydrated, and at a healthy weight. Buying water in a restaurant or store is more expensive than beer or boxed wine so bring your own and save those Euros for the good stuff.