One of the best parts about studying abroad is having the opportunity to eat like the locals—you can’t fully experience the culture unless you fully experience the food, too.

But fully experiencing an entire city food culture potentially comes at a price: flying back home two pant sizes larger. The dreaded “freshman 15” occurs over the course of an entire school year, but the “foreign 15” can happen over the course of just a few weeks.

For this reason, the idea of studying abroad, particularly in a place where food is a large aspect of the culture, can cause anxiety among health-conscious college students. But eating abroad doesn't have to mean gaining weight.

Make use of our tips gathered from our study abroad experience in Italy—aka the land of carbs—so you can experience the culture of food in a foreign country without experiencing an accompanying shift in your waist size.

1. Listen to your body.

This is perhaps the most common piece of advice given for those looking to maintain (or even lose) weight, and it holds true here as well. Don’t overeat at meals, just eat until you’re full and take your time.

In the United States, meals are often rushed. In Europe, especially Italy, the purpose of meals is to enjoy your food and your company. Take a bite of food and appreciate the taste, engage in conversation and then go in for another bite.

corn, vegetable, chicken
Marissa Medici

Studies show that it takes 20 minutes for your body realizes it is full. Eating slowly gives you time to appreciate flavors and allows you to realize you are full before you overeat. Even if your host mom piles food onto your plate, if you can’t finish it don’t force yourself. She will understand.

2. Join a gym.

beer, coffee, tea
Maggie Pizzo

Join a gym and get into a routine, like working out every day after afternoon class or before dinner. If you stay active, you'll feel better about indulging in that freshly-made mozzarella, basil and tomato pizza.

Marissa Medici

If you can't stand the monotony of a gym, try a workout class like Kettlebell, aerobics or yoga in the language you are studying abroad. Not only will you be able to stay fit, but you will also get to flex the your language skills. Talk about a win-win.

3. Run Forrest, Run.

Marissa Medici

If joining a gym isn’t possible, try to find some other means of exercise. Running is a great way to explore a new city and burn some calories. In the summer months, it may be too hot to run outside during the day, but it is much cooler in the morning or evening.

#SpoonTip: Try running to tourist attractions right when they open to avoid long lines during the day.

4. Eat your greens.

salad, arugula, balsamic, tomato, cheese, oil
Marissa Medici

Split a salad with a friend before going in on your personal pizza. Vegetables contain essential vitamins and nutrients, and it'll be much easier to resist eating a whole pizza by yourself after you have some vegetables in your belly.

Gelato, however, is never to be split (unless you go back for seconds).

5. Walk everywhere you go.

turkey, water, wine
Marissa Medici

In some study abroad programs, you might not have time to spare for a workout. If you have to choose between Michelangelo’s David and the treadmill, go see the Renaissance masterpiece. Similar to experiencing all types of food, it is important to see as much as you can of the city you study in.

While running is a great way to see outdoor attractions, the indoor masterpieces in museums, churches and art galleries are just as important. Walk to destinations whenever you can, and only take public transportation or taxis when absolutely necessary.

6. Enjoy your Italian Nonna’s homemade Pici.

sauce, spaghetti, pasta, tomato
Maggie Pizzo

Being healthy is all about balance. Don’t miss out on amazing foods because you’re worried about calories. Treat yourself to that bistecca alla fiorentina and that handmade bucatini your nonna just made you. 

Even if you follow all of these tips, you may put on a few pounds. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You can go back to your healthy routine when you return home, and you can’t go back to eating homemade pizza margherita very easily.

The goal is to find a balance between health and fully experiencing another culture. Don’t deprive yourself. Eat in moderation, and enjoy it. Food is a source of happiness, and studying abroad is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.