Hey everyone! I'm currently doing research abroad for the summer in North Africa for my Master's program and still have about 10-15 pounds to lose. I'm hoping that maybe someone can offer some advice or their past experience about losing weight while abroad.
These are not excuses for not being able to exercise, but I should lay out my living situation (and anyone who has been abroad in a developing country, especially as a young woman should understand you can't just "go outside for a run!"). I am living with a host family and go to work every day at a hospital. There are no nearby gyms and so my options are limited to doing some floor work at home. However, there are 7 individuals (8, including me) in this house that has 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, and a living room area that doesn't really have space for floor work.
I was trying to brainstorm ideas and the only thing I can come up with is possibly running up and down stairs early in the morning before people wake up (the stairs are kind of outside so I wouldn't be bothering anyone).
I'm also eating SO MUCH bread here! Every meal is just bread + this or bread + that! I'm not a carb-hater, but without any exercise and just loading up on bread? Oof...disasterous ;) But it's a delicate balance of being grateful for the food they give me and eating it, and also not wanting to blow up like a balloon! Not only would I like to lose weight, I'm hoping to NOT gain a ton!
Anyone else have experience trying to lose weight while traveling? And before someone comments for me to just enjoy myself and not worry about the weight; I am enjoying myself and focusing on my time here, but I would also like to feel healthy and have my clothes fit. :)
I have travelled to Africa before, and what you say about not being able to just go run whenever is very true. It's safe in the middle of the day, but since it's also the hottest time of day... You said "north Africa" though, depending on where you are it might not even be a huge problem. Wouldn't recommend it in rural areas, cities are safer (people there are more used to seeing tourists living their lives).
I'd recommend finding the expat pool. Since you're studying, you have to be in a "real" city, so there has to be one somewhere (start searching around the embassies), and you can enjoy the sun for real (read: show skin without attracting furious stares).
As for bread, it sounds like you can't make your own meals and have to make do. Kudos for courtesy ;) Try saying you're stuffed before you're even sated, this way it'll be easier to wriggle out of eating seconds. Based on my experience, just try not to finish the first piece of bread (bowl of rice/ buckwheat pancake...), otherwise you'll get another one ^^ And if they serve anything healthy, make a ton of compliments on it, you might get it again soon.
You could also offer to cook for the whole family sometimes.
And you can incorporate a bit of activity into your daily life - walk to the hospital and back if possible at all, every time anyone needs anything (errands...), volunteer to get it. Another option is isometric exercises, they're silent and don't require much space.
Hope this helps. And hell yeah, ENJOY! Traveling is a privilege :)
Stairs are an awesome way to get cardio and build up your thigh muscles too!.
Something about your post struck me....your host family is serving a lot of bread, so presumably that's what they / the locals eat too? Do people tend to be overweight there? Maybe "bread" is not as bad as you think it is...or more specifically, maybe the local bread is not as bad as you think it is. Perhaps you're fearing the American bread made from genetically modified wheat flour and full of chemicals and stuff. Maybe this is a situation where their bread won't have the ill effects that our bread has. Sort of like the actual Italian pasta vs. American pasta, because their flour has more protein or something in it. I don't know for sure if this is true or not, but it's something to consider.
thanks for all of the responses! :)
parisnut--> Never thought about that, but a good point to consider! I think it's more that I can feel myself bloating up and am attributing it to the bread (since that's mostly what I'm eating). But I should remember correlation doesn't equal causation! ;)
lixelle-->Thanks for all of the helpful advice! Definitely found the first week to eat VERY slowly so that I didn't get seconds piled onto my plate! Unfortunately it's very dangerous here to walk on the sidewalks (well, actually there aren't really any!) and pedestrians getting hit by cars is a common occurrence. I am staying quite far from the hospital and get driven to it every day so although I can't walk to work, I've been trying to get up and walk around a bit in the hospital, take the stairs, etc. You don't realize the luxuries you have (like just going for a walk or run) in a developed country until you leave it! Great advice though about the expat pool! I will definitely look into that. :)
TexasYogaGirl-->Good luck working in rural Africa! I would love to visit more of Africa someday :)
The sets on the stairs work, and yes try not to eat alllll the bread (too late to say you can't eat gluten? Haha). I've noticed from traveling to South America that people make fun of runners etc in public (everyone is just magically skinny!!) so I wouldn't recommend running outside anyway. Walking, maybe, but not running.
Try to do some in-place cardio? I know you don't have the floor space, but I just twist my hips with a broom and do all the normal aerobics when no one's looking haha. And if there's anything heavy (even buckets), you could try that? :)
Hope your experience is going wonderfully!
I have (some of) the same difficulties! I'm studying abroad in a rural part of Chongqing, China right now, which is the Western less-developed part of the country, and I'm also staying with a host family! There are a whole host of cultural reasons why it's impossible for me to significantly cut down on dinners, or eat a different meal than my host family, and I don't want to insult them. I do have the option of going jogging, which is very helpful. However, Chongqing's rainy season has started, and I'm too much of a wuss to enjoy jogging in the rain (which is constant right now!). I have been able to lose weight while over here, however, and one big help has been a jump rope! You don't need much space, and could do it indoors, outdoors, or in a garage (though I don't know your living situation). Anyways, I just wanted to add my two cents. Good luck with your weight loss and your travels!
Much like dasz, I am also living abroad in Asia. I've been teaching English in rural South Korea for about 9 months now, and I face many challenges with regards to losing weight.
I see that you mentioned bread as an obstacle. I hear you on that one! Except with Korea (and East Asia in general), the problem is all the white rice. Much like bread, the rice we eat here is a simple carb that doesn't contain a whole lot of fibre, protein, or many nutrients for that matter. It is literally "empty calories" designed just to fill you up (hence the name "calorie rice"). This is exactly what you may need to cut back on. When I first came to Korea I went through a "honey-moon" stage with all of the food, and I ate pretty much everything that was served to me. I noticed I began to pack on a few pounds within a few months. After that, I began to eat less rice and focus on the lower-calorie and high-protein aspects of the Korean diet, which has lead me into eating plenty of vegetables with reasonable servings of meat. After I made that switch, the pounds began to drop.
Also, I share your frustrations with getting exercise. Where I live, it is considered very odd for women to go for jogs or even lift weights. When I go to the gym I often get stared at (which also may be because of the fact that I'm a foreigner and I look different from everyone else). This makes me feel uncomfortable, and for that reason I have been having a hard time motivating myself to go to the gym. However, that's just me. I know plenty of other teachers who don't let it bother them, and they continue with the routine despite the stares. Also, I know that there are alternative "stare-free" activities a foreign woman can enjoy, such as doing solo-workouts in your home or engaging in Korea's national pastime- mountain hiking. Women as old as 90 years old can be seen doing that.
Lastly, it can be challenging to calorie-count as you often don't fully know what's in the food you're eating. I have eaten so many traditional dishes full of ingredients I have never heard of, and I have ended up guestimating the calorie-content of a lot of food I've eaten (which is not a good thing to do). When it comes to this situation, I remind myself that it's difficult for me to accurately count calories and that I shouldn't get down about that. I'm normally strict with logging foods I do know the calorie and nutritional content of (such as packaged food and general generic foods like fruits and vegetables), but when it comes to traditional dinners I usually find a similar dish on CC I can log (such as vegetable stew instead of kimchi jjigae) or break the dish down into possible ingredients and log from there. I know this is not the most accurate way of doing things, but after awhile I have become quite good at judging what's in my food. Plus, I have been steadily losing weight, so I must be doing something right!
Hope all this insight helps, and I wish you a wonderful time in Africa! You'll have a blast and it won't be an experience you'll regret!
I know what you mean! First of all, congratulations on your awesome summer job and getting to live abroad - some of my happiest memories are from when I was living in France and then later in Spain (I'm Canadian). :)
Before I left for Spain, I successfully lost 30lbs. and I fully intended to keep it up but I faced many of the same problems. I lived in a shoebox (it was actually 5.5ft X 8.5ft!), the local food choices weren't super healthy (although in general I suppose it was a little better than here in North America because they had less fast food)... and I just had no idea how to keep up my new lifestyle. I was also an impoverished intern, so I couldn't afford a gym membership for the 6 months I was there.
In the end, I put my weight loss plans on hold. The thing is, I started looking around at all the wonderful local food that wouldn't be available in my hometown and started thinking, When am I going to be here again and get to so thoroughly explore their gastronomical culture? I LOVELOVELOVE food like it's nobody's business. And whenever I tried to eat healthier things instead of the local food, I felt really deprived and sorry for myself. So I made the decision to kind of put my plans on hold and pick up again after I returned to Canada.
However, things turned out okay because I walked absolutely everywhere and never took public transportation unless I couldn't get there by foot in an hour or less. I made a point to take long, long walks every day even if I didn't technically have anywhere to go, which was easy to do because I could be perfectly entertained just strolling around all the different neighbourhoods of Madrid and admiring the architecture. So even though I ate like a fiend - LOOOTS of sweets, especially seasonal ones, lots of carbs, lots of cheeses, lots of fatty meats, lots of pastries, open jars of Nutella with spoons sticking out on my desk at work was a regular site - I think I weighed about the same when I returned home as when I left. I could've gained maybe a few pounds, I don't remember, but if I did it was no more than 5lbs.
Unfortunately, every time I come home to Canada after living in Europe, I always balloon at an alarming rate because life in the suburbs is way too sedentary. I drive everywhere and I also catch up on all the favourite foods that I missed, plus I'll start eating what my mom eats... so I gained all the weight back plus 10lbs. :( But now that I've settled home, in a good job, with a routine, I've managed to get back on track and I'm down 20lbs! This time I'm planning to work hard and hit my goal weight, and it'll be for good.
So...yeah, sorry for the long story that probably wasn't super helpful, but I just wanted you to know that I completely understand what you're going through because I was in the same boat not too long ago! I think that if you watch portion sizes and try to keep walking everywhere, you can probably maintain your current weight or not stray too far from it. Worse comes to worst, why not maintain your current weight this summer and then hit hard this fall after you get home? You can see it as giving your body some time to recalibrate. :)
Wow thanks everyone for the wonderful stories and advice!! One of the many reasons I love this site; the people are all so helpful and nice! :)
mooniez--> Thanks for the advice, definitely will have to do the in-place cardio since they would certainly gawk at me for running. I have blonde hair and blue eyes so I stick out just walking down the street :p.
dasz-->Wow, rural China! I'd love to visit China someday and actually 3 of my friends (in the same masters program) are doing their internship there, but in Shanghai. So glad to see someone else has the same living situation and understands why you can't really refuse food or cook your own meals! Jump rope is a great idea and there is a small deck outside I'm sure I could use where no one would be disturbed by my jumping up and down! :p
rleitse88--> I'm the same way at the gym, and don't think I could handle the stares, so it's not just you! Thanks for sharing your experience too! It's great to hear others stories and see what's worked for you. Definitely enjoying my experience here and I wish you all the best of luck in South Korea! I'm so impressed with people, like yourself, who teach abroad for such a long period of time.
teewo--> Thank you! :) I definitely share your sentiments in not wanting to feel like I'm depriving myself (and I went on vacation this past weekend and let myself have anything and everything I wanted ;) ). I'm trying to walk as much as possible (albeit I don't have as much freedom to go when/where I want), but hopefully some stairs in the morning + jumping rope will help me out. :) Thanks for taking the time to share your story, it WAS helpful and great to know that someone else went through the same thing!
haha nice one ;)
I studied in Ghana for six months and was still able to lose weight! It was definitely tough (a lot of West African cuisine is very, very carb-heavy) but totally doable.
I brought a few workout dvds with me which ended up being a lifesaver. I know it sounds silly, but it worked! I had a very small room, but I could push my bed to the side and do most of the moves with no problem. I had to get creative because I didn't have hand weights, so I would use water bottles a lot. I had two jillian michaels dvds with me, a kickboxing dvd, and a pilates. I would recommend bringing more than four though because I got extremely tired of them! I just played them on my laptop. If you are already there and cannot buy them, you can purchase them and download the jillian michaels ones on itunes.
As far as food goes, I don't know much about North African cuisine. I was lucky in Ghana because fruit, eggs, and peanuts are abundant, so I was able to snack on those during the day and eat a big meal with my family for dinner (so I wouldn't have to be rude and not finish my food).
As hard as it may seem, try not to focus too much on losing weight while you are there. Enjoy the experience without going too overboard.
Good luck!!! :) Feel free to message me!
The best thing I ever did for my fitness abroad was invest in an iPod touch and pre load some yoga and Walk Away The Pound videos on to it. You really just need a few square feet of space for WATP and with your headphones in and the video on your iPod, you wont be bothering anyone with noise / taking over the TV.
Also, try to move around at work as much as possible - be sure you're moving around at least twice an hour at work (bathroom break / water fountain break) and get up and around on lunch breaks - do something like walk around the parking lot. Pop in some headphones and listen to some music and de stress as you do so.
Also may be worth investing in a small pair of hand weights while your there so you can do some light lifts at home :)
As for food - if you're served something and you know it's unhealthy, make a point of having a small serving. Stock up on fresh produce / meat / dairy / nuts and try not to eat anything that comes from a package. My roommate from Nigeria always ate LOTS of white bread smeared with butter. See if you can find alternatives for meals you prepare yourself (oatmeal instead of white bread at breakfast, fruits and vegetables instead of a sandwich at lunch) and then just embrace the meals you are served and try not to over eat.
I did my masters abroad - I managed to maintain and was really proud! It's hard to develop a lifestyle health-wise when you're living abroad, especially if it's only a short period of time. As you mention, enjoy it and focus on not gaining as opposed to losing, and maybe you will surprise yourself :)