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Weight Loss from Moving Countries: The Expat Diet

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Hold your hats, because we’re about to get personal about weight loss as an expat and losing weight while traveling.

For the vast majority of my teenage years and my early college years, I was probably overweight.

I think I bordered on the “normal” and “overweight” BMI line, but was probably more often closer to the latter.

What can I say, I like to eat and my favorite food groups are carbs.

It’s a dangerous combination.

Also check out those bangs.

Today, I’m about 20-25 pounds less than the last time I lived in America permanently and I’m more firmly in the “normal” range.

Except I never tried to lose the pounds.

I didn’t even realize I was losing weight.

I came home one year and my whole family was in shock like I had just come back from fat camp.

Looking back now, it’s all very obvious, but at the time I was just like, “YES! Miracle weight loss! Maybe I had a growth spurt at the age of 21?”

In reality, moving to London as an American and living the Londoner lifestyle was good for me in more ways than one.

Firstly, I walked EVERYWHERE.

Sometimes across the whole city in a day.

If I wanted to go get food, I had to walk there.

Work? Walk. School? Walk? Go to the park for a walk? HAD TO WALK THERE. Walking is such an important part of getting around in London.

This is a huge generalization because it’s easy to be overweight in England and it’s equally as easy to lose weight in America if you’re actually trying.

But I have found that English eating habits are healthier than American ones.

Fast food is existent, of course, but less of a ‘staple’ meal and more of a treat for many families (the Brits particularly love themselves some beans on toast!)

Portion sizes at restaurants are smaller.

Many products lack the chemicals that you can find in their American counterparts, which is evidenced by comparing the food found in a British grocery store vs an American grocery store.

Also, sidenote, grapes are usually considered an ‘after-dinner’ dessert food.

GRAPES.

In my mind, grapes are the things I had to eat as a kid to then get to the good stuff, AKA cake.

But anyway.

I love American junk food and will never miss an opportunity to either ask my friends and family to send me some or buy some at an extortionate price in the American aisle of the local grocery store, but I’m doing a lot better without having it around all of the time (and haven’t really fallen in love with too many English ‘junk’ treats except for Cadburys which I could eat from morning until night).

So, in short, if you’re looking to lose weight: diet and exercise or…move to England!

People getting on a London underground train
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How to Lose Weight when Moving Abroad

For me, losing weight when moving abroad was something that happened naturally due to my change in habits, but it’s very likely that you could be moving abroad to somewhere that requires less healthy habits than you were used to before.

For instance, if you moved from a big town where you walked everywhere to a rural area where you had to drive, your health make take a hit.

To try and keep on top of your weight when moving abroad if you are not moving naturally into a healthier lifestyle, here are some tips to consider.

A Shawarma meal on a dish
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Use Exercise Classes as a Way to Meet People

It can always be hard to make friends as an expat, and exercise classes are a great way to get involved in the local community and slowly meet people.

It could be as easy as joining a local gym and seeing what they offer, or you could be on the lookout for things like Zumba classes that may take place across the city.

It’s easier to make friends when you have a shared interest, and doing something healthy like exercise while making new friends is a win-win when you move abroad.

Be Aware of Your Eating Habits when Trying New Foods

If I move to Italy, you can be sure I’m about to eat pizza and pasta all day.

But what might be good for my expat fun may not be so good for my diet.

Be aware of the changes in food that take place when you move to a new country, including ingredients that you might not be used to, patterns of eating that you may not have done before (for instance, my British husband always points out that Americans LOVE snacking moreso than he was used to do in the UK).

White food dish with a tomato cheese course
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Enjoy the new foods in your new home, but you don’t need to be taste testing them every moment of every single day.

Don’t eat all of the gelato in one go – space it out and be aware of what you’re putting into your body.

Don’t Use Food as a Comfort

Being an expat can be hard.

From homesickness to just adjusting to culture shock, it’s easy to use food as a comfort when you feel lonely.

If you’re aware of this before you move, you can better fight the tendancy to gain weight as an expat but eating all of the delicious things and instead find a different coping strategy when life gets hard.

In fact, make that coping strategy something like exercising at the gym, as mentioned above, and you’ll get double bonus points for putting your mental and physical health first.

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Get Out and Explore On Foot

Where possible, get out and explore your new surroundings on foot.

Even if you don’t live in a walkable city like Oxford, make it a point to take weekend trips to countryside getaways where you can walk through fields, forests, or along coastlines.

Find ways to use your feet instead of relying on cars or escalators or elevators.

Take the stairs, join a walking club, or even take up biking to get moving along bike trails or other areas to explore.

A man walking towards a park bench in a snowy London park
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What if I’ve Gained Weight when Moving Abroad?

Plenty of people gain weight when moving abroad due to stress, homesickness, and other negative feelings that lead to less than healthy lifestyle choices.

Firstly, I want you to know that that is completely normal, and that reaction has also happened to me.

If you do find yourself having gained weight when moving abroad, you of course know the physical things you should be doing to help yourself, but I would really encourage you to check on the mental side of your self first.

Often, gaining weight as an expat has more to do with how we feel inside than our surroundings.

A Schnitzel with a bottle of beer behind it
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We may be lonely, we may be sad, we may be homesick, we may feel disconnected.

All of that can make it very easy to turn to food, but it’s very difficult to get the physical things going the way we want them to when mentally we’re not feeling great.

Reach out to a friend, a therapist, or someone else you trust to share your feelings with and establish why you think you gained the weight when you moved abroad and how you can change internally first before you attempt to lose weight again.

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5 thoughts on “Weight Loss from Moving Countries: The Expat Diet”

  1. What an awesome post. It’s great to hear others stories about how moving affected their eating habits because it is such an important thing to think about! I moved from a small town in Maine (where we drive everywhere) to DC a few years ago and lost a bunch of weight right away because my habits were different. Much like you, I was walking everywhere and eating healthier/smaller portions were the norm there. Glad to know others have had the same thing happen, thanks for sharing!

  2. I literally just finished off a bag of Doritos as I was reading this. I can definitely see how it could be easy to lose weight moving from the States to England. I visit the States often and even though I’m from nearby Canada -and we also generally eat more fast food, sugar and salt than England- I feel like i gain five pounds every time I visit the States.

    My man and I love to find places from the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives when we visit the US for the heartiest, artery-clogging, comforting goodness there is. I am so bad when I go there, but it’s such a treat!

    I think I may have actually gained a little weight since moving to England but the great thing is I actually have no idea (not that I weighed myself often back home anyway). When my doctor here weighs me in “stone” I’m like “that number literally means nothing to me.” It gives a whole new literal meaning to the saying ‘weight is just a number.’

    I love having no concept of what I weigh because it should never be about a number on a scale. I absolutely love food and I eat whatever. I think that as long as I feel good when I look in the mirror, that’s all that matters. But I do feel like I eat healthier here and that’s definitely a good thing. I eat way more fruits and vegetables (hello roast dinners), and less fast food, salt and sugar than I did back home.

    Buuut I’m still bad sometimes 🙂

    1. Oh my gosh, I love your experience with ‘stone’ because I am so the same! And then I ask them to translate it for me and they do it into kilograms, which we STILL don’t use so I have no clue haha.

      Also now I’m craving Doritos! I agree with you about looking in the mirror – I always use the mirror test nowadays to see if I need to eat a few more vegetables in my diet as opposed to the 5 boxes of cookies my mom sent me in the mail. 😀 😀

  3. Haha, this is actually pretty funny to me because I have the exact OPPOSITE story. I did my Master’s degree in London and while I was there for that year and a half, I gained twenty-five pounds. You would’ve thought with all that walking (because yes, you do walk so much more) I would’ve been similar, losing weight, but my diet was atrocious. I couldn’t cook (and didn’t even try) at the time so a lot of when I was alone what I ate was kebab, or curry, or a giant roast dinner. Or fast food. And then when I moved in with my fiancé’s family, the meals got a little better but the portions were outrageous. His mom was serving me the same portions as his six foot heavier dad and I didn’t want to turn it down and be rude so yikkeeeessss. I’ve been back in the US for a year now and have managed to lose all that weight (though I am being a bit more aware of what I’m eating, it’s not just naturally happening) so yeah. Not quite the same story. haha.

    Asti || ohasti.com

  4. I was lucky that living in different parts of the world as a child, I learned pounds and kg conversions (and F/C temperature!) at a young age. The first time I heard about “stones” for weight as an adult, I thought “What IS that?!” So here’s a few tricks to make it easier to have a rough idea/ball park number.

    1/2 a stone is 7 lbs (same as 7 days in a week) and 1 stone is 14 lbs. Think of a clock face that is marked 0, 15, 30, 45 and 60 mins. In my head, I make 1 stone = 15 lbs and so I know roughly that 2 stones = just under 30 lbs/minutes, 4 stone = just under 60 lbs. For larger, such as 8 stones, just minus 4 from each clock face/4 stones. ie 8 stones is 56 “minutes” x2 = 112 lbs. For 10 stones just x 14 = 140. For any half a stone, just add 7 lbs.

    As for a rough kgs to lbs, just multiply by 2 and add 20% of the original kg figure. So 60 kgs x2 = 120, 20% of 60 = 12. 120 + 12 = 132 lbs. I know with calculators on every phone, Google convertors, etc mental math isn’t popular any more… I make myself do it to ward off dementia when I get old! : )

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