How Spain Changed My Body Image

I moved to Spain when I was 20 years old to study abroad for a year. That’s when I started to love my body.

Ever since middle school, I had struggled with my weight. I wasn’t the most overweight person, but I always saw the skinny girls in the magazines and wanted to look the same. I dreamed of the day I would have a flat stomach and wear a bikini for the first time (with said flat stomach). I went to the gym, tried to change what I ate, and weighed myself weekly, just waiting for another .5 pounds to drop off.

I moved to college and dreaded the infamous Freshman 15. However, my experience was the opposite and I ended up losing that same amount of weight instead. I was pumped. It felt incredible when I went home and someone mentioned the weight I had lost. I would coyly respond “Yeah, I’m trying”, as if it were that easy. In reality, it felt like I was always trying to lose another pound.

Weight loss and my mild obsession with getting to a flat stomach bikini body continued until I left for Spain. It was then that I decided that I wasn’t going to not eat something while abroad just because of its calorie count.  Food is the soul of a country and says so much about the history. I wanted to be exploring my host city and travelling instead of slaving away at the gym and obsessing over my food.

Fast forward to the end of that year. My time abroad was life-changing. I survived living in a foreign country! Woo! But, not only did I survive, I thrived. I made new friends, navigated foreign banking and housing systems, and ultimately, fell in love with Spain. Highlights included finding my first ever apartment by myself, finally feeling confident in saying I was fluent in Spanish, and volunteering as a Spanish teacher in a Spanish school (where I discovered my love of working with students). Do you know what none of those mentioned? Accomplishments to do with my weight.

Towards the end of the year, as I was getting ready to head back to the USA, I started to notice my 20 pound weight gain (Yikes!). I was now on the back end of my decision to not calorie count and workout. I didn’t like it so much. The worry and stress I experienced before Spain came back once I arrived home. For the following year, losing weight was constantly on my mind. I bought a three month Jillian Michaels program and gave myself weekly weigh-in’s a la Biggest Loser. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to be at a healthy weight, which I wasn’t. However, my process to get there didn’t feel so healthy, but rather nerve wracking and full of fear of not being an acceptable or ‘normal’ weight.

I eventually lost the weight, but it was a trying process. Finally, towards the end of that year, I began to incorporate the mentality I was surrounded with in Spain. One of “appreciate your body, treat it well, and eat in moderation”. No crazy diets or diet products, no cleanses, and no killing myself at the gym or punishing my body.

When I arrived back in Spain in 2013, I knew that I wanted to enjoy the food culture, but also to stay healthy. I found a balance of eating more vegetables and protein, while weight lifting at the gym a few times a week. Through this, I became nicer to my body. I wasn’t punishing it for not looking like the girls in the magazines, nor did I feel guilty for not eating everything that Spain had to offer.

Going on my third year living here, I still have to go to the gym and make sure I don’t feast on Nutella gelato every day (buzz kill). But now, instead of aiming for a goal weight, losing exactly 2.54 pounds every week and burning precisely 400 calories at each gym session, I’m enjoying things in moderation. I have a much healthier relationship with my body and with food in general. I aim for feeling sexy and confident in my jeans and lifting 10 more pounds than I could the week before, instead of trying to make my thighs not touch (yes, sophomore year obsession, I’m referring to you).

Maybe I would have eventually arrived at this point while in the US, but, honestly, I think it would’ve taken twice as long, if not more. While in Spain, I never sensed or noticed the insane social pressure that the American culture has developed. Sometimes, it feels like being self-conscious and always dieting is the cool thing to be doing. Here, every other commercial isn’t an advertisement for the latest cleanse or newest food that will magically make you lose weight. I don’t own a scale, nor do I give myself weekly weigh-in’s or keep a log of everything I eat.

Because of this, the past three years have been a 180 on my relationship with my body, arguably one of the most important relationships there is. It’s pretty great to not be angry at the vessel you must live in every day.

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2 responses to “How Spain Changed My Body Image

  1. wow! this was just amazing!! ive been struggling with my weight too. i think about it a lot, but me having a new baby…I haven’t really worked out a schedule to workout let alone figure out how to afford being healthy!! I don’t want to obsess over it, but i don’t want to put it on the back burner either. Any tips??

    • Thanks! Definitely take it step by step! Decide to do something for only a week. See how it goes. Or maybe even for a day. Take it in small manageable parts. Don’t get caught up in giant timelines or else you’ll drown and feel like all you do is fail (or at least I can’t do it like that). Focus on the little wins and confidence boosts 🙂

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