Expat problems: piling on the pounds

fat food

Social factors and culture shock play a significant role in expat weight gain.

How does that saying go? “The best way to discover a new country is through your stomach” or something to that effect. Okay, so perhaps I made that up but I imagine the notion rings true with many a fellow expat.

Let’s be honest, one of the best things about moving abroad is all the weird and wonderful foods that you can try. The novelty of such exotic choices is likely to be one of the last to run out.

The “fat expat” phenomenon

Expats tend to be open-minded and curious when it comes to discovering new cultures. Few would disagree that “culture” is merely a code word for “food”. Even those blessed with the power of self-restraint will no doubt begin to crack once confronted with an abundance of mouthwatering options (of course this all depends on the gastronomy of your country!).

So why do so many expats gain weight while living abroad? There are many factors involved, (not to mention the social pressure) which are playing a role in this “fat expat” phenomenon.

Culture shock causes bad eating habits

Adapting to a new routine and culture shock can have a surprising impact on your eating habits to the extent that you may not be able to recognise the changes yourself. The following examples all play a role in the changes in your diet:

  • New routine: if you move to a country with a big time difference, it’s likely to take some time to adjust to eating at different times. You may find that you have to get used to eating your evening meal much later than you are used to, causing you to snack in the hours beforehand. Then there are differences in portion size or the cultural differences in regards to how the people think of food.
  • Homesickness: Difficulties adjusting to new routines or homesickness can take its toll on your diet, where you may seek out “comfort food” like Mcdonalds simply for familiarity or convenience.
  • Weather: Differences in temperature can also impact upon your appetite or food choices.
  • Different flavours: if you really dislike the typical food in your new country you will be more inclined to eat junk food or fast food.

Take back control

Don’t panic, just because you are living abroad doesn’t mean you are doomed to the life of a fat expat. Here are our tips on how you can develop healthy habits while still enjoying your experience.

  • Find a balance: you can enjoy the culinary delights in your new country but maintain a balance by doing frequent exercise. There are so many options available to expats, whether it be hiking, running (incidentally a great way to get to know your new city, once you stop getting lost) or taking up a new sport. Exercising in a new country can also help you get to know your surroundings and meet new people.
  • Stick to your chosen routine: Maintain your old eating routine (or embrace the new eating routine in your new country). This often involves swapping the time of day when you would normally have your “big meal” or eating a number of smaller meals throughout the day. It is important to make this decision early on and stick to it to avoid overeating at each meal.
  • Buy fruit and vegetables: Depending on the country, fruit and vegetables are often among the cheapest food items that you can buy (so there is no excuse to binge on junk food even if you are on a tight budget!) If this is not the case in your country, try and find some alternative healthy options in your local supermarkets. If in doubt, ask the locals for some recommendations for healthy meals.

It’s easy to slip into bad eating habits when you move abroad, with the excitement of meeting new people, embracing a new culture and trying to figure it all out, it’s no surprise your diet is likely to suffer.

Once you have settled in a little more, it’s a good idea to get yourself into a routine in regards to what you eat and when you eat. Once everything becomes a little more stable, you can enjoy a healthy, balanced lifestyle (but still enjoy all the culinary delights your country has to offer!)