A Texas Rose in a Spanish Garden

How NOT to gain weight while studying abroad

Long walks in the radiant Spanish sun make you indolent and lazy. You better pick up the pace because the food is that good and you are likely to gain weight if you stay a while. You, of course, will want to see the glorious south of Spain where I live as well as the northern metropolis of Madrid and even further Barcelona. Tasting the local fare is what it is all about and I would suggest not missing a meal.

However, if you are skittish about a little extra poundage, be sure to bring a portable bathroom scale. They don’t have them in even the best hotels. You can then keep track of your gain and try to mitigate it with a little in-room exercise or a hearty walk.

Sightseeing is better when on foot so if you don’t take a taxi or bus you will keep trim. You can then feast on all the squid paella you want. Traditional Spanish culture is revealed in the fine food served. Try jamón, or Spanish ham, a trademark of the cuisine. Every restaurant is proud to offer it. The curing process is a sacred art and therefore a family secret, so don’t expect to find out. I mean this stuff goes back a thousand years.

No wonder people eat virtually all of the time it seems. And olives are not dietetic items! There is only one solution: cook your own healthy meals. Like Spaniards shop regularly for fresh produce, you can also enjoy this practice as you stock your kitchen. You will become a real Andalusian if you want to or even a Madrileño if you reside there. Each region is known for different types of food. When you cook, why not do it like a native. You can stay healthy using olive oil and local seasonings. You can get lots of flavor and little fat if you select accordingly. Trim all your meats and pass on dessert, as difficult as that may be. And none of that divine intense hot chocolate.

Once your weight drops and you have adjusted to the lovely fare, you will eat less if you exert a little self-discipline. If you are a student like me, you know there is always more out there and you won’t overindulge. When you visit, you feel like you don’t want to forego one little savory item.

You will want to cook when you see how wonderful the shops are. Each specializes in something unique and it is fun to go door to door. If you don’t have much of a kitchen, as most students don’t, you can make everything on the top of the stove in a big frying pan. Sautéing is my style. You can bake if you have even a small oven or broil. During the nice weather, you might even grill some shrimp outside. Spicy sauces are common so I hope you like them.

Regional specialty dishes may be too hard to do on your own, however. You hope to get invited to someone else’s home. This happened to me while traveling through the Costa del Sol. I met a young woman on a bus who invited me home for dinner. We were talking idly when I mentioned how great the food was. I was not sorry! It was a veritable feast of seafood, being on the coast of course, and some exquisite vegetarian dishes.

So my blog is a two-edge sword today. On the one hand experience what you can of specialty foods in Spain, on the other hand try to diet and not go home too fat. I think there is a happy medium here, a kind of balance between the two that you can achieve.