I spent the fall semester of my junior year living abroad in the South of France, in a small university city called Aix-en-Provence. While my new home boasted beautiful architecture and loads of history, I took a real interest in the restaurants and bars.
I would set up in a small café between classes, where I would eat my daily pain au chocolat. For lunch, I would gorge on crepes with ham and cheese or ratatouille, or grab a large to-go container of steamy pasta. My friends would meet everyday at our favorite wine bar, where we would have a few glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau before retreating home for dinner. Of course, I would need to pop into a patisserie for a flaky pastry to help pass the time on my walk across town.
In the French home, there is a huge appreciation for the ritual of dinner. Everyone sits down for a few hours, as it is the time to talk with family. You must eat everything on your plate; if you don’t eat what is given to you, it is considered very rude or wasteful. Your host assumes you don’t like what they made for you.
My host mom would slave in the kitchen to provide us with multiple-course meals every night. Soup and salad was cleared to make room on the table for chicken, pork, or pasta, with multiple side dishes of different veggies. These dishes were cleared for fresh bread and a platter of fromage (so French). And finally, we were presented with a dessert my host mom had made that day; I ate everything from apple tart to chocolate mousse.
And then came the weekends. Saturday was our night to eat out at a restaurant, so we would all treat ourselves to a really nice meal before heading out to the bars. I developed a love for fattening cocktails like White Russians and Mojitos. Looking back, I can definitely blame the booze for a lot of my calorie intake.
Naturally, my jeans got a little tighter. One day, I couldn’t zip them at all. I remember looking at a photo of myself from a weekend trip to Madrid, in which I posed with a huge plate of churros (naturally), and thinking my face was so round. My host mom would talk about a previous student who had lived in their house, calling her “plus gros” (very fat), and then tell me I had the same appetite as her. Were other people noticing my weight gain? All of a sudden, I was self-conscious. I found myself sneaking into my host parent’s bedroom to use their scale, trying to constantly monitor my weight.
I had always had an athletic body; I played sports in high school and loved working out at the gym in college. Maintaining my figure had never really been an issue, much to the envy of my friends. Weight gain had not been a fear of mine before I went abroad. I had plenty of anxiety about being away from home and the language barrier, amongst other things, but I felt that by walking everywhere I would be able to maintain my weight.
I obsessed over my weight for a few weeks. I realized that I had been eating a lot to deal with my subconscious feelings of missing home. I talked to anyone who would listen to me complain how big I had gotten, and tortured myself trying to count calories. I quickly learned that, a.) nobody wants to hear you talk about your weight, and b.) it’s miserable to monitor yourself like that. I was letting my body image take complete control over my abroad experience, and I was not enjoying my time at all.
With a month left in France, I decided to just let it go and be happy with my body. While I had put on weight, when would I be able to eat amazing food like this again? It was temporary, and I would deal with the damage upon my return home. I decided to make small changes for my health, like taking the long route home and turning my pastry habit into a special treat, instead of a daily occurrence. Looking back, I’m so happy to say that I had a full abroad experience, where I enjoyed all the tasty food Europe has to offer.
All photos taken from Instagram @macdeazy