So I started at a new gym two weeks ago. It is WONDERFUL!! I had been pretty disappointed for the first month or two about the horrible quality of the gyms out here… being told that this one gym next to my school that I went to for 2 weeks was “one of the best out here” even though the whole place was carpeted and smelled horrible and the machines were the OLDEST and crappiest machines I’ve ever used. The machines were so old that there were little knobs to turn on the eliptical machines to increase the resistence (like a spin bike) rather then the normal digital screen of the bikes of the past 10 years.
Boy, was I happy and blessed to find the “San Martin Gym and Wellness Center” with one of my closer friends here, Emma, in the center of town and not too far from school. For the happy price of about $65-70 Euro a month, I go to a gym with top-of-the-line exercise machines, ALL with TVs on them, and even the weight lifting machines have digital screens on them that COUNT YOUR REPS. Nice! Those are perfect for ADD people like myself, who can never make it to rep number 10 without thinking,,, “Aw shit, what number was I on?” haha.
In addition, they have the most amazing fitness classes, with the most FIT and trim european women I have ever seen. These classes are almost like choreographed professional dance classes, and boy do you HAVE to have good coordination to make it here! I am doing pretty good trying to keep up with them, and look forward all week to the step, kickboxing, and hi-lo dance classes to have another day of burning as much fat off my body as I can!
I don’t know if I have mentioned this in a previous blog, but every day I continue to be atonished by how few overweight people I see in Spain—or in Europe in general. Once I realized this about a month ago, I was almost on a “mission” to spot somebody who had a bit of extra weight to be considered extremely overweight or “obese” because it was strange to me that EVERYBODY seemed to appear fit or average size. You would think with the Spanish diet of TONS of oil, eggs, greasy meat, fried potatoes, and very few vegetables that there would be quite a good number of people who could stand to lose 50, 100 pounds,,, but somehow that is not the case here. Once I DID spot a girl who was quite obese, only to realize from her gleaming white sneakers, oversized t-shirt, jeans, and backpack that she HAD to be a tourist not from here… and there was a really good chance that she was actually a person from the US.
Meanwhile, I find it hard to clothing-shop here because “large” sizes aren’t always LARGE enough for me! I know I can somewhat be considered “big boned” but DAMN!–I’m definitely not large enough that “large” clothing shouldn’t fit me! But those are European women. Small, thin, petite. When you look around, it is amazing how lovely and beautiful, thin and elegant most European women are.
So what is their secret?
Well first, let’s start off with what I miss about the US right now: Mexican food. Fast food restaurants. Every kind of ice cream I want in nice little cartons from the grocery store. Fried food of every kind. Grocery stores that are open 24 hours a day. Snacks in bags. Carousel cookies. Cheese crackers. Deliverable pizza. Chips, Salsa, and Gaucamole. Restaurants like CPK, TGIFridays, and Olive Garden. Buffet meals.
WOW. Sounds crazy that THOSE are the foods that I miss??? With that being said, for the sake of my health, my body is SO much better off in Spain then, hey? I mean, there IS a reason that I keep hearing—almost on a weekly basis–of how FAT the United States is viewed by everybody across the world. In my Spanish class, we had to talk (in Spanish) about a “typical” food from your country and how to prepare it. Do you know what everybody agreed was SOOO American? Fried hamburger and deep-fried french fries. I’ve actually been told by a person or two that if they see an overweight person here in Europe, especially if that person is young, they just assume that the person is a tourist from the US. Yikes. In addition, when I ask somebody what they would say is their idea of the “typical American”, the one word that often gets mentioned is “overweight.” What is happening to our people??
Well let’s start out with the fact that in the United States you literally can get any food, at any time, from any place if you REALLY want it. Food is made to be SOOO readily available, most of it deep-fried or cooked with butter and/or oil, quick and easy to grab (from the gas station, easy drive-thrus, or at the checkstand on the way out of stores), and the aisles in grocery stores are “gleaming” with rows and rows of “bags of wonder”: doritos (5 varieties), potato chips of every kind and flavor, tortilla chips, cheetos, fritos. Cookies of every type and kind, triscuits, wheat thins, cheesits, nips . . . ugh, I could go on and on and on!
When you are hungry in the US and don’t feel like making food, what do you do? Go to a drive thru. Or run to to grocery store and pick up a pizza, or fattening and preservative-packed frozen dinner, or perhaps some chicken nuggets, mac-and-cheese, corn dogs, who know what else! Even as I type this, my mouth is watering from the thought of being able to eat any of these “food wonders” that I have come to miss living in Spain for 3 months now. What do I do when I’m hungry here and don’t have any food? Well yes I CAN actually get a frozen pizza from the grocery store here, but that’s about where it ends. I just have to cook something (which lately is chicken and a TON of veggies) or eat a bowl of cereal or something. There is only ONE fast food in the ENTIRE city—McDonalds–and it’s in the town center which is far from where I live.
Next, let’s talk about how great the public transportation is great in most parts of the world that are highly developed EXCEPT IN THE US. Sure, some of the larger cities like Chicago, New York, and D.C. have decent public transportation, but it pretty much ends there when it comes to other large cities and smaller towns across the US. Do you know that I have come to feel that Los Angeles is kind of an embarassment to the US due to the horrible transportation system? Tourists come to visit and are told they pretty much won’t “survive” in the city without a rental car. What?? Then there are FIVE lanes of traffic on the freeways in the city and one carpool lane… and yet all five lanes are constantly jammed up with one-person-per-car. When people have to drive a short distance, they hop in their car. Most people spend a good portion of time a day, sitting on their ever-growing-behinds, often eating fast food, and living a sedentary life.
With a better transportation system, whether it be a subway system, or a bus system that isn’t over-ridden by the homeless and “shady” characters, people would get in better habits of WALKING places, or biking. And once you get active every day, the better you feel about yourself, the more you want to be active, and the less CRAP food you will be inclined to eat. It’s funny because never did I think that biking to school every day would be such a breeze and actually so much fun! Or how nice it would be to not have a car and get to walk everywhere, see everything, and actually feel like I was doing something other than eating eating eating and then sitting on my butt all day long.
To be completely honest… the ONLY reason that I have not ended up as one of the majority of people in the US who are overweight or obese is because I was lucky to be brought up with the knowledge of exercise and nutrition… and happen to LOVE it so much! I crave working out and being active… and that is probably what really saves me from the enivitable food “trap” that is so easy for Americans to fall into. Hell, I fall into that trap every day back home when I’m hungry or having a craving. Why take all that time to cook a whole meal for yourself and make something healthy when there’s quick freezer meals or a fast food place two blocks away?
I remember years ago there was this French woman on Oprah who had written a book about losing weight the “French way” or the “European way” which was, as she said, “Simple.” She said to eat when you are hungry, stop eating when you are full, and use public transportation and/or walk to work and to places. Wow, did she sound like an idiot preaching that to Americans. “What the hell does she mean?” we all thought.
But, in a weird way it really IS simple. We just don’t understand it because we’ve been brought up in a nation where everything is easily available to us, 24 hours a day, every day of every year. We learn that “getting fat” is just normal and that we just need to constantly go on diets to rid our bodies of the excess. We have grown up in houses where our parents told us to finish EVERYTHING on your plate whether you were full or not. We have (usually) had the luxury of one or two cars in our families that whisk us back and forth between places that we could probably walk or bike to. We have been taught to “self medicate” our bodies with food when we are sad, happy, emotional, depressed. And unfortunately, a lot of us do not learn the necessity of daily physical exercise, nutrition, and just being active in general. When you think about it that way, it’s easy to see why America is the fattest nation in the entire world.
I know… as I sit here and dream about chips and spinach dip, guacamole, melted cheddar cheese (on anything), little animal-shaped pink and white cookies, mini corn dogs, and every kind of mexican food I can think of that I want to cram down my throat the second I return to the US. SIGH! 🙂