Healthy Living in Spain & Australia

I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons during these past two years living abroad.

Some of my essential new personal rules include: never pack shampoo without first putting it in a plastic bag, only paint fingernails over a well-covered surface, and remember that brownies are not intended to be cooked in the microwave (that “genius” idea almost got our home in Gijón burnt down… whoopsies!)

Kidding aside, leaving my home in the US to experience a new way of life in a foreign country has definitely taught me how to better understand myself (cliche, I know – but still true!) and to treat myself well. Hands down, one of the biggest personal benefits I’ve gained while living here has been my overall increase in health. Over the past two years I’ve successfully: increased my activity, lost weight, gained more energy, and felt overall more “clear-headed” and calm.

Now don’t go running out to buy Spanish Evian (my secret “health elixir” isn’t found in overseas drinking water ;-)!) In fact, what I’ve realized is that the key to achieving greater health is not by spending more money on fancy food, vitamins, or gym memberships – but actually by doing less and by eliminating certain things from your lifestyle.

Admittedly, deciding that I was going to “put limitations” on my lifestyle was not something I eagerly elected to do. These changes came to be, honestly, due to living on a tight budget and also because of lack of resources (especially during my first year in Spain when I was only making 800 Euros a month and also while living in Sydney – that place is expensive!) After a while of resenting these changes, I gave myself an attitude adjustment and started to think about all the positive things (like getting healthier and spending less money) that had occurred when I started getting by with less.

Okay, I think it’s time I quit my preaching and actually spill my dirty details :-). Here are the things that I now do/consume less (or have eliminated all together) that have helped me become a happier healthier person.

1) Less pop

I grew up watching my Dad drink diet soda my whole life. I think I probably started to drink it regularly myself when I was about 13 or 14…. and my habit of drinking at least one pop a day (mostly Diet Coke) continued until I left the States. That’s a ton of Diet Cokes consumed in one lifetime!

I first started to feel “weird” about drinking so much D.C. when I started to live with Diego. Being the good Spaniard that he is, he didn’t share my pop addiction.

(Side note: In Spain, people rarely stock the fridges with packs of cans of soda – rather they buy one liter bottles and serve themselves small amounts on special occasions.)

Anyways, sometimes he would ask flat out why I “needed” to drink soda during lunch every single day…. and after a while I kind of got to see that it was unnecessary (but was unwilling at first to admit that he was right ;-)). I finally stopped drinking pop for good while living in Sydney because I felt guilty for using our shared grocery money to buy something that Diego didn’t drink.

So now on the positive side, living soda-less means no artificial sweeteners in my diet. That’s a plus since many sources link sweetener chemicals to the possibility of developing cancer and also to over-eating and weight gain. Plus, it’s one less thing I have to buy at the store. Take that Diet Coke!

A reminder of my past love 😉

2) Less meat

Cutting back on meat is another consequence of living in Sydney while on a budget that I’ve maintained. When we were there, I got use to living off of cheap and easy things to prepare like: oatmeal, rice, beans, yogurt, peanut butter, fruit, and veggies. That six month period of  living in Australia was the first time in my life I limited my meat consumption and I honestly think it was one of the biggest contributors to my weight loss. I guess it makes sense since I made sure to replace meat with healthy foods like veggies and whole grains. I am by no means a vegetarian, I just now go out of my way to eat less meat and animal derived products and more plant based foods.

A before Sydney photo (about 15 pounds heavier)

3) Less driving

Like I mentioned in a previous post – coming to Spain has meant leaving my beloved car in the garage of my parent’s house. Living car-less made me crazy a first, but I soon got use to it and now enjoy (most of the time ;-)) the health perks of being forced to walk to most places. Even just going to the grocery store and back is about 20 minutes of walking…. and all those little “spurts” of movement add up over the course of a few years! I feel like I have an increased stamina as compared to how I was before. And again, without a car I spend less money because I’m tempted less. Now I only actually buy something if I really want it because the act of going to the store is so much more time consuming without a car at my disposal. 🙂

See you at Christmas Geo Prizm!

4) Less caffeine

This is the newest development to the Ray “living with less” lifestyle. I decided about a month ago that I was tired of being a slave to my morning coffee and would love to be able to go through the day with the assistance of caffeine. How I stopped drinking coffee was by slowing weening myself off from regular to decaf over the course of a few weeks (Diego’s idea!). It worked great (I only experienced a few mini “caffeine withdrawal” headaches and moodiness)! The best thing about not having to drink two cups of coffee everyday is the better sleep and the feeling that you don’t need the caffeinated”crutch” to be able to function well. Finally, without coffee, tea, or pop in my life I’m drinking more water than ever – which is both cheap and healthy!

Um, this is just awesome. If I could have made my morning coffee look like this everyday, there's no way I would have given it up!

Hopefully I didn’t sound too “holier than thou” during this post.  Every person is different, and quite possibly my approach to getting healthier wouldn’t work in your case at all! Even so, I thought it was worth discussing how I realized that some of things that are “normal” in the US (like drinking pop everyday and driving everywhere) are not considered the “normal” in other countries – and doing less of some of these things can perhaps be helpful to your health and to your wallet.

Simply put – when it comes to a healthy lifestyle – sometimes doing less is best 😉

Thanks for teaching me that one Sydney and Spain!

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