I Gained 20 Pounds Studying Abroad (and I Don’t Regret It)

Freshman year of college, I worked really hard to get in shape. I didn’t feel good about myself when I looked in the mirror. I had always had body image issues, but I knew that college (and the free gym membership that came along with it) would provide me with my chance to look the way I wanted to. I was already a vegetarian, but I cut out all processed food and bad carbs. I went to the gym everyday for 3 months. At the end of my first semester, I had lost 40 pounds.

I was incredibly proud of myself and determined to keep the weight off. And I did...until my junior year when I studied abroad.

In the spring of that year, I traveled to Israel and spent almost five months there. I had been to Israel before and I had lost a ton of weight. The Mediterranean diet is inherently healthy and I felt confident that I would come home looking the same, or maybe even better. I could not have been more wrong.

There were many factors that caused my weight gain. First off, I was drinking a lot more alcohol than I had been accustomed to at home. I was of legal age in Israel and, so, I was going out to bars, sometimes 3 or 4 days a week. Because I was a young, foreign girl, I would get a lot of free drinks, on top of what I was ordering myself. All those rum and cokes began to add up after awhile. Second, I was going through some emotionally taxing relationship drama while I was away. I had a bad breakup, which led to a breakdown, and then (miraculously) a happy ending in which we reconnected. This five month emotional rollercoaster led to a lot of sleepless nights and, therefore, a lot of late night snacking. Sometimes, I didn’t even know why I was eating, except to distract myself.

Lastly, I ate out a lot more than I had planned to. My apartment did not have a huge kitchen set-up; cooking everyday with just a hot plate became tedious. Once I started to eat out at restaurants (by my last month, that was everyday), I gave myself a lot more cheat days. I wanted to experience Israeli food and not put so many restrictions upon myself. I ate dessert consistently. When I wanted food after going out to bars, I would go to a falafel shop and get a full meal, otherwise known as second dinner.

When I finally stepped on a scale, I was shocked. I knew I had gained weight, but I couldn’t have possibly anticipated how much. I had gained 20 pounds. It was a complete shock. I thought that the scale must have been broken. After weighing myself four more times, I realized that it was true. 

This was, in the beginning, devastating. When I returned to the States in June, none of my clothes fit. I couldn’t even button my summer shorts. This is an experience which is hard to describe to someone who has never been through it. For me, it felt like a punch in the gut. All of the clothes that I had worked so hard to fit into looked like they were going to burst at the seams on my body.

At first, I was determined to lose the weight and refused to buy anything new. I worked out, I dieted, and I cried a decent amount. I went vegan (for ethical reasons) and I thought that this might initiate some sort of change. It didn’t. By July, I was resigned to buying new clothes. By August, senior year was approaching once again and I had only lost five pounds

At a certain point, I had to accept the fact that I might not be able to lose this weight. Since then, I’ve worked on my self-image and I have come to a lot of conclusions, the most important being that I don’t regret a single moment of my time abroad.

There have been a lot of times that I wished I didn’t gain the weight. However, I came to the realization that, if I hadn’t gained the weight, I might not have had half of the experiences I did. I wouldn’t have made friends with Israelis in the bars I went to. I wouldn’t have discovered the amazing healing power of an entire bag of BBQ Bissli chips. And I certainly would not have had all of that AMAZING falafel. I know that, if I had been aware of my diet the entire time I was abroad, I would not have been as focused on just having fun and enjoying every minute of it.

It’s still a journey of self love, but, because I feel less pressure about my body, I have allowed myself to experience life more fully. I eat White Castle vegan sliders at 3am like they are going out of style. I buy clothes that fit me, rather than trying to fit myself into clothes. I let myself have pasta a few times a week (sometimes it’s not even whole grain). I still want to exercise and continue to be healthy, but hating myself isn’t healthy. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is give yourself a break. No one is perfect. And, I can tell you from experience, sometimes life is worth cheating on your diet for.