My friend Jenna, who’s been living in Peru for about 3 years, recently saw a nutritionist to help her rebalance her fitness and nutrition while living abroad. She learned some valuable lessons along the way and shares some of the advice her nutritionist gave her. Check out her guest blog post below!
For the majority of my adult life, I have considered myself a “healthy” woman.
I have consistently gone to the gym, ate my fruits and veggies, and drank plenty of water, heck I even ran a marathon in 2016. Then Peru happened. The Peace Corps doctors always told us it was normal for girls to gain weight, and boys to lose weight, but my first 6 months in Peace Corps I felt like my body hadn’t changed much, maybe I would be the exception? But I suppose this could have also been to the fact I went from living at sea level to 10,000 feet, just going to the market was a workout in itself. As time went on, I realized I was not the exception and weight gain was REAL for me, as well as for many of my gal pals in the Peace Corps. Ugh, can’t the universe just develop a system for us to donate some weight to our male friends in the Peace Corps who had lost all the weight that we had seemed to have gained?
Peru is a culture where “food is love”. When someone offers you of a plate of food, it’s because they are showing their affection, and it’s a way to welcome you into their family, their town, their world, and when you are trying to integrate yourself into a completely new world, well…you eat.
At the end of my Peace Corps service, I had gained around 15 – 20 pounds, mas o menos.
Yes, all that in 27 months. I had very little access to safe places to workout, aside from running around the soccer field, and remember I lived in a very rural community, which meant we didn’t always have running water. So sometimes I didn’t want to go sweat for an hour knowing I would not be able to shower. In addition, Peru is a culture where “food is love”. When someone offers you of a plate of food, it’s because they are showing their affection, and it’s a way to welcome you into their family, their town, their world, and when you are trying to integrate yourself into a completely new world, well…you eat.
Shoutout to arroz and papas, two of the most common foods in Peru. Did you know there are 3,800 different types of potatoes in Peru? There is also a well respected institution, the International Potato Center ,that does research on these 3,800 different potatoes. (This is not a joke.)
In July 2018, when I returned to the United States for a two-month leave (though I prefer the term “sabbatical at 26” — not a US government approved term), I was determined to lose the weight I had gained and began working out 5-6 times a week. I began to see results fairly quickly, but nothing too drastic. In September 2018, I returned to Peace Corps life but was placed in Lima, which meant the ability to go to a gym every day, as well as cook for myself. Over my first few months, I gained muscle and lost some weight, but again, nothing drastic. UGH. C’mon arroz, go away.
Within 6 weeks, my results were shocking to me… without any changes to my workout routine, just rearranging my nutrition plan, I lost 3% body fat and 9.5 pounds.
In March 2019, I made the decision to go see a nutritionist.
There was a promotion for five appointments, so I figured, why not? The five appointments cost me less than $125, which I know is something I would never be able to get in the US. Within 6 weeks, my results were shocking to me, which proved just how much nutrition plays a role in our health journey/weight loss. In 6 weeks, without any changes to my workout routine, just rearranging my nutrition plan, I lost 3% body fat and 9.5 pounds.
Here are the top 5 lessons I learned during these 6 weeks.
The 80/20 Rule
Hear me out. It does not matter how much or for how long you work out. DIET MATTERS. Some time ago I thought “okay, I’ll eat this then run two more miles tomorrow, no worries.” Nope, that’s not how it works. A fit body is made in the kitchen, not just the gym.
This was one of the weirdest realizations for me. The TYPE of foods that I was eating after seeing a nutritionist were not different. I ate quinoa, avocado, fruits, veggies, chicken, etc, but what did change was the ratio of each proteins / carbohydrates / fats. I always knew that these ratios were important, but never realized how much. After making the commitment to follow it, I now realize why this is stressed so much in nutrition.
Just as our body adapts to things such as water intake, lifting weights, and living at altitude, our bodies also adapt to the type of nutrition we are consuming.
Switch it up
Something my nutritionist and I did was switch up my meal plan every 2 weeks. She explained to me that just as our body adapts to things such as water intake, lifting weights, and living at altitude, our bodies also adapt to the type of nutrition we are consuming. With that being said, she recommended that every 2 weeks I slightly change my ratios to continue with my fat loss / overall weight loss. It worked for the first 6 weeks and has continued to work since then.
You can have your cake and eat it too
My birthday fell right in the middle of these 6 weeks. Part of me wanted to stick to the clean eating plan, which clearly does not include typical birthday foods, but the other part of me was like “treat yo self”. Well the second mindset won, and I had my cake, wine, and an absurd amount of ceviche and chicharron. Even after all those delicious foods, I still ended the week by losing fat and weight. I don’t believe in the majority of food plans that ban certain foods, and this situation was a perfect example of that you can have your cake and eat it too ;). Everything in moderation, and life will go on, I promise.
One of the most challenging aspects of this switch in lifestyle was not what I was eating nor my commitment to the gym, but rather my mindset. We, as humans, look at ourselves everyday in the mirror, and most likely critique our own bodies more than anyone else. We notice the one hair out of place, the small pimple, or bags under our eyes, while most are thinking those same thoughts about themselves. This experience taught me more than just what it’s like to manage healthy eating / exercise while living abroad / in a new environment, but it also taught me to be confident in my own skin (and muscle, and fat).
A year ago, I would have never thought about writing a post about my fitness and nutrition journey; I would have felt too embarrassed. A year later, my body has transformed physically, but so has my mindset.
Is my body perfect? No. But there is beauty in imperfection. Maybe I did go through a period where I gained weight, but it was while I was living out my dreams in so many incredible ways, and fortunate enough to experience moments I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams.
I am very thankful I had the opportunity to visit a nutritionist and would highly recommend it to those that have the chance. If you don’t have the chance to visit one in person, the internet always has great information, but as always, be cautious of your source. Hate to break it to you, that website that says you can lose 20lbs in one week is a scam.
If you want to follow my journey in Peru and in the Peace Corps, you can follow me on Instagram @JennaHouchins. I’m always happy to answer questions to the best of my ability regarding my fitness/nutrition journey and my Peace Corps experience.
With all that being said, come visit Peru and we can navigate eating healthy in the city that was voted the best culinary destination in the world (7 years and counting!). Jenny, not only the founder of Literally Always Hungry, but a wonderful friend, will be in town this month! Who’s next?
Jennita (my Peruvian nickname)