Transition Fitness For Expats: 5 Facts To Know For Embracing Healthy Eating

 Do you know how to lose weight and stay fit during transitions ?  

Are you confused by contradicting information about dieting versus healthy eating ?

Do you have difficulties to adapt to new foods when moving to a new country? 

Well, you are not alone and if you are an expat chances are high that you encounter even more difficulties to embrace healthy eating. In this article I will focus on developing healthy eating habits by introducing basic nutrition principles, other transition fitness tips such as effective exercises and how to stick to healthy habits for life will be shared in a series of specific articles about transition fitness.

 In a previous post I talk about causes of emotional eating during transitions such as an expatriation. In this post, I am going to give some tips on how to stay fit by eating wisely. There are plenty of conflicting information out there and when you move to a new country you don’t necessarily find the same types or quality of food that may result in weight gain. For example moving from Europe to the U.S. often leads to weight gain as Americans use more processed foods, full of hidden sugar, salt or fat.

For losing weight, staying fit, keeping positive energy while toning your body you need lifestyle modifications which include caloric reduction and regular exercise in combination with behavior modifications to keep life long healthy habits.  However during a transition period the time dedicated to settle down often conflicts with the establishment of healthy routines.

First you have to recognize that you need more time when you arrive in a new country to identify which stores are convenient in term of quality, diversity  and pricing. You also have to find best substitutes for healthy products you used in your previous location that is not available in your new country or are too expensive to be part of your daily diet. Same thing with physical activities, you need to try different classes, different locations and find time for socializing to find the best support group or friends to help you focus on your fitness goals.

 Tip for future expats: On average a fresh expat family needs minimum 6 months to one year to be in the routine mode. When planning for an expatriation, I recommend you negotiate with your employer a package that provides local relocation services for logistic support to shorten this discovery process so you can be more effective at work.

 1-What is a healthy weight ? Healthy weight is defined by the Body Mass Index BMI. It  is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. BMI can be used to indicate if you are overweight, obese, underweight or normal. A healthy BMI score is between 20 and 25. A score below 20 indicates that you may be underweight; a value above 25 indicates that you may be overweight. To find out yours, Use a  BMI Calculator

 2- Basal Metabolism Rate (BMR) and Basic Nutrition Principles.  The BMR is your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and it measures the number of calories you burn even when you sleep. BMR decreases as you age. You can use a simple BMR calculator but I recommend scales using your weight, age, height and body composition such as body water, fat, bone density and muscles. Most gym clubs are equipped with those scales so you can get a fitness checkup and discuss your weight loss goals with certified nutritionists and fitness trainers.

Nutrition Tip: A pound of body fat equates to approximately 3500 calories. So if you have a calorie deficit of 500 calories  per day (meaning eating less and burning more calories through physical activity) you would lose approximately one pound per week (7 days): 500 x 7 = 3,500 calories. (1 pound = 454 grams)

 3-Nutrition Information

  Foods are digested and processed by the body to create energy,  all energy that is not used id stocked as fat and a deficit in calories will burn fat to create energy. Highly restrictive calorie intake diets of all kinds are not working in a long run because restrictions are not sustainable and you put your body in starvation mode. Without enough calorie intake, you reduce your BMR and you lose muscular mass as the body use  the proteins in your muscles as source of energy. Diets that prohibit completely a class of products like no carbohydrate or not fat are not healthy as your body needs vitamins and minerals found in a variety of nutrients. For example you need oil, colored fruits and vegetables to get  vitamin E, vitamin A and many natural anti-aging substances.

 Not all calories are created equal

  • Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories
  • Alcohol: 1 gram = 7 calories
  • Proteins: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories

Fats are very dense in calories per gram and it is easily digested and stocked in your body fat mass. Proteins have half the amount of calories and need more energy to be absorbed and assimilated by the body. So decreasing fat and increasing proteins will make you burn more fat and reduce hunger

Depending on individuals you need to adjust the amount of each category of nutrients,  but basically you need:

  • 20- percent calories from lean proteins,  so for 1500 calories = (1500x 0.2)/4=     75 grams of proteins
  • 60 percent calories from complex, low-glycemic carbohydrates= (1500x 0.6)/4= 225 grams of carbs
  • 20 percent calories from essential fats = (1500x.0.2)/9 = 33 grams of fats

To lose weight, cutting calories can be as simple as swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options. For example switching 1/2 pound of steak to chicken can help you decrease fat and make you save 400 calories. You can also decrease serving size like going from 2 Tbs (38g) of peanut butter at 200 calories to 1Tbs save 100 calories.

 If you have medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, thyroid problems or any other medical conditions, you should talk to your medical doctor first what is the appropriate foods and quantities. The problem for expats is finding the right specialists and it is not easy when you have specific medical issues that are not addressed by general practitioners. Medical practices and guidelines are often different from one country to another and when you have the language barrier on top of that it can be very stressful.  

Tip for future expats: Before you accept your assignment, it would be wise to get information about health standards and health risks you can expect to encounter in your country of expatriation. Gather health information via embassies or expat forums and blogs. I also recommend you check the book: ” Expat Women Confessions” 

 4- Glycemic Index 

 Plan your meals not only based on calories but look also for foods with low glycemic index.

 What is the Glycemic Index?

 Carbohydrates are absorbed and transformed into glucose in the blood triggering the release of insulin, the hormone that makes the glucose available to the cells and tissues that make your muscles, heart,  brain or adipose tissue. The glycemic index (GI) describes the blood glucose levels obtained after eating carbohydrates. Choosing low GI carbs – the ones that produce only small fluctuations in our blood glucose and insulin levels – is the secret to long-term health reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes and is the key to sustainable weight loss.

Carbohydrates made of simple sugars like fructose in fruit juices or starch in white pasta or rice are rapidly absorbed and produce a high peak of glucose and insulin increasing fat storage. Complex carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and are absorbed slowly giving energy for one hour or so, more when combined with high content of fibers, Fibers are not digested by the body and help to slow the absorption of sugars and fats and lower the glycemic index,  that is why it is better to eat an orange fruit than an orange juice

 Proteins are digested and produce amino acids that regulate the hunger signal sent to your brain so you will feel satisfied and less hungry for a longer period of time. Proteins are found in eggs, milk products, fish, lean meats or legumes (vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils).  Legumes can be a healthy substitute for meat.

 In the  graph above you can see that it is recommended to always eat high glycemic carbohydrates and fats with fibers to stabilize your blood sugar and combine with proteins for feeling full and satisfied longer between meals.

 Nutrition tip: Decrease the level of refined sugar. Women should aim for 100 calories (6½ teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar) per day.

5- Healthy Snacking

If possible divide your total daily calorie allowance for maintaining or losing weight into 3 meals and 2 snacks. Breakfasts and lunches should contain the most carbohydrates for providing energy for your daily activities. Do not skip breakfasts or lunches, otherwise you will feel hungry with low energy and have a tendency to overeat later..

Recipes for filling full with smart snacks= Fibers + Carbs +Proteins + Fat:

  • Apple+Skimmed Milk Mozzarella
  • Baby Carrots+Hummus
  • Peanut Butter+Whole wheat crackers

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About Anne Egros

Zest and Zen is a blog about Expat Life Challenges, Global Leadership, Intercultural Communication, Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Change Psychology, Life Transitions
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3 Responses to Transition Fitness For Expats: 5 Facts To Know For Embracing Healthy Eating

  1. Kazmis says:

    Dear Madam Anne Egros,
    The graph shown in the posting is somehow misguiding. Why not to correct it or remove altogether. The graph showing protein, meat eggs etc is indicating high energy level at sugar scale, which is misinformation.

    • Sorry Kazmis but the graph is correct. The metabolic pathway to transform proteins into sugar in blood is called Gluconeogenesis. The metabolism of proteins is much slower and requires more energy/gram than simple carbohydrates(sugars) but it is enough to prevent hypoglycemia without triggering high insulin production. I recommend you read basic biochemistry books and review the main metabolic pathways including the use of glycogen in the liver another way to produce energy(blood sugar) when under starvation or intense exercising.

  2. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you, However I
    am experiencing issues with your RSS. I don’t understand why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody else getting the same RSS issues? Anyone who knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanks!!

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