All the Girls Get Fat in South America

Who wants to talk about body issues? Recently, my darling Heath has been begging me, along with many other members of the class of 2013, to contribute to the Forum's Letters to Home series.  But as much as I’m sure that “Letters to Home: How I Fell Off a Swing By Myself and Split My Head Open in Chile” would be an instant classic, I’m saving it for my memoir.

So here’s the back up plan: write about fat girls.

Like it or not, we’re all thinking about it – the prospect of going abroad with that cute little California beach body and coming back only to have been transformed into a whale hanging out at Scripps pool.  I might weigh 135 pounds, but that’s only 60 kilograms, so that means I’m actually skinnier in South America, right?  That's a thing.

Let’s start from the beginning.  Before I’d even booked my plane ticket for my big Southern hemisphere adventure, I knew what was up.  My friends warned me about it all summer, teasing me endlessly.  “All the girls that go to South America get fat,” they reminded me.

One put it a little more tenderly, providing some charming advice: “Mimbs, don’t f#@king get fat down there.”

Easier said than done.  When you’re in a world of new, good habits are hard to maintain.  You’re only abroad once is frequently our rallying cry, our excuse to tear into anything and everything put in front of us.  It isn’t healthy, but who knows.  Maybe it is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have Dulce de Leche and Coconut flavored ice-cream.  And, yes, I could probably find that back in the States, thanks to globalization and what not, but shush.  Don’t tell me that.  Let me savor this mouthful of wonderfulness like Argentina and I are going to break up - and this is my last opportunity to savor our rich, rich relationship.   Besides, I haven’t had a real waffle cone since, like, 1998.

My tortured existence on this deserted continent of fine wine and Latin lovers now consists of two ever hounding thoughts: “when is my next meal coming” and “I should really be more careful at my next meal not to get fat.”  The pendulum unpredictably, and unproductively, swings between the two.   Thinking about it is not helping anything, but taking the time to stay in shape isn't easy.  Going for a run is difficult – especially when there are modern art museums to see and chocolate chunk lattes to try.

I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. After Skyping with friends studying in many parts of the world, I've reached one final conclusion - more likely than not, I’m not the only one going crazy over food while abroad.

Rather, we're each asking questions: is my on-campus boyfriend still going to love me when I come back from Europe looking like I just ate a Frenchman?   Are the new freshman going to be hotter than me?  And how the hell am I going to fit into all my American Apparel body suits for theme parties in the spring? By the way, screw the lingerie party.

More then once on this trip, I’ve found myself quoting Mary Scmich's “Wear Sunscreen” essay.  The essay, packed with fitting life advice, was adapted to music video in 1999 by Baz Luhrmann, and features one increasingly relevant line: “You are not as fat as you imagine.”  Dreamy and idealistic, but also not so far from the truth.  While there's less research on weight gain of college students during their junior year, one recent study showed that the "Freshman 15" isn't actually a real thing.  It is nothing but a panic-inciting, salad-diet-inducing myth: the average student only gains about 3 pounds their first year in college.  At the end of the day, it's more in our heads than we realize.

I could feed you some sort of cookie-cutter “cherish the moment" advice, but you’ve had enough cookies already, girlfriend.  Let’s just put it this way - there’s something more important to study abroad than counting calories.  As one CMC alum sagely advised me -  "If you are going abroad, eat, drink and party like they do. Weight is something that can be lost, but experiences can't."

So breathe, you're still a hottie.  And if you put on some weight, it’s not the end of the world.  There’s always Jessica Mao’s killer kick boxing class in the spring to get you back into shape.

Besides, Pirate Party’s not till May. Ya got time.

Food images courtesy of Elizabeth Petit '13, currently studying abroad in Sydney, Australia.  Photos were taken during a trip to New Zealand.