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The No-Deprivation Guide to Staying Fit While Studying Abroad

Experiencing the Mediterranean diet while studying abroad has transformed my mindset on food. 

As I prepared to study abroad in Florence, Italy, one of my first thoughts were how my body would react to a new diet and lifestyle. Six weeks abroad spent eating pizza and gelato may sound like a dream, but this style of eating could not be farther from my diet in the States. I prepared for my digestion system to go into shock, but my time in Florence so far has transformed how I think about food.

Just in my first few weeks, my digestive system has been thriving. Shocking, right?

When you think of Italy, you think of all the indulgent food that is packed full of ‘carbs’ and ‘cheese’, but America’s take on what Italian food is couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

While in Florence, I have experienced some of the best food and felt great doing so. From the vibrant pesto on freshly made pasta or baked goods paired with espresso in the mornings, Italian food has been delicious. I have been studying and living the Mediterranean lifestyle, and here are just a few ways I have stayed fit while studying abroad

Walking (or Hiking) Everywhere

While I am accustomed to being a gym rat and lifting heavy things, I have traded my university’s gym for the streets of Florence. According to my FitBit, I have averaged 30,000 steps per day  and more than 100 active minutes per day. 

Walking everywhere I go and being active in the Mediterranean Fitness and Health course I am taking has kept me active and been a welcome change to my usual gym routine. My class traded a traditional classroom for biking on the city street and paddling dragon boats on the Arno River,  Besides walking on the streets of Florence, hiking at beautiful destinations like Cinque Terre on Italy’s central coast is the best way to get unique views of some of the most scenic locations on Earth while getting a workout in.

Eating Locally – and Seasonally

The Tuscany region is home to tons of fresh produce. I have been loving the abundance of fruits and veggies found in markets along the streets of Florence. The peaches, cherries, cantaloupe, and plums are unreal here. Seriously, I am unsure if I’ll be able to go back to eating produce in the States. Grabbing some fresh fruit between classes has been my favorite way to get a cheap snack full of vitamins and minerals.

Enjoying Foods Made with Simple Ingredients

I have been enjoying all of the food Florence has had to offer from pizza to pasta and everything in between. While back home I often associate Italian food with being indulgent and unhealthy, real Italian food is made simply with wholesome ingredients. 

For example, fresh pasta and a simple tomato sauce is not only affordable but it is composed of simple grains and produce. After eating this sort of pasta dish, I feel satisfied but not overwhelmingly full and energized for more walking. Kale and chia seeds are not the only definition of ‘healthy eating’. The Mediterranean diet is often composed of vegetables and fruits, olive oil, and flavorful-but-light additions like capers and olives. 

While I may not be able to justify the health benefits of my daily cup of gelato, the wholesome ingredients used in this region have helped my body thrive. Moderation while traveling is always key above all things. Not pressuring myself to get my daily lifting session in or feeling guilty about my second glass of Chianti wine has been key to maintain my healthy mindset while studying abroad

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Attitude Adjustment: How A New Mindset Changed My Life

They say your attitude determines your direction…

My name is Casey Douglas, and I’m a self-proclaimed “fan” of fitness. But I haven’t always been. As a child, I was far more into chocolate Hostess cakes than I was into after-school activities, and my “health” wasn’t really something that was on my radar.

I did have one hobby, however: artistic gymnastics. You know, that sport involving floor, beam, bars, and vault (think Simone Biles, but way less awesome). I was a decent competitor and enjoyed gymnastics overall, but still, ironically, I quit because there was “too much conditioning.”

However, gymnastics gave me the empowering knowledge that my body was capable of strength and endurance.

My athleticism went into hibernation until I started high school and joined the cross country and track teams. This decision drove a physically and emotionally profitable career of running and I owe a great deal of gratitude to those 12 seasons of pavement pacing.

Right before I started school at Boston University, I began training at a boot camp facility, where I discovered weight lifting. Admittedly, I feared becoming “big” and “bulky,” but I fell passionately in love with the sport and the challenges that came with it, that those quickly became things that no longer scared me.

Now, my life is a conglomerate of these things. I am a girl whose heart is split between double-digit mileage runs and challenges that test my strength. I’ve found my home at Boston’s toughest boot camp, Beantown Bootcamp, where each day my passion for fitness continues to grow.

IMG_1595From the surface, my fitness journey may seem rather simple — a girl who has grown as an athlete as time has passed. However, I quickly learned that health is so much more than just the physical aspect and my body is meant for more than aesthetic.  

 

When I was 9-years old, I stood next to other girls in gymnastics class and wondered why my legs touched one another while other girls legs did not. When I was 14, I felt thick as I ran amongst my tall, lanky competitors. And, as high school progressed, I found my self-disdain and disappointment grow larger.

In 11th grade, I crash dieted. I knew crash diets never work, yet I continued. Eventually, I began to cope with my sadness in the only way I knew how: with comfort food. This pattern continued until October 8th, 2014.

On that fateful day, after a night of compulsive overeating, I awoke with guilt, horrible stomach pains, and a sugar-hangover. In that moment, I knew that my lifestyle of emotional eating would perpetuate my cycle of low self-esteem and poor body imageAdditionally, I knew that if I wanted to succeed, I needed to overhaul my negative attitude and rearrange my lifestyle.  I needed to understand that those legs that may or may not touch, helped me run faster and jump higher.

I look back at the loneliness of my high school days and don’t recognize the person I was.

Now, I am 30-pounds lighter, eat nutritious foods, and enjoy treats in a blissful moderation. I find joy in pushing my body to accomplish new fitness feats. I focus more on what my body can do rather than what it looks like. And I work towards weight PRs instead of weight loss.

Boot camp gives me life and continuously lights up my mornings. I am happy, whole, and in love with the fit lifestyle I lead. And I am honored to join Fit University, a place that celebrates each individual’s unique journey.

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Fitness Taught Me To Love Myself No Matter What

My name is Danielle, and I want you to know that my fitness journey is still in progress.

I have been a dancer since I was very young, but I became interested in fitness my freshman year of high school.

My Dad taught me the basics such as bicep curls, tricep extensions, and lunges to get me started. They were easy-to-follow moves, and I continued to do them.

I began to get bored with my routine and I asked my mom to take me to her gym. I tagged along one day and did one of the workouts she was learning from her personal trainer. The workout kicked my BUTT.

Funny thing is, I’m seriously not exaggerating when I say that: I ended up passing out at the gym. And nearly dying. Okay, that part’s a bit dramatic. But it was frightening; my eyes rolled back, my lips turned blue, and I distinctly remember my hearing fading.

At this point, I realized how important eating enough and staying hydrated were. We went in the morning, so I hadn’t felt hungry beforehand and I generally didn’t drink very much water. That was definitely a wake-up call to the nutritional aspect of fitness.

Loving your body requires more than physical activity.

Up until my senior year of high school, I had just tried to figure out the basics. But then, I wanted to be pushed, so I took a weightlifting class. That’s when my love for fitness really took off. As much I loved learning the new lifts, I also learned about other important aspects of training such as how long each rep should be, the correct form for each movement, and about what it meant to believe in and push yourself. 

Not in just the physical sense, but also mentally. High school is filled with immature, like-minded beings who only have one image of what beauty is, so people said a lot of hurtful things. Most of them would claim to be joking, but words hurt.

Along with taking this class, I began to kick box in my local area. This team was incredible. The encouragement and determination of the other members was so inspiring. Everyday after school, I would have dance practice and then I would head to train with them. Even though I had no free time, I was happier than ever and loved spending my days active and on-the-go.

Then I entered my freshman year of college, and I was struggling. I have always been a busy-bee and managed my time well, but this first semester was unlike anything I had ever encountered.

The stress I put on myself became emotionally, mentally, and physically straining. The stress became apparent and my optimism quickly turned into constant crying, calling my parents two or three times a week because all I could manage to feel was hopeless and tired.

Weight (and muscle) slowly slid away because the stress would sit in my stomach, not allowing me to get a full meal down. My hours of sleep became smaller and smaller because I would try to fit too much done in to too little of time. A never ending cycle was established resulting in me being absolutely drained all the time. With my lack of sleep, energy, and food, there was no way I was making it to the gym. 

 

A photo posted by Danielle (@boss_danielle) on


Even though I looked relatively strong, I was weak.

I was not healthy. 

So for my health, I ended up transferring to a school closer to home, and so far it has been the best decision. I have found a balance between school, my friends, getting my workouts in, and extracurriculars. I am involved in the Dance Company at my school, work out regularly, and have recently joined the Women’s Lacrosse Team, along with my participation in clubs, studying, etc.

My (incomplete) fitness journey has been a whirlwind, but it’s made me who I am today. Fitness goes beyond the aesthetic of one’s body. It is something that you do because you love it and you love yourself. It helps you gain an appreciation for yourself that you never had before. You can squat 250 lbs? Heck, then you can do anything!

The encouragement I get from my friends, family, and people I don’t even know has been tremendous. Every insult that has ever been said to me, has only made me try ever harder because I am a strong, independent woman and I love what I do. Some days are harder than others, but you keep on going.

 

A photo posted by Danielle (@boss_danielle) on

Fitness has truly taught me to love myself — no matter what comes my way.

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Why I Moved On After Being a Competitive Athlete For 12 Years

Why I Moved On After Being An Athlete For 12 Years

Some things just aren’t meant to be. It’s one of the biggest cliches in the books, but nothing sums up how I got to where I am now better. 

Why I Moved On After Being an Athlete for 12 Years

I was a competitive swimmer starting at age 6, when I started on a small summer swim team. The team was about creating a fun atmosphere rather than a competitive one, and it is the reason I fell in love with the sport. In the years following, I started taking the sport more seriously, joined a club team, and began swimming year round. I joined my high school’s varsity team in eighth grade and carried on for five seasons.

Especially in the last 2 years of high school, swimming was a huge part of my life. I almost never missed a practice. I loved being in the water and pushing myself to the limit day in and day out. Even when I wasn’t in practice, my goals were always lingering in the back of my mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was no extraordinary athlete. I was, though, one of the most dedicated and hard working people on my team. Swimming made me constantly aim higher and dream bigger, and this determination didn’t just apply in the water, but carried into many other aspects of my life as well. It brought out an inner drive in me I don’t think I would have ever discovered had I not been an athlete.

As senior year came, I couldn’t imagine going to college without swimming. I had high hopes for what college swimming could do for me. I always wondered if maybe something would click and I would get really fast. In December of 2014, I committed early decision to a Division 3 athletics school that I believed was the perfect fit for me, both athletically and academically. I do not regret making this decision because in that moment it was what I truly thought was right for me. 

Why I Moved On After Being an Athlete for 12 Years

Well, freshman year of college came, and so did endless hours in the pool. I knew college swimming would be a step up in intensity, but I didn’t realize how much of a toll it would take on me. We practiced two and half hours a day, 6 days a week, with extra morning practices Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for an hour and a half. On top of all of that, we did cross training (either weightlifting or running) daily. This was upwards of 5 hours of training in one day, and about 20-25 hours per week, plus more on the weekends we had meets. 

The first month or so, I thought I loved it. It was a new, refreshing environment, and I was excited to see what I would be able to do in races. I was killing practices every single day and felt unstoppable.

By halfway through the semester, fatigue and anxiety set in. It became especially visible at meets. Almost every race I swam went poorly. They usually ended with me trying – and often failing – to hold back tears of frustration. I was thinking about swimming all the time, but not in a healthy way like I had in high school. Instead of building myself up and creating goals, I was tearing myself apart.  I started criticizing myself for not competing well at meets, and was dreading every single practice. Even athletes don’t fully look forward to every workout, but this was more than that. I felt constantly anxious and on edge. I was always worried about if I would have a good or bad practice that day, if I would be too physically fatigued to perform well again for an upcoming meet, if I would let my coach down, if I would let myself down. I knew what I was feeling wasn’t normal but I still struggled to admit it to myself. I was afraid of needing to move on without something that had always played such a major role in my life. 

Why I Moved On After 12 Years of Being an Athlete

In the beginning, only the meets upset me. Soon, however, my anxiety started affecting practices. I could barely get through them. I kept feeling that no matter what I did my hard work wasn’t paying off. One of the worst practices of my entire swimming career was toward the end of the semester. I fell behind in the set we were doing, stopped halfway through and lost it at the wall. I couldn’t stop crying because I was just so physically and mentally exhausted. My assistant coach comforted me and helped me finish the set, but at that point I knew that swimming no longer had a positive role in my life. It no longer brought me happiness or created the fiery drive within me like it had in the past. It was breaking me. 

I ended up leaving that school after the first semester – before the season ended. I knew I didn’t have it in me to finish out the season and if I stayed it would have hurt me more. So, I took my second semester, went home and then went on to take summer classes to stay on track. This may seem dramatic, but I can’t put into words how much of an emotional toll that first semester of college took on me. Something I had looked forward to for so long turned out to be a failure. When I left, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt free after having been locked into the commitment of being an athlete for years. I applied and was accepted to Binghamton University, which was one of my top choices in my initial college search had I not decided to swim. I was so excited for a completely fresh start, and a new chapter of my life as a “retired” swimmer, or as I like to think of it now: just a normal college student. 

I spent the beginning of 2016 experimenting in the gym. I didn’t have to lift weights to build strength for swimming, or swim x amount of yards to stay in shape during the off season. I just did what made me feel good – and let me tell you, I absolutely loved it. Exercise, which was always a huge stressor in my life, finally became my stress relief.

Now, working out isn’t about following a strict plan to be a certain kind of strong or fast. I don’t plan workouts or set a certain time limit. I just go to the gym and enjoy myself. Working out is my favorite part of the day because it’s an hour that I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just get into my zone and sweat away any frustrations. I’ve found that switching things up from a strict routine makes living a fit lifestyle so much more enjoyable and maintainable. Working out was my form of therapy to move on from that disappointing first semester of college, and I believe it is why I have come out of it stronger. 

I am so happy with where I am now. I wouldn’t have had it play out any other way. I am in the best place I have ever been because of what I went through in the past year. I learned that being strong doesn’t just mean having physical strength. You can’t be a truly strong person without being mentally strong too. Although I am not in the kind of shape I was in when I was training for hours on end as a competitive athlete, I know I am stronger than I have ever been. 

Why I Moved On After Being a Competitive Athlete for 12 Years

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