Posted in Health

Culture shock and comfort food

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The year after I graduated from college I organized a homestay with a Venezuelan family. I made my plans, I packed my bags and I set off to have an adventure of a lifetime. Well, what I didn’t realize was that my adventure would challenge me in ways I had never anticipated.

The night I landed in Caracas, a city known for violence, culture shock hit me hard. My host family was running late and I was scared and alone. Of course, they eventually came to pick me up, but as I sat waiting in the airport, I began to question my decision to travel alone to a country where I knew no one and spoke little of the native language. This was only the beginning. As the days and weeks passed I encountered a series of challenges.

Let’s start with language. My trusty college Spanish courses weren’t helping me like I thought they would. The language barrier felt like a brick wall that kept me from connecting with the people around me. I often communicated through a combination of English, Spanish, hand gestures and head nods. I got through.

Additionally, I had to learn a new set of rules on how to behave in many different social situations. Fortunately, I worked in a second grade classroom and those children were wonderful teachers. They were patient, kind and a whole lot of fun. Regardless of the friends I made small and tall, I felt alone and homesick. Living in another country as a twenty-something was (as most learning situations are) just plain hard at times.

Suffice it to say that It can be disorienting, frightening and difficult to live in a different culture. So, I turned to an old friend – food. I held on tight to every morsel and sought the comfort and warmth of the calorie dense and exceedingly delicious local cuisine.

The Venezuelan people I worked with were vibrant and joyful. They were also very blunt. So, when it became outwardly obvious that I was eating my emotions and consequently putting on weight, they were quick to point it out. They would say (in Spanish, of course) “looks like you have gotten a little fatter”, “it must be the wonderful food”.

Wow. Ok. I guess people get used to hearing that level of honesty, but I never did. I accepted these statements as a lesson in culture. What was more impactful, however, was that I could no longer ignore the fact that I was not only suffering from culture shock, I had developed a serious habit of comfort eating.

It took the blunt statements of the Venezuelan people to bring my emotional eating into my awareness. It was hard to accept but such a wonderful lesson to have learned. So, now when I notice that not one, two or three handfuls of chocolate chips seems like enough, I can stop and recognize it for what it is. My experience in  Venezuela was the first and last time that someone calling me fat has ever felt like a gift.

How about you? Do you have any experience with emotional eating? What do you do to recognize it and/or stop?

As always, message me here and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

**Hey faithful readers, if you haven’t heard already, I am working to become a Health Coach. I am hoping to get certified in the next few months. If you are interested in hearing more about my dream or want to support me go here.

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2 thoughts on “Culture shock and comfort food

  1. Well, you got your work cut out for you here, girlfriend! I will be your first and worst nightmare of a comfort eater/client! Right now, I am working on becoming more aware of the triggers I have that have me unconsciously reaching for another snack that I don’t really need (usually it is the end of a tv show I am watching). A therapist told me to use a timer and set it for 5 minutes. If at the end of that time, I still had the craving, I could then choose to give in to it or if I was distracted by then, let it pass, but at least I would be making a mindful decision. I am also using myfitnesspal to track my calorie intake. It is the only thing that keeps me somewhat on track. You have seen me at my worst, emotionally, after all. It can only be uphill from here, right?

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  2. Anthrograd – I love helpful hints. Have you had success with the timer trick? I think the key is the “mindful decision” part. I have found more and more that being mindful has implications for health in so many ways. I will be interested to hear about your experience with myfitnesspal. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

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