Eat like the Spanish: Lessons from a week of travels

spanish healthy eating photo 1I’ll admit: when I was getting ready for my trip to Portugal and Spain last week, I was worried about eating unhealthy food and gaining weight.

Would I be able to find enough vegetables? What about my usual healthy breakfast that I love? I don’t drink much, and I follow a plant-based (vegan) lifestyle at home…what was I going to do in the land of ham and wine?

I went into the trip with an open mind. I knew that there was going to be amazing wine produced just miles from where I was sitting. I knew that the jamon was going to be fresh and delicious. I knew that I wanted to appreciate the culture and indulge in the local way of eating, even if it wasn’t my typical approach.


And I did enjoy it. There was the night in Jerez where we ate tapas across 3 different bars around town.









There was the day that we had jamon and tomato sandwiches (“bocadillo Catalan” they were called) for breakfast and lunch…and then bought more jamon and bread for dinner. There was sherry, Bristol crème, and wine. It was lovely.


When I got home, I realized something amazing: I hadn’t gained weight, and I felt great! During my travels, I wasn’t bloated. I didn’t wither into a pit of despair even though I didn’t eat my usual breakfast, and my body seemed just as healthy without a constant stream of vegetables.


Now I truly believe that I felt so good because I usually eat well. It’s the 80/20 rule: you eat healthy 80% of the time, so you have flexibility with the rest of the 20%. I do think I probably wouldn’t have felt as good if I ate that way for a week. Plus, I had very little demands both physically and mentally, so I didn’t need to optimize my performance.


But I also learned some important lessons on those eight days. Here are the four things I think explain why my body felt so good, even when I was eating “unhealthy” food. I also include some ways you can incorporate these lessons into your daily life.


Why my body felt so good, even when I wasn’t eating “healthy”

Reason 1: Well-cooked, well-marinated veggies
healthy eating tips
You guys already know that me and kale have a tumultuous relationship, and that I need to cook my zoodles (cite), but in Spain I learned to take these principles to the next level.


All of the vegetables we ate were well-marinated and well-cooked. One of the reasons vegetables are so healthy is because they have a lot of fiber, but this fiber makes the food harder to digest and is ultimately very drying for your body (the fiber pulls water out of your cells and into your digestive tract). As someone with a very Vata digestive system, I need as much water/moisture as I can get. In Spain, the vegetables were all well-cooked, making them easier to digest, but they were also well-marinated/seasoned, so they were *delicious*. These were not your mom’s limp green beans. These vegetables were flavorful and delightful to eat.


My takeaway: Don’t overlook the power of a well-cooked vegetable. I often sauté things quickly or try to keep a crunch on my veggie. But I realize now that a little extra seasoning and time can result in a delicious veggie that also leaves my body feeling great.


Reason 2:  More (good) oil, please

This wasn’t a surprise because we drove mile after mile past olive groves, but olive oil was EVERYWHERE. Everything was well-seasoned with a layer of olive oil – veggies, meat, bread…you name it. My spidey senses were tingling… “all that oil!? The calories! Is it really necessary?”


The answer :“Yes, most definitely.”


The oil plays an important role – it adds that lubrication that we’re looking for in vegetables to make everything easier to digest.


We know that olive oil is power packed with nutritional goodness (especially when it’s fresh), and while it’s a high source of calories, I actually now think of it  like the magic coating on the food that makes sure you can actually absorb the goodness and the nutrients.


My takeaway: Don’t be scared of oils! I already love some good avocado, almonds, or nut butter, but using a little oil as my fat source can make digestion easier.


Reason 3: Small portions

This reason is related to number 2, but it’s an important one. Because the meals we were consuming were more calorie dense, we ate a smaller amount. Instead of me feeling deprived, I felt lighter and happier after my meals.


In our diet culture, we’ve been taught to seek out the lowest calorie foods we can find and then eat a TON of it. Spain taught me that there is beauty in making something super delicious (and maybe more calorie dense), and not needing to stuff yourself.


Definitely pay attention to this one if you often feel a heaviness in your body after you eat, or think your digestion moves slowly. It may be the case that you need to reduce your portions.


My takeaway: Sam, you’re pretty active, but you’re not an endurance runner. Eat something delicious, and eat a little less of it.



Reason 4: Eating slowly

My friends and I were laughing – here we were on vacation, and we STILL were at each restaurant for less time than the rest of the patrons.


In Spain, we took out time. We ate a bite here, a bite there, dinner went on for 3 hours. And the beautiful thing about that was that it gave us time for our bodies to recognize when they were full.


Have you ever had the experience that you’re super hungry, gobble down food, and then you get up for seconds, and maybe thirds, and then after a while…you realize you’re way too full?


That happened to me…yesterday. And I couldn’t help but think that if I had slowed down a bit, I probably would have realized that course 3, and maybe even course 2 wasn’t all that necessary.


My takeaway: When you finish eating what’s on your plate, take a minute (or two) before getting up again. How does your body feel? Do you really need more?

Also: there is joy in eating with others. It slows you down and it makes the meal better. Do it as much as possible.


I love how travels can teach you so much about yourself and your body. I’m grateful to this eating experience, and I can already tell that the lessons I’ve learned there are making me feel better in my body.


Now I’d love to hear from you: Which of these lessons resonates with you most? Do you think you’ll apply it to your life? Leave  your reactions in the comments below.


  Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,   samantha attard sig


samantha attard happy healthy humanSamantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.


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