Weight Loss in the Foreign Service

How to turn a negative feeling into a positive result

Joining the Foreign Service is similar to joining the army: you go where you are told to go.  Refusing a mission is resigning.  We have always been lucky to get our number one or number two choices so far – with four back-to-back posts overseas under our belts.  Yet, each time we move out and move in I gain at least 10 pounds, if not more.  With a 5-to-9-week home leave, this means that we have two move-ins and two move-outs per PCS (permanent change of station).  Lots of stress, lots of eating on the road, lots of invitations, lots of restaurants …

This year I declared war on this nasty pattern.  What helped me?  The thought that I had to turn a negative feeling into a positive result.  Losing control of everything (obey orders), I realized that the only thing I could control was my own self.  Sounds obvious.  But until the obviousness has sunk very deep, there is no easy action.

Let examine the facts:  I am over 50; hubby is a master (amateur) chef, and I like love to eat.  A recipe for disaster on the hips.  My mom warned me that after 40 it was excessively difficult to lose weight.  I managed to lose about 20 pounds four years ago, thus reaching my 15-year-old weight, because my environment had changed.  Not me.  So I gained over 15 pounds again once the environment went back to normal in beautiful Budapest.

40 pourcent paella

One of Hubby’s specialty: Paella, preferably on the barbecue


My special environment in 2012 was going to Pakistan.  We could not go to the movies so we hiked a lot, and it is very hot after 7 a.m. in the summer, even in the spring.  The Embassy compound boasted an Olympic-size pool and we used it almost every morning.  I often swam half a mile to a kilometer before going to work.  We had friends that loved doing abs before lunch, so we joined them.  We had a cook and he cooked Pakistani dishes so well that we did not need meat.  We only ate meat on weekends.  They tell you that when you go to one of these countries where movements are restrained by war or dangerous environments (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, just to name a few), you become either “a drunk, a chunk, or a hunk” [sic].

Between the return to normal life: no pool, no cook, no hills to hike in my backyard, moving out of Pakistan, home leave road-tripping in the United States (i.e. eating fast on the road, therefore too much), moving in Budapest, and discovering the delicious foods of Hungary, I regained gradually the unwanted pounds.  Before we moved out, I realized that I was once more about to gain weight during the double move this summer.  We were going back to the U.S. for the first time in eight years and there would be no GSO (logistic help), no CLO (morale help), no sponsors to cushion our arrival.  While hubby would go to work I would find myself alone looking for a job in an ultra-competitive environment (“count 6 to 9 months at least,” said the employment adviser) with a spotty resume.  Too many things seemed to escape my control.  So I decided to take full control on the only thing I could:  myself.

I am incapable of dieting, I like eating good food too much – we are foodies. The only think that could work was lifelong new habits.  Armed with will and an inspiring book, I started to change my habits.  I was not looking for any book but when you move you are supposed to leave books at the CLO, and the title of this book caught my eye: “Skinny Bitch.”  Although I am incapable to follow every advice there is in it – certainly not to stop eating cheese – a particular advice stuck with me: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  Everybody knows that but the authors don’t have the same conclusion than most people have; experts usually say that it has to be your biggest meal.  What Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin say is that since it is the most important meal, you must cherish it and feed yourself with positive ingredients to set the right mood in your body for the day:  vegetables and fruits because they digest faster, and most importantly not before you are really hungry.  Do not eat just because it is breakfast time.  Wait till your stomach says so.

By listening to my body I realized that after a tea with a teaspoon of honey and a ¼ cup of almond milk in it at about 7 a.m., my body did not ask for anything until 9 or even 10 a.m., at which time I had a fruits & kale smoothie with almond or cashew milk.  For fruits I choose between pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries plus a ¼ of a banana for a creamier touch. Then a regular lunch at 12, snack at 3-4, and dinner at 6:30-7 – more or less.  I drink 2 to 3 liters of water plus tea in between meals, so you could say that my liquid intake is about a gallon a day. I started to read the book end of June, two weeks shy of our stressful move (robbed the morning of our departure at 3 a.m.!), really started to try applying the breakfast part in July and in a month I had shed four pounds, about one a week.  I figured that I did not need to lose as much as 26 pounds, so even if I lost only half a pound a week, I would be thin in a year. And stay thin.  Six months later I had lost another 10 pounds and the real test was in front of me: Christmas-time meals.  Not a problem! Another four months later I have lost another six pounds.

Not controlling my career anymore but controlling my body, finally – after trying and failing for decades! All of this at zero cost (you can find the book at the library).  In future posts I will give more practical advice on what combination worked for me:  book, but also Fitness Pal (free app) to help portion control. We are not talking yo-yo diet here, but life-long good habits.

8 thoughts on “Weight Loss in the Foreign Service

  1. Interesting thoughts about your weight and dieting. Thank you for the “Jolly Good Bag”! I too go thru phases of fatter and thinner – just looking at my photos through the years reveals all; now I am at a thinner phase due to gardening, digging, horses and dog.

    Hugs xxx Amanda


  2. Pingback: Back in the US – Crazy Food. Part Two: the “Healthy” Kind, or Not. | Culture Shock

  3. Pingback: Resilience & Lemonade | Culture Shock

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