Travel Blog

Expat Life: Gaining 40 pounds in Belgium

August 19, 2011
Belgian Chocolates

We all heard of it. Living and working abroad will bring you places, introduce you to new cultures, give your professional career a boost and allow you to meet new people. And after spending two unforgettable years in Belgium, I can confirm that all of them are true. But if there’s one thing that the brochures didn’t include was that there is a good chance that you’ll gain weight. (or was it just me?)

Belgian Chocolates

I left the Philippines for my AIESEC internship in September 2008 roughly weighing 120 pounds and came back to Manila two years after with 40 pounds extra baggage.

I never thought I’ll gain weight that much and that fast.

I left the Philippines looking like a malnourished and sickly kid so there was a heavy room for improvement.  I remember my friends joking often that I look 16 rather than 21.

But how did I gain those pounds in that span of time?

Well, for one there was the lifestyle I was living in. My dining routine usually involvedh lazy lunches of sandwiches & McDonalds burgers and capping off the day with frozen food dinners or pizza deliveries. The reasons I’m going to point out was it was the lack of time to prepare something good, but if I’m going to be honest to myself, it was because of laziness. 😉

I have no one to blame except myself on how I got into this situation. I lived a lifestyle of eating frozen food, and 4-day binge drinking and partying. Add to that I rarely went to do sports, exercise or jog.

Frites in Belgium

To add, Belgium isn’t exactly a country for the healthy too. The temptations for beers, fries and chocolates are everywhere, and you can easily be enticed to dive in to a gluttinuous afternoon. It’s everywhere that they even considered it be the country’s culinary pride and glory.

Fries, for example, actually should never be called “French”. The Belgians claim that it originated from Belgium and would correct you if you call it ‘French fries’We get our share usually from the best frites place in Brussels’ Place Jourdan. The fries are huge and usually placed in a cornet (paper rolled into a cone).  Plain frites is already delicious but what makes the frites more special is the sauce. Most fritkots (fries place) offer more than 20 kinds of sauces. There are the classics like ketchup & mayo, the uniquely Belgian sauce like andalouse, tartar, piquant, curry ketchup and the outrageously named yet interesting concoctions like sauce Brazilian and sauce Samurai.

Any good frites won’t be complete without drinks to drown it down. And as AIESEC interns, your experience won’t be complete without the crazy nightouts, the never ending AIESEC parties and intern’s drinks. And Belgium’s diversed selection of beers, makes it a great place to be an expat!  In the supermarket, there are aisles specifically dedicated for beers – and there’s even a bar in Brussels called Delirium that serves more than 2000+ kinds of beers.

Belgian beers

There are the fruit beers pêche (peach), kriek (cherry) and framboise (strawberry). There’s also the bière blanche (Hoeegarden), blondes (Duvel, Leffe Blonde), pales (Stella Artois, Jupiler) and the bruin (Triple Westmalle, Orval, Kasteel). Alcohol content level ranges from 4.3% to 12% and each beer has to be drank from its own specific glass. Going out for a drink is  staple to most interns’ activity.

Finally, chocolates, the most known Belgian delicacy worldwide, is practically available anywhere. It comes with your coffee, your bread, and even in your beer (there is a chocolate flavoured beer, never tried it). I did my internship in an office with a pantry that has an overflowing chocolate supply. The Red Cote d’Or milk chocolates were my lifeline on those long meetings & strict project deadlines.

But despite gaining 40 pounds, I look down into my increased waistline not with a sad disposition but a consideration that the food I consumed came with memories. And perhaps a portion of this increased weight was just my mind getting heavier from the global professional mindset, key business learnings and of course the unforgettable internship memories that I have captured from probably the best years of my life. But then again, it may really be the food and alcohol – mais non, je ne regrette rien.

Jerick: before & after

BEFORE & AFTER: Photo of me back in 2007 and then when I arrived August 2010

*DISCLAIMER: Post was originally written for my AIESEC internship testimonial blog. I wrote this post last year and have since then lost a few kilos by hitting the gym and continuous exercise. But I still enjoy my fries, Belgian beers and chocolates when I get the chance. 🙂

As an expat, what changes have you observed after your life abroad?

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  • Reply Gerardo April 4, 2012 at 06:28

    OMG! The chocolates looks so yummy! I will 40 pounds too if I been there.

    • Reply Jerick April 21, 2012 at 01:48

      hahaha. yeah, have to lessen my chocolate intake now that I’m back 😉

  • Reply Isthiak Ahsan April 3, 2012 at 05:54

    A good one

  • Reply Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane December 13, 2011 at 18:04

    Those 40 pounds look good on you, but you’d better stop now, or move to a place where the food is not such a temptation. I can think of a few places, but never mind.

    The first time I went to the US, as a foreign exchange student (from the Netherlands), I gained weight like crazy. All the servings were so huge! It took me two weeks to eat my very first banana split. I kept putting it back in the freezer 😉
    Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane recently posted..Expat Life: Looking for Love in PalestineMy Profile

  • Reply Kelsey November 21, 2011 at 12:21

    I actually lose weight when I go abroad. I generally lose about 10lbs for every 6 months overseas, but I sadly gain it back upon coming back to the USA. I wish I could keep it off!

  • Reply Aileen September 3, 2011 at 19:56

    i too gained weight when i went to the US, after years of trying in the philippines. i didnt even eat a lot. i barely ate, because i was rarely hungry. i didn’t eat rice and barely finished my food. i was thinking it must be because of the cold climate?
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    • Reply Jerick September 4, 2011 at 00:51

      I think the climate can have an impact too – maybe because we tend to sweat less when in colder climates?

  • Reply Anthony August 21, 2011 at 22:01

    I completely understand – currently in Austria after a eurotrip and the beer and chocolate is just AWESOME! Yeah, it’s kinda bad too 😛 Good luck shifting!
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  • Reply Toni August 19, 2011 at 20:24

    Jerick, can I lick the chocolate photo?! I feel fat just looking ar it =) Yuuuuuumy =D
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  • Reply Neil August 19, 2011 at 18:17

    I went to a fruit beer festival in Belgium, felt like I put on a stone over just that weekend.

    I think the same thing happens when people move away for the first time to go study at university. No time to cook as that would mean less time partying. Instead, throw a pizza in the oven, consume and then get blotto at the uni bar.

    Willpower is key … sadly i have none and so often stuff my face when offered life’s calorytastic goodness. Thanks god for football and the amount of running it involves.

    p.s. those chocolates look amazing.
    Neil recently posted..Guest Post: A career break – why you can’t put it off any longerMy Profile

    • Reply Jerick August 19, 2011 at 19:32

      Exactly, one of the first thing I did when I came back was enroll on a gym then went jogging – but couldn’t resist getting a belgian beer when I get the chance!
      Jerick recently posted..Expat Life: Gaining 40 pounds in BelgiumMy Profile

  • Reply Terri August 19, 2011 at 17:43

    OMG!! 40 pounds is a lot. I didn’t’ think the food in Belgium was that great and I’m not a beer drinker. However, those damned waffles, topped with strawberries, whip cream, and chocolate would be my downfall. I ate just one and loved it so much, that half way through it, I threw it out. 🙂

    • Reply Jerick August 19, 2011 at 19:31

      Yes, it was a surprising weight gain too – but i was scrawny 120 pound kid when I left, so the weight gain was necessary. 😛

      Love the waffles too!
      Jerick recently posted..Expat Life: Gaining 40 pounds in BelgiumMy Profile

  • Reply John August 19, 2011 at 17:11

    I love the food in Belgium. Rarely eat the frites though. Place Jourdan is the friterie always quoted, but I feel they are trading on a reputation gained years back. I have been disappointed by their frites the last few times. I note that the locals prefer other friteries nowadays.
    The beers are great but personally, I suggest anyone visiting Belgium sample the real Trappist Beers or those from small local breweries, instead of those produced on an industrial scale.
    John recently posted..Daily photo: Mont des Arts in the Brussels Summer FestivalMy Profile

    • Reply Jerick August 19, 2011 at 19:29

      Thanks for the tips John!

      I like the Trappist beers too, personal preference would be a Westvleteren 12 and 8, though the 12 is much harder to get. Rochefort is also good too.
      Jerick recently posted..Expat Life: Gaining 40 pounds in BelgiumMy Profile

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