By: Jessica Graves

One of my biggest concerns before I came to Europe was my health. In case you’re unaware, traditional Czech food is not the most figure friendly. You have meat, gravy, potatoes, dumplings, soup, stews, bread & then you’re introduced to all different kinds of sausages, deep fried pork steak, FRIED CHEESE & don’t forget to wash it all down with a ton of beer. Delicious? Yes. Dietable? No.

(Above: I will never apologize for my love of the traditional Czech meal Svichkova aka: meat in gravy with potato dumplings topped with cranberries, whipped cream & lemon)

(Above: Nor will I apologize for loving Czech spirit Becherovka aka: ‘Christmas in your mouth’)

I agreed to give myself the first month to sample all the astronomical calories that traditional Czech food provided, however, after that it was time to get in shape! Scarred by my complete lack of healthy eating & exercise while studying abroad for 5 months in Paris in 2012 (& GAINING 20LBS), I vowed that there was no way this would happen to me in Prague.

I have always played sports (soccer, horseback riding, tennis, volleyball & six years of cross country…I know, right?) & have always loved being active. However, while in Paris I found myself in a slump. Upon returning home & after seeing how much weight I’d gained, my mom & grandparents decided to get me a personal trainer…& it was the best decision ever!

Having someone push me towards my fitness goals for the past year has been awesome! Laurie is totally sweet, but still knows how to kick my ass. I love it! More than that, she is also unbelievably encouraging. She has always said positive things about my body when for the past 21 years all I had heard was the negatives. She praises me for getting stronger & more fit instead of getting ‘skinnier’. With her help I was able to shed the 20lbs I had gained in Paris & also gain a ton of muscle (seriously, you wanna challenge me to a push up contest?).

But the weeks leading up to Prague there was one question on everyone’s mind: how would I do it on my own? I had already decided that there was no way in hell I’d allow history to repeat itself. I had come so far & worked wayyy too hard for that to happen!

After moving to Prague I realized that before at my college university I was so spoiled. I had a giant cafeteria with a ton of healthy choices, a fully equipped gym a five minute walk away & a ton of free exercise classes which I utilized generously. But now here in Prague I was on my own. Buying my own groceries, doing makeshift workouts in a tiny apartment & attempting to resist temptation all day long. It’s pretty overwhelming. But then I realized that all the resources I needed were right in front of me.

It is possible to stay fit in Europe! There’s plenty of healthy options in supermarkets, & plenty of pretty parks to walk in. Learn to take the stairs instead of the escalators in malls & metros. And, I know it can be hard to control, but smoking cigarettes or drinking excessively are doing your body NO favors. It’s not always necessary, but I opted to take it to the next level by joining a gym. That’s where I escape for some ‘me time’ to allow the endorphins to take me away from all the stresses of life for a few hours. It’s a healthy way to get happy!

(Above: My super delicious salad that consists of ingredients from the local supermarket. Eating clean again feels great!)

Of course there are still times where I have moments of weakness when Milka chocolate is on sale for 16kc, but overall 2014 is a new year & I have so much hope for it! Laurie is keeping me accountable, messaging me for weekly check-ins, which can seem like too much but it always helps to have a voice of reason & logic, especially when you feel like you’re surrounded by people who are trying to derail you from reaching your fitness goals.

That being said, dear readers, you can do the same! Not everyone has to gain the dreaded Freshman 15, Study Abroad 20 or New City 50. There’s a loophole called inspiration, motivation & dedication. No matter how drastically your lifestyle or routine changes, know that there is always hope to find some sort of normalcy & stability.

Just stay focused on your goals & you will be able to achieve them! 🙂