*Here is a guest post from one of my best friends from college, Sandra. Sandra is Italian and Maltese. She was born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and lived there as an expat for most of her life until she came to University in the United Sates. In this post Sandra will shed some light and give perspective on the contrast and diversity between the Middle East and the U.S in terms of diet, lifestyle and health.*
Living in Jeddah, like any large city, the melting pot of cultures makes it easy to try authentic food from around the world or find international markets for Thai, Bengali, or Filipino food. Due to its high number of Arabian and Asian immigrants, Jeddah was an incredible place to explore Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine.
I grew up in a family that was animate about maintaining their Italian roots through food (an all carb diet), and speaking Italian at home. It was amazing to be able to experience Italian cuisine, the local cuisine and lifestyle of Jeddah, Egyptian food at my neighbor and best friends house (e.g., molokhia), and Ethiopian food that my Ethiopian housekeeper would cook (e.g., like zighini.)
As you can see, I got to experience a lot of diversity in terms of cuisine growing up.
The true struggle of a place like Saudi Arabia is the heat. Currently, I am living in Doha, Qatar and I see the same problem. There is this addiction to air-conditioners. Often you go from 40°C outside, to 18°C inside. It is crazy to me that I have to walk around the malls and sit at restaurants wearing a sweater when it’s 40°C outside! Even if you have a mere 5 minute walk you arrive to your destination sweaty and uncomfortable. Consequently, if you live in either of these countries, your idea of keeping fit does not tend to include walking or running outside.
Did you know around 70% of the Saudi population is over weight? And over 30% are obese? Apart from the heat, another reason why no one is walking or exercising outside, is because there isn’t pavement or space for people to walk, and drivers are so crazy that they would use pavement as another lane. Saudi also has a high number of diabetics accounting for 3.8 million people in 2014 (approximately 12.8% of the population). Statistics show that Saudis rank as the 16th highest country in the world for sugar consumption (80.7g per person), and 6th highest in the world for fat consumption (79g per person).
Can you imagine, that even after living in a place like this that I never felt more sickly than when I moved to the U.S?! There was definitely less diversity in terms of cuisine, and after any type of meal my mouth would be covered in a layer of fat. I was constantly nauseas for the whole first semester of University, and gained 35 pounds (~16kgs) in 3months. When I got back to Saudi the looks on my parents and best friends faces were hysterical. “Sandra you’re so round mann!” they said. I had acquired a big booty, big stomach, and round face.
A reunion was in place in Christmas time for everyone from our graduating class (from high school). Where people were living was very clear based off of how their bodies had or hadn’t changed. You knew that 85% of the time, if someone had gained a lot of weight that they had gone to university in the U.S. If they had lost weight, they had likely gone to University in the U.K.
One thing that surprised me while I was in University in America was how much everyone goes to the gym. In Saudi, myself and my circle of friends never really went that much, and most of my exercise was done in the form of gymnastics or walking around the compound with my friends.
Our lifestyle in Saudi was more ‘chill’ in general: we spent a lot more time hanging out together, in walking malls, or sitting in a lounge. When my friends and I left Quatar we weren’t able to balance the high sugar levels of foods in the U.S foods while still maintaining such a laid back lifestyle
Did you know the United states is number 1 in terms of sugar consumption (126.4g per person)?
No matter where I am in the world I have come to realize that when you’re cooking from home you have to take into consideration the ingredients you are using. Are natural, or do they have preservatives? Are the vegetables well maintained in the supermarket? Is the produce imported?
These days, I am not eating my moms Italian home meals anymore, I’m cooking more ethnic food like curries which contain a lot more calories. All of the changes in food, diet and lifestyle that I have experience have brought me to realize how truly important it is to have balance in life.
In Qatar, where I live currently, people, and the culture live unhealthfully. Although this affects my body, and my lifestyle I try to remember that in this moment I am here, and I need to appreciate my surroundings, adapt, and love them for what they are. This means being aware of how what I am eating, how much I’m eating affects my health and my body, and balancing my fitness accordingly.
In life, everything comes down to your perception. Maybe you’re unfit, bored, or lonely. All of this is all in your power to change, and make positive! The grass is always greener on some other side. But I urge you appreciate where you are in this moment. Care for your own grass, and you might be surprised to find that the grass will be green wherever you are.
Just so you can get an idea, here are two pictures from Saudi. The first picture is from the desert or the “outside world” and the second photo is from a green compound.
*Please go to the link below to follow Sandra for more on the travel, cuisine & lifestyle.*