International students speak to how American food affects their weight

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Most K-state students are used to a menu that consists of lots of pizza and hamburgers. For some international students, however, adjusting to typical “American” cuisine, notorious for being fatty, was quite a shock.

“Im losing weight right now,” Linjia Tang, sophomore in food science. “If I stay here and eat a lot of American food, my weight will get higher.”

Tang share a worry of many international students: gaining weight by eating American food. Additionally, she said that she thinks American food is greasy and not very diverse.

“Almost all the food is like, ‘cheeseburger cheeseburger
cheeseburger, hot dog hot dog hot dog,'” Tang said.

Tang said that women are concerned with their weight in her home country of China.

“Skinny is beautiful because models are very, very slim right now,”
Tang said. “They are kind of a guide for girls.”

Emma Zhang, junior in agricultural economics from China, said she and her friends used to weigh themselves every day when she lived in China.

“When I came here, I was comparatively much more slim, but I was always telling myself that I have to eat less and lose more weight,” Zhang said.

Zhang said that the way she is treated by Americans is different that her experience in China.

“My friends in China were always telling ourselves to eat less, but here people are like, ‘Oh you are so slim, you should eat,'” Zhang said.

Zhang said Americans have a different opinion of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. She said that they like to eat a lot, but then work out.

“Chinese people don’t like to work out, so we try to not eat instead,” Zhang said.

Evelyne Chokkattu, junior in architecture from the United Arab Emirates, has the opposite problem. She said that the food she eats has not changed so much as her lifestyle.

“In high school, I skipped breakfast … and then had a big lunch and big dinner … I ate a lot, but like I said it’s your lifestyle,” Chokkattu said. “I played a lot of sports then, so moving here, I’m using to eating that amount of food. But I haven’t been able to get in that amount of sports.”

Chokkattu said she doesn’t believe American food is the source of the issue.

“I don’t want to blame it on the food. I’d say it’s also your lifestyle change,” Chokkattu said.

Santiago Hernandez, first year student in an English Language program from Ecuador, said he believes a person’s willpower is at the heart of the issue.

“You can choose your own food,” Hernandez said. “If you want to take care of yourself, you can do it. I miss a lot of food from my country, obviously. But, if you take care of yourself, you can do it. Also, working out, playing a sport.”

Challenges

There are factors that can prevent international students – and even American students – from leading healthy lifestyle.

One potential issue is money; it can be cheaper to buy fast food or get multiple helpings from a prepaid meal plan than cooking at home. Time and accommodations play a part as well. A lack of a kitchen or utensils can hamper students’ ability to cook.

“A kichen, equipment, a refrigerator … those things are going to cost a lot of money,” Zhang said.

Zhang takes more than the cost of food or appliances into consideration in the equation.

“I can’t wear my dresses and my shorts … so if I save money by eating in the dining center, in another way, I will waste money by spending on clothes,” Zhang said.

Another potential problem many international students, and students without cars, face is getting to grocery stores from the K-State campus.

“I think that’s the biggest thing, not having a grocery store near by,” Chokkattu said.”It’s also like (how) the city’s laid out … it’s not very walkable. You can’t really get around without a car.”

Chokkattu said that not many international students have a U.S. driver’s license, because they do not have a car or anyone to teach them how to drive.

Cultural differences

Concepts of self-image and the “ideal” body type vary from person to person and between cultures.

“I’m international and personally I’m really comfortable with the way I look,” Chokkattu said. “I’ve been putting on weight, but the only thing that bothers me is not being fit anymore. For me, it’s not really about my image, but I know a lot of international students that complain about their weight and are always trying new diets. I feel like they should be less concerned with their diet or eating habits and actually concerned about exercising. Because thats not the right way to lose weight.”

Perceptions of “skinny” and “fat” differ between cultures, too.

“My mom will say, ‘Oh, you got so fat!’ and she’ll be so happy,” Chokkattu said. “My sister will say, ‘No guy wants to grab you and feel bone.'”

While Tang said that she thinks dining center options could help benefit all students, education is important, especially to help international students understand how calories add up in the new foods.

“We don’t use calories in China to calculate food, but here you have to have a conception of calories,” Zhang said.

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