I’ve struggled with my weight most of my life, but finally managed to get it under control when I moved to New York City in 2007. I was forced to walk everywhere (well, they call it schlepping in NYC), including up the thigh-straining staircase in my six-floor walkup building. I also had fresh and healthy cuisine at my fingertips 24/7 thanks to Seamless and a mind-boggling choice of restaurants. Immediately, I dropped a much-needed 10 pounds and kept it off during the entire time I lived in Manhattan.
But after eight years of city living, my husband and I wanted a new environment. He longed for a backyard to grill, and I wanted a dog to decorate that yard. New Orleans—a city of creativity, history, and hospitality—won us over. This town also happens to be chock-full of some of the best food in the country, though some of it is less-than-healthy (I’m talking to you fried balls of dough called beignets.) My love of sugary sno-balls, chargrilled oysters, and fried shrimp on Leidenheimer bread could easily replace my kale salads and green juice.
Within the first month of living in my beloved new town, I was on a first-name basis with the employees of the po-boy shop down the street from my house (um, dangerous). Rubbing a hole into the inner-thigh of my favorite jeans was just the reality check I needed.
So I decided that I had to change my lifestyle and find a way to keep up my healthy habits in a new place. Here’s how I’m doing it.
Setting aside time to splurge
My war with denim started because I was hot to sample all of the exciting cuisine in my new city. A good po-boy is like a unicorn everywhere else around the world, and having one at my fingertips was incredibly tempting. Keeley Mezzancello, M.S., R.D., L.D., C.S.C.S., and a recent transplant from New York City to South Carolina, says that she can appreciate the urge to feel like a tourist in a new location by indulging in the food scene, but it’s best to do so by planning and not feeling pressed to try everything at once. “It’s what we do most of the times and not every so often that really impacts our health and fitness, so an occasional heavier meal in an otherwise balanced diet doesn’t sabotage your fitness,” She suggests keeping a list of spots you want to try and dine out once a week, rather than diving in at every meal or every time you pass a corner bakery. After a year-plus of living here, I do just that. Weekdays are for clean eating and I’ll try a new restaurant or two on the weekends.
Because I live in a warm climate, I’m privy to an abundance of fresh veggies that don’t actually need to be fried to taste delicious. I’ve joined a farm share where a massive bag of local fresh fruit and vegetables are delivered to my doorstep each week for $25. I roast okra to a crispy char, cook eggplants for baba ghanoush, and top my beloved Ezekiel muffins with juicy Creole tomatoes—all in the comfort of my (much larger) kitchen.
Learning to finally chill the F out
Now that I’ve moved to a slower-paced city, I’m far less frazzled. Yes, it takes far longer to get that green juice, but a friendly chat in the interim makes it worth the wait. My husband works fewer hours, and I’m learning to manage my time better (Bye, daytime Facebook) in order to wrap up by 5 P.M. (hello, evening bike rides). Mezzancello says one benefit of relocating to a more relaxed city is that you’re less stressed. “This may translate to health improvements such as greater ease of choosing more sensible foods (aka less emotional or stress eating) and a reduction in stress hormones that can make weight management challenging.” It’s true, I once ate an entire Entenmann’s Party Cake while stress-writing a story at my desk in NYC.
Embracing that year-round heat
While it can feel brutal to stroll the streets in the summer southern heat, it’s Instagram-worthy when you’re cruising around in a T-shirt come December. Plus, this city is incredibly flat and super bike friendly, so while I was a major scaredy cat to ride in NYC, I’m constantly peddling on my bright red cruiser, veggies in basket and maybe a cold beer in my cup holder (hey, moderation). Mezzancello points out that a major benefit of moving from the Northeast to the South is the ability to be comfortable outside basically year-round, translating to more movement outdoors and less time spent holed up indoors during the winter. “Becoming less of an urbanite may also mean you have new luxuries like yard work or tending to your garden that are considerable calorie burners,” she says.
We’ve had a ton of visitors since moving to our new fun-loving city. And initially, I “vacationed” alongside my guests, eating fried food with reckless abandon. Eventually, I had to put the breaks on this habit and make healthier choices, while my friends indulged in fried oyster loafs. “Remember that you live here now and the beignets are not going anywhere. [This] means you can embrace a less indulgent mentality than just visiting and feeling the need to ‘get your fix’ while you’re passing through,” Mezzancello says.
Oh, and that whole moderation thing…
And because it’s New Orleans, even exercise is going to be fun. Here, yoga classes are taught at my favorite outdoor bar, with a post-practice happy hour. This is why I moved here, after all.