Sometimes moving to a new place is all the health inspiration you need.
My parents are wonderful people. They are both scientists and love talking about biology and chemistry at the dinner table. Politics was also a constant topic in my house. The interest for arts and literature was strong, and we never took pure beach vacations since my parents always wanted to add some cultural education to our trips. One thing they totally forgot to tell me about was sports, however. I recently asked my mom if she was following the soccer championship in Europe, and she guaranteed me that “no, she was really not interested.” It was enough for her when we watched that one game during the last championship (that “last” championship was in 1998…).
Needless to say, nobody in my family got into sports. We don’t really have any athletes either. I played ping pong in elementary school for one year, and before I became serious about it, I decided to quit. Or did my parents decide that?
I basically grew up as an athletic orphan; the only “sports” we participated in were taking a walk with the dog or the occasional “hike” in the local forest. Don’t misunderstand me; my parents are healthy people. They care a ton about their diet–just not so much about real physical activity.
My mom thought soccer was too dangerous for me, so I quit after a few weeks of practicing in secret while I was in college. Whenever I would express a slight interest in running, my dad would complain about “all these crazy runners that destroy their joints and really hurt their health by running outside in the summer heat.”
When it came to my diet, I had a healthy European diet. Rich in fruit and veggies but also in cultural culinary treats such as daily cheese, weekend croissants, and blood sausage every second Sunday in winter. Animal protein was very present without ever taking center stage. Vegetarianism was considered restrictive by my parents–and veganism was insanity. I still hear my mom say that “animal protein is a higher quality protein than plant protein.”
All of this being said, I felt like I grew up in a healthy household because my parents discouraged us from watching TV and refused to buy highly processed junk foods. We went to McDonald’s twice a year. Even to this day, I’ve actually never eaten an animal flesh-based burger.
When I first came to the US for college, I felt a bit of a culture shock. I thought American food was hilarious (c’mon… twinkies and rainbow cookies??), I found that constantly walking around in sweat pants was (and still is) a bad fashion trend. I assumed that all Americans were unhealthy and overweight.
In 2013 I moved here for good. At that point, I had decided to become vegan and to my surprise, New York City seemed like a vegan paradise. Every day I would go to the grocery store and find new vegan food brands, try new vegan restaurants, and even discover vegan makeup and fashion. Above all, nobody looked at me weirdly when I said I was a vegan. Nobody said to me that plant-based protein was lower quality; in fact, the opposite was true. I discovered numerous doctors and researchers who showed the health benefits of veganism, and I learned about vegan bloggers and YouTubers. New York made it a piece of cake for me to become vegan and adopt a healthy and ethical diet–the diet I always truly wanted to have but didn’t feel comfortable identifying with before.
Central Park, New York City
So what happened on the sports and workout side? Well, I met my husband. He loves running, and no weather is too cold or too hot for him. Before moving in 2013, I had never run more than one mile. I remember my very first attempt during the summer of 2013 when I turned around after literally five minutes of running because I thought it was too hot out. But the active, vibrant, and dynamic mentality in NYC totally sucked me in, and I started running more regularly. First on a treadmill, for 20 minutes, then in the Park, for 60. And before I knew it, I completed my first half marathon. Today, I get excited to sign up for races, and working out has become an integral part of my daily habits. It’s so normal, I don’t even think about it anymore, and I now also catch myself walking around in sweatpants (to all my euro friends: don’t judge me!).
It seems like something crazy has happened. I moved to America, the supposedly unhealthiest developed nation in the world, and I became a million times healthier, both in terms of what I put in my body and in terms of my physical fitness. I don’t think this transformation would have ever happened in Europe. I needed energy, inspiration, and innovative thinking for this. So I guess, thank you, New York! Thank you for letting me become vegan, without being judged and questioned, and thank you for letting me discover the joys of endurance workouts and athleticism.
Has moving to a new place ever inspired a personal health movement for you?
Also by Isabelle: Why Being Vegan is Not “Closed-Minded”
Related: 4 Simple Steps to Lifestyle Changes
Plant-Based Diet: How I Lost Weight and Changed My Life
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