Sunday, September 22, 2013

How to Lose Weight in Brazil

As you may have seen in my last post, I have had a lot of free time this year to focus on "me time," for better or for worse. One of the things I've been doing is trying to be healthy and lose weight. I tend to spend more time reading about and researching tips and recipes than actually, you know, moving around, but...knowledge is power, right?

Anyway, a lot of things in my routine have been made possible because of living in Brazil. I'd like to dispel the myth that all Brazilians are slim and healthy -- one of my students is a cardiologist, and he gets as annoyed as I do when people tell him that only Americans are overweight. The most recent studies have shown that 49% of Brazilians are overweight, and 15.8% are obese. (In the US, 69.2% are overweight, and 35.7% are obese, so much more, but Brazilians are catching up - the percentage in Brazil goes up about .5% a year.)
But I do think it's easier to lose weight in Brazil than in the US. Here are some ways that you can lose weight if you're living in Brazil:

*Cars are crazy expensive. Ditch the cost and take the local public transportation, if you can. It'll force you to walk a lot more; plus, you'll save money!

*Processed food is crazy expensive. Why would you buy potato chips at R$7 when you can buy strawberries for R$3? Those parallels are never-ending. It seems that the more processed something is, the more it costs. That factor makes it easier to make healthier decisions. While not all fresh/unprocessed food is healthy (there's always amazing fried street food...mmm...), it tends to have less sugar and salt than the processed/packaged stuff.

*Restaurants are crazy expensive, at least compared to eating at home. More importantly, the interesting/exotic/different Brazilian food is delicious and almost undoubtedly healthier than the McDonald's and Burger King franchises that have cropped up everywhere. Yawn. You can eat McDonald's anytime, anywhere in the world. You didn't come to Brazil to eat something boring, did you? Plus, as you may have guessed, these American fast food imports are much more expensive than the delicious local restaurants that serve basic, healthy food at lunchtime. They mostly have huge salad bars and you pay by weight (the food's weight, not yours!).

*Gyms have "professors" (i.e., trainers that walk around and help you). Every gym I've been to in Brazil has made a workout plan for me, and one fancy gym that I used to go to even gave me health evaluations to measure body fat and lung capacity and stuff. If you are able to go to the gym at less popular times (like we English teachers are), you often get these professors to yourself, so they're kind of like personal trainers.

*Recipes are everywhere. Next to cash registers here in Brazil, you can buy little mini-cookbooks or magazines full of traditional recipes. Also, older women love to tell you recipes, the whole thing, from memory. It's a strange cultural quirk that I've never completely understood, but it can come in handy. If you're talking to an older Brazilian woman and mention some food that you like and say that you don't know how to make it, she will proceed to rattle off every ingredient and step, as if you could memorize it like she did. But if you have some pen and paper available, or if you're willing to accompany said woman while she's cooking, you can learn to make magic in the kitchen!

I don't think I have much more self-control or willpower than my American counterparts living in the US. I think I just have lost access to Taco Bell, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and all-you-can-eat $9.99 Chinese buffets, as well as to my car. I have found that a combination of American websites about weight loss tips and recipes combined with Brazil's economy has given me a new lease on life!

What about you? Have you gained or lost weight living abroad?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Medical Residencies Suck

All right. I'm not trying to be narcissistic or make this all about me. But this is a little bit about me, just a little.

Alexandre is in the second year of his three-year residency program. Did you know that medical residencies are a nightmare? You hear about them, and if you're awesome, you probably watch Grey's Anatomy, but living it is another story. Being married to a resident when you are not a resident is a third story. I'm a little disappointed that Grey's didn't touch on the third story much at all (in one episode, Izzie tries to date some random guy who is not in the medical field. She never has time for him and it doesn't work out. The end.). So I'm going to tell you the third story, the part about me.

Medical residents are in a weird limbo where they're kind of employees but still kind of students. They get paid, but not much, certainly not what you think of when you think of a doctor's salary, so you're wrong if you're one of those people (some members of my family) who think that I'm a 28-year-old trophy wife. They have to do all kinds of hospital grunt work and they still get treated like students by the older doctors / attendings / professors. Here in Brazil, residents are younger than they are in the US. Not only are they young, they are often coddled by their parents and do not have the maturity or wisdom that Grey's Anatomy characters in their 30s have, especially because no one is writing their conversations for them beforehand. So they're seeing all this terrible shit in the country's depressing public hospitals, and they're overworked, and they're often treated like children, and some of them have the mentalities of children, and there's no relief for any of that.

Because he's stressed and still kind of a student, and because I'm not a student anymore, Alexandre and I are in totally different phases of life. I have a normal workweek and my mind is in that "self-actualization phase" that is proving to be very common among educated late-twentysomethings. I have lots of extra "me time" to do things like read self-help books and go to the gym and obsess over processed food and GMOs. I'm slowly planning the next stages of my career. Alexandre works 12-hour days (often longer) and heartbreakingly poor and ignorant patients still complain to him all day because the wait is so long and he is happy if he has time for a coxinha for lunch during the week.

A resident's vacation time is limited at best. Most of you know that, here in Brazil, the federal law is that every employee gets one month of vacation time per year. This month is often predetermined before you apply to your residency. You have some set vacation times for the next three years (longer if you're in a longer residency), and you cannot stray from that. No flexibility. It doesn't matter if your wife's sister is getting married, or your wife's grandfather dies. It doesn't help if your wife's family lives in another country so you wouldn't just be asking for one emergency day off. During the next calendar year, Alexandre will have zero vacation time, because his vacation times will fall in December 2013 and January 2015. Except this December he's itching to do an observership at another hospital and in January he'll be just finishing his residency and taking a test kind of like the Boards and probably applying for fellowships because doctors' careers never really end and everyone else is running that rat race and you can't be the only one relaxing.

"But why can't Alexandre just go with you to your sister's wedding?"
"But surely Alexandre can get some extra time off just to travel with you a little."
"You guys are too young to be working so much! Live a little!"

When people tell me those things, it feels like they really aren't listening to me or seeing the big picture. This is a commitment that he made, and that I made by committing to him. The rules were pretty clear going into it.

On the weekends, it seems as though friends my age in relationships go out and DO STUFF. I know there's always going to be a bit of Facebook Image Crafting going on so I shouldn't compare myself to the stories I read, but it really does feel like other people do more. They go on weekend getaways. They visit neighboring towns and hike and walk and explore. They go to local shows and events that they hear about. They take classes and try new things on Saturdays and Sundays. When your significant other works almost every weekend (or is too exhausted to do anything if he actually has time at home), these days can be pretty lonely and disappointing. I enjoy cooking and going to the gym and all, and even having lunch with the in-laws is nice sometimes, but I'd like some g.d. variety and stimulation. I'd like my partner to have my energy level and enthusiasm.

The most annoying things about doctors are also what drew me to one. They're often intelligent, and ambitious, and hardworking. Alexandre is extra special in that he sincerely cares about his patients (even when they are insufferable) and he wants to do good things for his country and he wants to be a good, honest, doctor. But to do all of that, it means a lot of sacrifice of time, energy, and his (our) twenties.

It also means he's really the only resident in the program right now (out of all three years) who is already married or in a live-in relationship. Seriously. That's partly just Brazilian culture of people waiting to settle down, but either way, it creates some strife.  I bought a book called Surviving Residency: A medical spouse guide to embracing the training years. It was absolutely not helpful at all because it was written by an American, married to an American resident. They already had kids, and lots of the other residents were married, and perhaps most importantly, they lacked the weird Brazilian upper class social pressure to be just like everyone else. The author recommended bringing your husband dinner to the hospital, and then taking the kids with you so the family could have dinner together in the hospital cafeteria. She recommended starting a book club with other doctors' wives. How quaint and American and absolutely not feasible here. 

I try really, really, really, excruciatingly hard to be patient and supportive. I mean, he's doing the right thing, and besides, I knew what I was getting myself into. But today I was not supportive. Today I was whiny and fight-picky. Today I was bitter and snarky and ruined the one night we had together that could be used for some semblance of quality time because I was irritated about all of this in general.

Tomorrow will probably be better; the future will obviously be better. I know we're lucky, and that our life is good, especially here in Brazil. But right now, I think it's OK to say that sometimes medical residencies really really suck. and that being the wifriend of a medical resident can really, really suck. The end.


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