Ten Things I Learned in Portugal – Part I

Vacations are a perfect time to rest, relax, and hit the “reset” button. Let’s be realistic – our lives are busy. There’s always more to do than we can achieve in a day: to-do lists, carpools, work obligations, family commitments – you name it, we’re got them. And each of these things takes up time, effort, and ultimately, focus we don’t have to put into our weight loss goals.

So when Mr. Big and I visited Portugal, I took some time and energy I wasn’t spending on my to-do list, and put it into taking stock of where I am today in relation to my goals. And I’ll be honest, I was fully embracing the vacation, but in the back on my mind, I knew there were going to have to be some changes when I got home.

Here’s the first half of what I learned:

Sleep is essential. I was so burned out, so tired, and stressed before my trip, that I was simply reacting to the world around me. I was bouncing from situation to situation, and not taking the time to think proactively about how to best achieve my goals: professional and personal. So I worked hard to get a good night’s sleep, and to not overschedule my mornings so I could sleep in if I wanted. The Portuguese don’t formally siesta like the Spanish, but after a day in the Portuguese sun, I almost always took a nap. It didn’t need to be long, just 15-20 minutes to recharge my brain. And you know what? The combination of the two almost always made me more relaxed, more patient, and definitely ready to think smarter and make better choices.

The Portuguese have got breakfast figured out.

The Portuguese don’t eat dinner until 9pm, if not later, yet, they start their work days at the normal time. So how do they keep from eating too much? The Portuguese save their heavier meals for later in the day, preferring to start the day with strong coffee (yay!), a little juice or fruit, and a piece of toast or small pastry. This starts their metabolism, gives them a little fuel, and keeps them from being hangry all morning. I’ve been starting my days so early with my commute, and eating a full breakfast early in the morning, with a big snack around 11, before lunch at 1. I’m going to try to have just a banana or piece of fruit super early, and save the heavier intake for later in the day, too!


Exercise is an all-day activity in Portugal. Mr. Big and I were amazed when we’d stop and ask for directions and people would give us directions to something “Just over there,” when in reality, it was at least a half mile away! But to the Portuguese, that’s just life.

We walked 20,000+ steps per day during our tours of Porto and Lisbon, and while that’s probably excessive, it was also a GREAT reminder: workouts don’t have to be classes or big, elaborate activities. Before we left for our trip, I was so focused on getting in my workouts that I forgot to use whatever time’s available to me. Sometimes that’s a class, but sometimes that’s something smaller and more manageable with my schedule. YouTube videos are great for when you only have 15-20 minutes, or even better still: get outside and get a walk in! This summer sunshine won’t last forever, so why not take advantage of it while we can!


Appetizers aren’t a whole meal. The Portuguese believe in small appetizer courses – usually something like a dish of olives, or a protein-focused dish like grilled shrimp or prawns, chicken skewers, or this chickpea and cod salad that I was obsessed with during our trip.

They weren’t pasta or carb-heavy, and they were just a few ounces per person, nothing too big, so you weren’t overdoing it before your meal arrived. They also really space out the course, allowing at least 15-20 minutes between courses – a GREAT way to give your food a chance to settle in your belly so you don’t overdo the main course, either! I’d like to keep to this tradition going – splitting appetizers with Mr. Big or friends, rather than ordering my own, and planning a little more time between courses when we’re eating at home.


Bring on the patatas! Lunch and dinner are fresh and delicious – and almost always contained a starch. Everywhere we went, there was fresh fish, shellfish, or pork, and almost every time, it was served with a big greens salad and a small portion of potatoes or rice (think 3oz of potatoes or a half cup of rice). The protein was the star, just like my meals at home, but I have to tell you, there were wayyyyy more potatoes and starches than I was used to.

And I LOVED IT! I was able to eat a (1oz) potato or a few forkfuls of rice without eating the whole portion, and never felt deprived by not having them. That sense of deprivation has led me down the path to binges or overindulging in the past, so I’d like to see if I can’t parboil or make a small batch of rice up on Sunday to eat during the week. Mr. Big and I might also be able to split those individual portions of rice?

Stay tuned! Next week I’ll share the other half of my observations from our Portuguese adventure!


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