How to eat American food for 18 months and not put on weight

‘Are you exercising?’ This was the doctor’s question which when put to me by my GP in London had me lying through my teeth. But in DC I didn’t miss a beat as I answered in the affirmative – ‘of course.’

To avoid this post becoming unbearably smug, I will admit that in the first few months living in DC I put on at least half a stone. We were eating out a lot and enjoying American beer. After that time I realized I couldn’t eat as if I were on holiday for the entire time we were here, and I would have to start running.

The first thing I saw when our taxi pulled off Memorial Bridge and into DC proper were runners. It was March, but the sun was shining and beautiful people were making use of the trails down Rock Creek Parkway and on the Potomac to break in their good-looking trainers and work-out clothes. As I spent more time in the city I realised that people could often be seen in workout gear – they were on their way home from the gym or from yoga, or on their way to Crossfit, or just going to have a run sometime that day. To support all this, there were a lot of sports shops in DC, including the appealingly named small independent store, Fleet Feet, downstairs in my building.

So I joined the movement, and did what I had barely ever done before – I started running outside.

It was hard at first, and I have to admit that when the humidity got too high I retreated back to the treadmill, but for most of the autumn and spring times* in DC I ran outside pretty much every week. I had some lovely places to run. Initially I chose to run across Ellington and Calvert bridges because this was nearly all on the flat, but I soon realised that the main advantage was the views. As I became better at dealing with hills, the whole of Rock Creek Park became available to me and made running an actual pleasure.

Rock Creek Park is a large area (1754 acres) of relatively wild parkland in the NW of DC, containing the creek as well as a network of cycle paths, equestrian trails and hiking routes. While we didn’t take up cycling or horse-riding, we did hike in the park pretty regularly, as it was really easy to access from our apartment block.

Other facilities available in DC were an amazing number of free, and very well-kept, public tennis courts.


As an ex-pat partner who at times was not allowed to work, I was able to play tennis very regularly at least one summer after finding a good partner. There was also canoeing available on the Potomac river – as well as pedaloes in the Tidal Basin. We found the Key Bridge watersports center was the best of the two available and often got Canadian canoes from there to either paddle around Roosevelt Island and down to the monuments, or upstream to watch for turtles and cormorants.

On our holidays we love nothing better than to eat and drink well in the evenings and to hike or play tennis during the days. In this way, DC made our day-to-day life feel like a holiday – while saving us from obesity!

*in DC winter really only hits in December, and spring starts around March. It’s also pretty much bearable to be running up until July.

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