Why You Will Gain 10 lbs in America (and How to Lose it Again)

When you see your old friends who came to the U.S. earlier than you, one big change you can spot immediately will be a change in their body. My college friend who went to the U.S. two years before me was totally changed into another person the next time I saw her – she had gained so much weight in her time there. Luckily, she was way too skinny before, and now she looks perfect, but not everyone has such a happy result.

Woman Stepping onto ScaleMy roommate used to weigh 100 lbs back in China; now she is almost 120 lbs, and complaining to me all day.

I had been always around 98 lbs when in China, but my weight went up to 110 lbs last year, which totally freaked me out. Thank goodness I figured out some quick and easy ways to save my body, and I’ve gone back to the “under 100 lbs group” – I will share how I did it later in this post. 🙂

It’s a common problem. Answers.com has a heated discussion on the topic of “Why do immigrants to the US gain weight?”  The Daily Mail, a British paper, reported that America is the “worst holiday spot for the waistline, with travellers gaining an average of 8lb in two weeks.”

Am I scaring you yet?

Here’s something else sort of scary: This kind of weight gain usually is hard for you to notice as it’s happening, which means you don’t even realize the change in your body until you go back to your home country or someone points it to you. In the day-to-day, you don’t sense it visually.


Firstly, it is hard for a person to realize self-changes day by day; it is an accumulation effect which takes time to become visible.

Secondly, American girls tend to be more athletic-looking than girls in Asian countries. It’s just a genetic difference. Therefore, you, who are getting bigger day by day, see that you still look slim compared to girls around you.

Where does the weight come from?

There are a number of reasons why international students may find their weight creeping up.

The portion size of dishes has never been so big. Thank you, generous American restaurants!

One important reason is the portions. People are amazed by the big portion size of dishes in America when they first come to this country. The regular size of dishes in America is at least 1.5-2 times as big as that in China and other Asian countries. It shows how generous American restaurants are, but it also makes you just eat and eat.

Around three months after you get to America, you will be totally comfortable with the big portions, and amazed at yourself being able to eat it up effortlessly. What is the result? You are gaining weight.

The dessert in my home country has never been so sweet

The ice cream freezer at a supermarket in Washington, DC
Ice cream for sale at a supermarket (Photo by Jihye Choi)

The desserts in America are much sweeter than I expected before I actually came here and tasted it. Some sweets are like choking on sugar and American chefs are really generous on using sugar.

Looking back, I was amazed by how sweet my shake from Dairy Queen was compared to the same thing that I got in China; same with the regular cookies, donuts, etc. But by now I have totally gotten used to the sweetness and enjoy it.

The fast food has been never so accessible in my home country

It is not hard to understand why we gain weight here. America is the home of the lovely McDonald’s, Burger King, and many other fast food restaurants, and we all know those foods are not good for you. In America, fast food is available at every corner and so affordable. Us students, since we do not cook often, become big consumers of these fatty foods without realizing it.

How to lose the international student fat

Do not feel bad if you found yourself packed up some weight, because you are not alone. A number of international students have the same experience as you do, and even many American students gain weight when they first go to college (it’s known as the “Freshman 15”).

As I mentioned before, there are some easy ways to get rid of this international student fat.

Tara before and after photo
Now (left) and before (right)

Here are the tricks I used to get back to my original weight. And the before and after picture to prove it.

1. Be aware of your change.

Photos and skinny jeans are good parameters for the change of weight. Do you have a hard time squeezing into your jeans that used to be just a piece of cake?  Do your friends back home say you are getting chubby? Lots of other signs could make you aware that there are some changes happening in your body, if you’re just aware of them.

2. Halve the portion.

Ask for a box at the beginning of the meal. Put half of your food in the box before you start to eat, and then only eat what’s left. Or, you may want to remind yourself to put the second half in the box when you are in the middle of the meal, like when you don’t feel hungry anymore. You do not have to finish the entire dish.  In this way, you can also save your money, because you have two meals for the price of one.

3. Change your perspective.

You may want to also change your traditional view of beauty. Think of Scarlett Johansson and Kate Winslet – it can actually be very sexy and beautiful to be a little curvy in the right way!


  1. When I first came to the US, I weighed 67 lbs, that was in high school. Now, I weigh 130 lbs, my height has not changed. But, I have been in the US for about 13 years. At the end of high school I was about 80 lbs. At the end of college, 115 lbs. Since, marriage now 130 lbs. My mother, and sister in my home country when they were as old as me, weighed 70 lbs. This is crazy! I am trying hard to lose weight, I know it’s not in my genes but just my lifestyle and that I will be successful.

  2. Correct on all advice except that you forgot the most important point to lose the 10 lbs gained.


    Because in our home countries, India for me and China for you, we get a lot of exercise just by way of walking to different places, and in general getting a lot of physical movements during our day. I remember I walked a mile each way just to get to the bus stop. Then another 1/2 mile from destination stop to my Medical college.
    Here, we sit in cars, get to parking lot, get out and sit in chairs all day.

    So EXERCISE is VERY IMPORTANT (for other fat immigrants reading this). I lost my 15 lbs in 3 months by exercising 4 days a week for 45 minutes, intense cardio and circuit training.

    Also EAT CLEAN!!


  3. Honestly, I think you look much more better, healthy and beautiful in the photo on the left. Maybe its me but I don’t find skinny people attractive.

  4. I think this is common for almost every international student in every country. Talk to girls who have studied in China; they almost always put on weight.

    The food is not the problem. If this we true, why do so many guys lose weight when they live overseas?

    Your body will react to a new diet and new stresses by storing fat. Look at female students after 1 year. Invariably, they have lost weight again (although, maybe not all of it). As you adjust, your weight will come back under control.

    Going on a diet will only make you (more) stressed. Most female students accept it, do some exercise and cook their own food (instead of eating chips and coke!).

  5. Just a side note: there are religious and cultural meals and traditions that keep a working classes or servant classes physical size tiny so that they are not massive enough to rise up in opposition to self proclaimed authorities that really just bullied their way into position purely because of their outrageous eating and exercise. If your culture condemns or punishes you silently into a submissive malnourished state and keeps you sleep deprived (less than 8 hrs sleep). Dare to be athletic while your in America and experience who you are developing at a much faster rate while you are not moderated by your culture. And learn to cherish life because you love it, not because you are afraid of dishonor. If you have to return to Asia you can always return to your old ways. But why not experience the full spectrum of life instead of deferring it to the greedy! Also, Hula legs are awesome! Don’t ever stop moving. If your blood is not circulating during the day, some part of you is rotting or dying. Always move! No matter how introverted society forces you to be!

  6. Asian countries tend to be more humid and those atmospheres probably contribute more significantly to the moisutrizing of skin then the dry airid climate of California which will leech the water and moisture out of your skin faster than you are probably putting it in. If you were not slowly acclimated to the environment say as a child growing up there, you may develop common skin rashes and dry skin conditions dermatologists can make a lot of money off of you for having since appearance and presentation in California is brutally prized. If you grow up in a dry environment you push more liquids and fats through your skin than you would in a wet environment because it is sucking it out of you like a sponge. You can test your body by increasing your water and oil intake by 2x, 3x, 4x, or possibly more. If your skin gets healthy again you have narrowed some things down. The acne will probably be bacteria or fungus mostly from your previous diet combining in an unharmoneous way with the new bacteria from your new diet, now having an isolated area where it can really proliferate and show itself off to the world in your skin no longer insulated with water and oil and digging in much further to survive, enflaming and deteriorating your complexion. Welcome to the no pesticides, GMO free, free range meat culture of California or where ever. Welcome to filtered water and massive nutrition controls along with an exercise regime that takes time from your studies to cycle the food fast enough through your bio organism to keep it from rotting and discharging toxins in your various bio systems. These are the side effects of centralized water systems combined with industrial agriculture systems producing sustenance for the human body for a synthetic population size reaching far beyond the immediate lands natural ability to produce food and fresh water. Take a nutrition class in college join a community garden, and create a living edible wall near you, purchase organic food from the dirty dozen vegetable list, and don’t buy bacteria infested milk loaded with hormones and antibiotics unless it costs more than $8.00 a gallon. Realize also that the poor foods you are eating are a last resort to feed a portion of the population that has been robbed of its personal maintenance time by beurocratic red tape obstacle courses and the property boundaries of a classist society encroaching into the lands that provide us with food, a population so overloaded with stress it has even been robbed of its basic motivation to provide quality food for itself that it has no resort but to succumb itself to the sugar and butter coated poison mass produce for us by other countries that resent having to provide our basic needs for we few million dragon slayers that don’t have the option to own cookware much less wash it with our over priced water out state stole from 5 other states around us and one other country completely. California takes urinated water from Mexico all the way up to Washington state and reaches out to Utah or Nevada and has imposed laws making it illegal for water catchment systems for homeowners to sustain themselves and their organic farms with no pesticides and their free range livestock. Welcome to the exponential prison. Make sure to tour the eastern southern states to see the devastation the industrial north east solutions that stem from UK and Europe have planned for the well being of the environment and humanity. Realize also as industry takes its unstoppable hold that the only option for you and your body is your knowledge of nutrition and your money to pay for food and water removed from the toxic environment the rest of us have no choice but to live in. If you are wealthy you obviously can impose your selection of the choicest organic and free range food on some local business. Seriously though, if your having trouble with acne get a vitamix blender and kale, collard greens, spinach, celery, parsley, Granny Smith apple, maybe half a beet and purge that junk out of your body doing hot yoga after juicing at the same time for a week and then have some pride in your self and learn to manage eating health here so were not sending money to the wrong people. Don’t give money to the people that poison us and the land were supposed to grow our food on and the water were supposed to put in our bodies. Get some groups together. Study partners that take turns growing kale, spinach, Bok choy, tot soy, and trade with each other. Be something bigger than just the single afflicted! I don’t have time for grammar check or spelling so I hope you can read through the typos and mistakes! Remember take responsibility for your own life. America proves that outsourcing it is just poison. By default we are consumables, have the wisdom to make something more of yourself and encourage those you love around you. No body else in the world is able to spit back in the face of their machines and realize they are just your family operating it. Grow out of it!

  7. You were FAR too skinny before and look much better now.

    BTW, I lived 2.5 years in China, ate standard Chinese food and gained about 10kgs (lost most of it again within 4 months of going back home). Why is that? In my opinion it has to do with a general change of diet that you have when you move somewhere else. In China (or Asia in general) it is certainly the MSG that helps your body to put on weight. And it is not really true that Chinese always nibble on healthy veggies and have some rice. The canteen-food I saw (and which most people ate) has huge portions of rice, meat swimming in oil and some overcooked veggies. Hmmm…

    In Europe you probably put on weight because of all the lovely carbo-hydrates (potatoes, bread, beer :D). In the US it is as you rightly say the size of the portions.

    I must say though that especially in China I found the obsession with body weight of most girls very worrying! Most girls I knew in my office or at university (early 20s) were far too skinny and did not even exercise.

    And your tips how to get back to your orignail weight are very very dangerous too, especially ‘halve the portion’: Instead of eating like little picky birds, how about starting to EXERCISE? Dieting is a myth – everyone knows that. Have a healthy diet and enough exercise, then you can even eat a pizza and have a pint of beer on the weekends if you want. And you will still look great. So stop being lazy people! Move your butts!!!

    1. Umm…. there is a difference between eating healthy and dieting. Halving the portion is eating healthy. Most American portions have between 1000 and 2000 calories. That means with 3 meals like that a day you’d be eating between 3000 and 6000 calories a day! That is super unhealthy. That is why America has the most overweight and obese people of any other country.

      1. I beg to differ here. 😉 Halving the portion is not the solution, but generally changing the diet is. Eating half a burger instead of an entire one does not improve the overall situation. Yes, it means less calories, but food is a lot more than just calories. For example, eating a home-made burger and a salad is a different story for lunch (you can use fat-reduced meat, wholewheat burger, cut down the mayo…). I eat fast food every now and then too, but generally I ensure that I am on a healthy diet, which also helps to keep my weight at a normal level. So I repeat what I wrote earlier: Have a healthy diet and exercise! Everything in moderation is ok. And I guess moderation is the problem in the US when it comes to food. I see the trend in Germany now too with XXL-restaurants. I really hope that this won’t last very long.

  8. Tara, you are a bit of alright (^_~)
    But there are plenty of large women in Asia, China, etc… too, it’s not only an American problem.

  9. It’s not about how much weight you gain, it’s about being at a healthy weight.

    I’m surprised the author did not mention how obssesive the Chinese cultural expectations are when it comes to beauty and being skinny. They think skinny is attractive but honestly, it only leads to heart complictions, “Hypoglycemia” and becoming sick easily. And some even look down on muscle building! wtf?

    if you want to lose weight build MUCSLE ! It will activate your anerobic metabolism. If you want to look skinny and not gain weight do strength training! By building lean muscles it will help toned your body’s physique.

    Girls who are toned and healthy are the best looking. Girls who are too skinny just looks unhealthy.

  10. Simple answer: because Americans eat more meat.

    There’s a very strong coorelation between how much meat a country eats, and how fat it is. Meat is usually high fat; it doesn’t taste good without it. It doesn’t “fill you up” like high-fiber vegetables; we’re genetically programmed to eat the whole animal before it rots.

    A can of beans–the whole can–is 300 calories. Rice and beans–a whole giant burrito’s worth–might be 1/2 can of beans and some rice–maybe 400 calories, tops. And it fills you up–it feels like a complete meal.

    Bottom like: countries that are mostly vegetarian are very thin (india, china, japan, korea, costa rica.) Countries that love meat are fat.

    Cut out the meat, and you can eat whatever you want.

    1. Yeah, i agree with you. I’ve been to the US since August 2012 and I realized I’ve been gaining weight and also there were so many pimples on my face. I’ve lessened my meat intake by three times and everything is going quite well. I’ve lost more weight than I weighed when I first came here. Also, i never eat the whole dish when I go to the restaurant. Actually, i eat only one third of it. Instead of eating sweets or desserts, it’s better to eat fruits. And the most important thing is don’t drink soda, instead drink tea or water.

    2. I agree however, there are nutritional sustinance in meat as well iincluding, protein, calcium, Omega fatty acits, amino acids, and iron. I think it is about the portion size. Most Americans have HUGE poriton sizes which makes them gain wieght quickly but Asians on the other hand, portions are smaller it keeps them healthy! 🙂

  11. I think one of the biggest reasons for the “Freshman 15”, and the one not mentioned here, is the mixture of loneliness and a resulting lack of social activity for many students. This can hit international students even harder than most American students. – And, regretfully it seems to hit girls more than boys. – My advice to students going abroad has always been the same thing – be active, enjoy yourself and make friends.

    And then there is the whole issue of using a fork over chopsticks. Getting accustomed to chopsticks caused me to lose a lot of weight in China, and I am sure that the reverse happens to Chinese students going abroad. (Nothing like a shovel to help fill your mouth) 🙂

  12. Hi. I have been here in the USA for almost a year, and I have gained a total of 22 pounds. I am really, really frustrated. And I just need some encouraging words. I guess, that is not enough, but yesterday I started to follow the steps you wrote. I run track, so that will help too. I hope so.

    1. Build muscle! Do some strength traning to tone your body. Running track is good but it’s an aerobic exercise which means it needs oxygen. But strenth traning use anerobic exercise so it burns a bit of fat even if you remain inactive.

  13. Cassie do not wash your face with any kind of soap.Try baby milk bath.Maybe your skin is dry or too oily.Try to put some moisturizers and avoid eating oily food.

  14. Thanks,I have actually tried a lot of products ,but none of them worked,they either dried up my skin or even made it worse.I did buy some Japanese skin products from sasa.com,they were like normal products that didnt help either .I have been suffering from the skin problem since I got here.I think that might have something to do with my lifestyle here as well.Anyways,I havent tried the organic ones that you recommended,I will give it a try and see what happens,thanks for you help again and have a wonderful day !!!

    1. It might be MILK! There are so many more milk products in America! They eat milk with cereal, milk with cookies, milkshakes and cheese everywhere, and milk protein is in a lot of snack foods.

      Milk has been shown to be a trigger for acne in many people. I would try cutting milk and cheese out of your diet. If that doesn’t work, go to your campus dermatologist.

  15. Oh godness. You have an amazing apprence. You are so pretty. It is not a problem for you to gain some weight. Take it easy, girl. I would like to know if I can be your friend. I am chinese too.

    1. There is nothing wrong with gaining some weight, shoot I wish I can gain some weight! I’m 105 lbs, 5’3″ and 18 years old, it’s not a good mix. If you live in the America, than most people will consider you guys normal and not skinny or anorexic looking like me 🙁

  16. Hey Cassie

    Thank you for your comment. 1 or 2lbs can not be counted to “gain weight”, you are so cute.lol. For the skin care products, I would recommend you to try some mild, gentle and organic products. When you go to Sephora, go to the collection with a “green-leaf sign” which means the products there are “natural”. Or you may just go to Japanese stores to get the asian brands.

  17. I havent gained a lot of weight since I came here,maybe a pound or two.I have been here in America for more than one year.But my problem is skin,my skin became horrible and pimple all over the face.I dont know what to deal with it .What do you guys use >>>??I am a Chinese by the way.Do you guys have some recomments for the skin products?????Please email me if you have any idea,1469018834@qq.com

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