Recently some good friends of mine traveled to Europe for the first time. Among their many observations were that Europeans park everywhere, still smoke wherever they want, and eat and drink things we’re taught not to. As to the last point, I would add that they eat and drink what makes them happy. So why is it that despite all the data, education, expertise, diet plans, etc. that Americans have access to why are we so much larger than our European friends?
In America, obesity rates reach over 30% of the population. In France, it’s11%. The 11% obesity rate in France is caused by the fact that French people are starting to eat more like Americans. To understand the reason why it’s important to know and appreciate some important cultural differences surrounding food.
In most of Europe, snacking is frowned upon. Most Europeans eat a small savory breakfast of cured meats, cheeses and perhaps fish. Some don’t eat breakfast at all. Lunch is typically the biggest meal of the day and wherever possible shared with family and often includes a glass of wine. Dinner is usually small with perhaps a sandwich or fruits. But wherever you may land in Europe, snacking is frowned upon.
Compare this habit with the United States. Over the last 20 years, it’s been drilled into our heads that frequent snacking is good and stops us from eating big meals that sap us of energy. The reality is that if we look at the results, this frequent eating philosophy has not worked. The US outweighs all other societies with an obesity epidemic. So, stop eating every 2-3 hours. Your body needs time off.
When you travel outside the US another valuable lesson you’ll learn is that portion size does matter.
Everything in the US is bigger, especially the amount of food on our plates. But let’s get this right when it comes to food, portion sizes matter. Unfortunately, we’re taught at an early age to eat everything on our plates. Ok, this might be a good lesson, but the problem arises that the pure quantity we put on our plates is far more than our bodies need. Give them a lot; they eat a lot. Give them less; they eat less. And if the food is good, both groups feel equally satisfied.
Travel to almost any country in the world, and you’ll notice how the typical portion sizes are much smaller than in America. French food is revered throughout the world as the culinary standard upon which all other cuisines are judged. And guess what the characteristic of gourmet French food is? That’s right - small portions of extremely rich and delicious food.
The problem in America is that people eat large portions of extremely rich foods, which most people think are also extremely delicious as well. The only way to stay lean while eating large portions of food is to eat foods that are naturally low in calories, such as fruits and vegetables.
Take Time Eating
In most countries, eating is a social activity. Eating with family and friends slows us down. We focus more on the food and conversation. We enjoy it more, feel more content, with less food. In the US, we eat as though it’s a task we need to complete. We rush through our meals with no social interaction only to move onto the next task. Slow down. Eat less. Enjoy more.
In the US, we have access to an abundance of foods. However, we never enjoy food as they do in Europe. Despite all the data and information about food and diets and good eating, we have national guilt when it comes to food and enjoying it.
When we cook we follow a recipe to perfection often substituting what we consider to be healthier - less fat, sugar, salt - ingredients and measuring every spoonful. In France, for example, a chef wouldn’t think about reducing the amount of butter and salt. The American will eat more calories and enjoy the food less than his French counterpart. Americans simply don’t understand how to relax and enjoy their food.
Going forward, Instead of having so much guilt over food, let’s try to enjoy it. It’s better to pay more attention to the quality of the food, the portion sizes, and frequency.