While in Europe, there were a few observations and things I learned about the differences in how we eat. Right now, America’s obesity rates are over 30 % of our population. France’s obesity rate is 11%. In 1995, France’s obesity rate was 5.5%, climbing due to incorporating western habits. Although they are getting closer to us in their eating habits, we can still learn a lot from them to improve ours.
There are several differences between our cultures that we should look at. Perhaps some of them will resonate with you and you can incorporate them into your lifestyle.
- Traditions Matter. European countries have hung on to traditions handed down to them. Traditions surrounding food matters because it keeps traditional foods alive. Less processed foods, less overeating, less “eat what you want” mentality. Although not European, the Japanese teach their children at an early age only to eat until they are 80% full, and have for many generations. The English have tea time in the afternoon with something sweet, unlike us who eat sweets starting at breakfast (Costco muffins, pancakes and syrup, cereal) and continue throughout the day.
- Eating Three Square Meals a Day. The French do not snack. They teach their kids early on that its ok to be hungry and not to ruin their dinner. We are teaching our children to snack all day. We pack snacks in their lunches to eat before lunch. We give them snacks when they get home from school. We never go without bringing snacks to sports practices, cub scout meetings, and “just because” snacks when they are good. This will carry on throughout their lives. This is also taught by fitness experts to lose weight. Most of the world does pretty well on 3 meals a day and have less obesity.
- Portion Sizes. When you order food in Europe, you might be surprised at the small portion sizes. If you order a glass of orange juice for breakfast, you will get less than a cup’s worth. When you order a latte, you get a small coffee with milk. Europeans focus on small but extremely rich flavorful foods. America’s portions sizes are just too big. Example: Starbucks grande drinks. You never see Europeans walking around with that size anything!
- Eating is a Social Event. There is a movement called “slow food” that started in Italy when it was realized that Italian people were veering away from their regional cuisine and social eating. This movement now promotes local food traditions in over 150 countries who are realizing they are losing their traditional eating. When we get together to enjoy long lunches or dinners in the company of family or friends, we eat less calories / less food, enjoy our food more and have less temptation to munch after dinner. When you are socially eating, you are more relaxed giving your digestive system the environment it needs to get as many nutrients from the foods we eat as it can. I eat with family and friends as much as I can, I highly recommend this practice!
- Food Obsession. We are one of the only countries that obsesses over the amount of fat, carbs and protein we eat at each meal. 100 years ago, even we weren’t doing this. This is a new focus on our food that truly isn’t a healthy way of thinking. Yes we need all 3 in our diet, but to obsess over what percentage we are getting and counting our calories each day is quite unhealthy. When the French are cooking their food, they pay little attention to the salt, butter or oil they are adding. They add for taste, not to make sure they have the correct percent of macronutrients going into that dish. And even with all that the Europeans add, they still eat fewer total calories than us, without even thinking about it. I have had more success with clients when I get them to stop obsessing over calories and concentrate more on amazing food, they are amazed they are losing weight.
I think we could improve our eating habits and health just by slowing down and enjoying our meals with friends and family, taking time to make our food with real ingredients, stop obsessing over fat, calories and carbs and reining in our snacking. If you would like help improving your eating habits, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let me give a credit for some of this information from an article by Renegade Health by Frederick Patenaude.