Here’s something to chew on: According to the American Obesity Association, approximately 65% of American adults are overweight and 31% are considered obese and at risk for chronic disease. American society has become what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention terms “obesogenic,” or an environment that is focused on increased food intake, unhealthy foods, and lack of exercise. In the World Health Organization’s comprehensive list of the fattest countries around the globe, the U.S. weighs in at a whopping number nine. Not exactly a statistic to be proud of. Sorry, Paris. We don’t all have your metabolism! The fact of the matter is that the U.S. stands out for our culture of unhealthy habits – and although we like to think we know it all when it comes to diet and exercise, it seems that compared to our sisters abroad, we’re working harder on our health with more lackluster results. So are girls in other countries keeping these big health secrets that we don’t know about? We did some research and found these surprisingly easy-to-adopt, healthy habits from abroad:
Eat slowly, and savor your food in a pleasant environment
If you’ve ever traveled to France, you’ll notice how the French can spend hours leisurely dining. Spending meal-time with good company is an important part of many European cultures. Michel Montignac, author of The French Diet: The Secrets of Why French Women Don't Get Fat, writes that eating comfortably and slowly discourages overeating and fosters relaxation, which aids digestion. When your body is relaxed, it can process food more easily and efficiently. Obviously, it’s near impossible for us to find the time to do this on a daily, or sometimes even weekly basis. Instead, translate this health tip into something realistic by making sure you “focus on your food,” says dietician Sue Kaminer. “We’re conditioned to be multi-taskers, but when you’re distracted while you’re eating, the result is often overeating.” Take the time to enjoy your food, and eat with other people; you’ll be more conscious of how much you’re consuming.
Choose fresh, unprocessed foods
Grocery shopping in countries such as Italy and Greece can be very different from our one-stop trips to a mega-store. Instead, people will go to a butcher to buy meat, the man on the corner selling vegetables, and the baker making fresh bread. The key to this kind of shopping is that it ensures that meals are made fresh with unprocessed ingredients. “Often processed food is lacking the fiber and nutrients our bodies need,” says Kaminer. Warm weather brings farmer’s markets, and these are great sources of fresh, healthy, and locally grown food. When faced with limited options in a dining hall, opt for things such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as opposed to packaged snacks and pre-prepared foods.
Two words: Portion Control!
“In America, we tend to think the bigger the meal, the better the value,” says Kaminer. Food chains advertise their big portions, and Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me graphically displayed the results. For this health tip, we can learn a trick from the Japanese, who practice eating until they are 80 percent full. One easy way to eat smaller portions is to use smaller plates and bowls. Furthermore, “never eat out of a bag or package,” says Kaminer. Make sure to take a portioned amount, seal the bag or box, and store it out of sight.
Walking & Biking
Let’s face it: we can make a million excuses for driving or taking some form of transportation to where we need to go. (Ok, fine. Pouring rain is a good excuse.) However, when we look at the Scandinavian countries, like Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, these nations beat out America in all health stats. Why? The primary reason is that they are constantly moving. According to the International Bicycle Fund, 48 percent of the Dutch either bike or walk as their main source of transportation – which beats out car usage at 45 percent. Incorporating walking or biking into your daily routine is a great, and very underestimated form of exercise. As a student in Denmark last fall, I experienced firsthand how the Danes biked or walked everywhere, rain or shine (and even in stilettos!). These women were not killing themselves in the gym for hours a day; instead, they were simply using their bodies to get where they wanted to go. Weather dependent, cut out some time to walk to class, or to run an errand. Sources: Sue Kaminer, M.S., R.D. http://obesity1.tempdomainname.com/subs/fastfacts/obesity_US.shtml http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db01.pdf http://www.forbes.com/2007/02/07/worlds-fattest-countries-forbeslife-cx_... http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/diet.fitness/08/31/cl.worldly.advice/inde... http://www.ibike.org/library/statistics-data.htm