Can a European Diet Help You Lose Weight?
I used to associate European cuisine with bread, pastries and rich sauces. I couldn’t imagine why all Europeans weren’t overweight. But they’re not. In fact, across much of Europe, less than 20 percent of the population can be considered obese, according to a 2017 survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Compare that to the US where the obesity rate for American adults (aged 15 and over) is 38.2 percent, making the US the fattest country in the world. Yikes!
What and how are Europeans eating, and what’s their secret to keeping off the pounds? In my travels, I’ve observed some of the healthy eating habits of Europeans. And I’ve started to incorporate these habits into my own life.
1) Eat smaller portions
Europeans choose quality over quantity, especially in regards to their food. The amount of food you're served in a European restaurant is generally smaller than the super-sized portions in a typical American restaurant. Europeans seems to have a built-in sense of portion control, enjoying many courses in a meal, yet not stuffing themselves.
But we can do the same by ordering an appetizer instead of a main course. Or splitting a salad and a main course with our companion so that we each have smaller portions heavier on the vegetables. At least in America it's totally acceptable to ask for a doggy bag and take half of a meal home to have for tomorrow's lunch.
2) Prepare slow, whole and local foods
Forget fast food. Europeans shop more often and purchase fresh, locally grown produce and locally sourced meats and rely very little on frozen and processed foods.
They eat a lot of fresh, seasonal produce and it seems like almost every meal I've had in Europe was over fresh greens or came with fresh greens and a light vinaigrette. Even McDonald’s in France serves a small salad of mixed field greens and julienne beets, "La Petite Salade."
Europeans take the time to prepare meals made from fresh ingredients. And there's no reason we can't do the same. In America we have plenty of farmer’s markets and at least some healthy restaurants. My goal is to prepare at least two slow meals a week. Often I make enough to freeze for future meals.
3) Eat mindfully
European’s take more time to dine. They eat smaller portions, but they eat slower, savoring each bite.
It takes practice to be a mindful eater instead of chowing down our lunch while working at a computer. One way to be more mindful is to eat your lunch in nature. Get away from your desk and go to a park or sit by a river. Take a moment to really enjoy your food.
4) Indulge yourself — occasionally
Europeans indulge, but they don’t pig out. They partake in the occasional indulgence, but don’t go crazy or have it every day. Some of the tastiest treats I’ve splurged on have been in European: gelati in Milan, a pistachio meringue in Lyon, a cardamom bun in Stockholm.
5) Sit down with others
For Europeans, meals are a time to gather together. They relax over a leisurely lunch and often a three-hour dinner.
This week, instead of having dinner while watching TV — my favorite thing to do — make time to have a sit-down dinner with friends and/or family. I’m making it a point to have friends over for meals more often or to join them for a happy hour.
I know I’m a much more mindful eater when I’m with others. And in the company of those you love, you’re sure to enjoy your food more.
When you combine the portion control, mindful eating and the fact that most Europeans walk everywhere, it’s no wonder they are slimmer, healthier and outlive Americans. But that doesn’t mean we can’t adopt some of Europe’s healthy eating habits. It could make all the difference.