3 Diet Tips From Europeans.

IMG_1806I just returned to Los Angeles from a week-long trip to Paris, Stockholm and northern Sweden. While there are many interesting differences between American and European cultures, food and diet are among the most striking.

As a Californian in Europe, the amount of butter, carbs and chocolate is astounding. Despite the presence of these typically taboo foods, Europeans are thinner than Americans. In the United States, the obesity rate is somewhere around 33.9%. In France and Sweden, on the other hand, obesity rates are 16.9% and 12.0% respectively.

It all begs the question: Can you really have your butter, carbs and chocolate – and eat it, too? And if so, how?!

As best I can tell, here are a few important ways that Europeans generally have a leg up on the American diet:

  1. Eat what you love. Just eat less of it. When walking through the streets of Paris, my boyfriend and I came across a chocolate shop serving hot chocolate. It was irresistible and so we ordered a cup. To our surprise, they served it in a tiny dixie cup that only held a few sips. But it was the perfect amount. We savored each rich, decadent sip. In America, portions are much bigger. In fact, one study examined food products in Paris versus Philadelphia and found that a cartoon of yogurt in Philadelphia is 82% larger; a soft drink is 52% larger and a candy bar is 41% larger. Those larger portions result in more calories. It’s possible to have indulgent foods like cheeses, butter, jams, candy and chocolates. But to learn from Europeans, size down your portions.
  2. Make food a passion. According to one survey, 90% of French people claim to greatly enjoy eating. That number is only 39% in the United States. Being passionate about food can upgrade your diet in several ways. For one, it’ll probably slow down your pace of eating. And when you eat slower, you eat less. You may also visit local food markets and find new, seasonal flavors that you love. Being passionate about what you eat may also inspire better, more wholesome food choices. And it might make you a little less likely to stop at the McDonald’s drive through. To learn from Europeans, cultivate a passion for food.
  3. Walk it off. There’s no magic here. Instead of hopping in your car, take a page from our European friends by walking or biking. Even in Los Angeles, I always walk to the grocery store, gym and anywhere else within a mile or two from my home. If you live a more rural area, walks can be a great leisure activity. After lunch or dinner, my French grandmother would always take my sister and I for a walk around the neighborhood. She said that it helps with digestion. In actuality, it helped burn off some extra calories and got us moving. To learn from Europeans, drive less and walk more.

I’m not saying that the Europeans have it all correct. Here in California, for example, we certainly have the upper hand when it comes to smoothies, salads and gyms – but there are certainly a few important things we can learn from our European brothers and sisters.

Have any more European-inspired diet tips? Share them in the comments below.

P.S. For more information about upgrading your diet in a real and lasting way (and without any marketing gimmicks or ridiculous trends), download Davey Wavey’s Insanely Easy Guide to Eating Smarter.

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Comments

  1. This is the best diet in the world:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_diet

  2. As far as i’ve seen, most of southern europeans doesnt walk anywhere, they always drive a scooter or hop in their cars. they were amazed that anyone would dare to walk more than 1km to get to the shopping streets.

  3. I think, from what Ive seen when travelling, that we in Europe (Sweden here) have a lot less refined sugar in our foods. And that a lot more of the Swedes know about it, so when it crosses our path, we tend to avoid unless we really want it. And we also know exactly what it does to our health which is why it is easier to cut it down to a better portion.

  4. With obesity rates as low as 12% do they need more gyms, smoothies and salads? I think not. Our North American Fitness/Diet Culture is a direct result of our fast food/couch potato culture. A generation or two ago these vast differences between our continents were not as noticeable.

  5. Davey,
    I’m an American living in Paris for nearly 3 decades, and I have remained my thin self by eating a balanced diet (learned that in the US) but there are other factors involved..there are tons of steroids in the meat in the USA that make the animals retain 20-30% more water than the others in the rest of the world. Imagine what that does to the human body. You don’t see teens drinking glasses of milk here like the American counterparts, nor consuming the junk food/fast food. It does exist, but people eat a much more balanced diet here. The eat in the US is also loaded with antibiotics, when the human body is overloaded with them there can be a tendency to bloat, here we eat cheeses and yoghurts full of natural probiotics and pre-biotics. Homogenized dairy in the US kills these living organisms and the intestines suffer, and the body cannot digest foods so they are stocked away as fat.

  6. I’m Italian and I live in Italy, I think I’m lucky because I have been accustomed to a diet mediteranea. I eat pasta, rice, olive oil, cheese, fish, dried fruit and lots of vegetables and fruits. My family taught me respect for genuine food, fresh and just worked

  7. My biggest problem: Avoiding processed foods.

  8. nitpicker says:

    Paris versus Philadelphia and found that a cartoon of yogurt in Philadelphia is 82% larger;

    did you mean carton?

  9. You mentioned smoothies as a healthy option. Did you know that it is far better to eat the fruit whole rather than turn it into smoothies? The reason is that liquidizing the fruit not only invites you to ingest more of it but it releases far more of it’s sugar – and even though this is natural fructose, it is still sugar, As we all know, there is way too much sugar in our diets anyway and it’s almost impossible to avoid it. Another thing is I think we Europeans eat fewer carbs – certainly I have to desist as I am a coeliac. Here in the UK we’re always told about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet – olive oil, fresh fish, vegetables and so on. If I ever manage to get jiggy with an Italian hunk I’ll let you know how that goes!!!

  10. Sean Knight says:
  11. Michael Burkett says:

    I took a Men’s Health class at City College of San Francisco. The professor noted that we are going to have problems because for thousands of years humans didn’t always have enough food so it became genetic to eat all you could when available. Also, since the 1970s portion sizes in the U.S. have increased dramatically. No wonder we have such a problem with obesity he stated.
    Also, one thing I notice is that sometimes my body says eat and I drink a glass of liquid – milk, water, juice, or something – and I am no longer hungry. Further, eating slowly and waiting my hunger goes away and I do not eat as much.

  12. In Sweden young people are very educated about the risks with refined sugar and what it does with your body. And in the latest 5 years alot of people eat less carbs like potatoes, pasta, bread and such.
    People value good food with lots of nutrition!

  13. Davey, You are awesome. One grammar observation: “French grandmother would always take my sister and I for a walk around the neighborhood.” More standard would be, “take my sister and me … .” It helps me to look at the statement if “sister” sere not included. You would never write, ” would always take I for a walk …”

    Awesome! Keep sharing! Mike