Diet Secrets From Around the World
What other cultures can teach us about keeping down the pounds.
American Eating Habits continued...
And while the American interpretation might be that "longer meals equal more food," experts say the opposite is true. The slower you eat, the less you eat, Heller says.
"It takes the brain about 20 minutes to figure out that your stomach is full, but you can stuff an awful lot of food down in 20 minutes if you're eating quickly," she says.
By comparison, Jonas says, a meal in any of the Mediterranean countries could take two hours or more. Yet frequently, less food is consumed than at the American dinner table.
"People tend to savor food more, to taste it, to experience it bite by bite," he says.
Additionally, studies show that few cultures snack as much as Americans. After all, our country not only gave birth to fast food and the "coffee break," but to the commercial snack food industry.
Folks living in Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, and Africa are far less likely to eat between meals. That means they automatically avoid many of the foods that cause us to gain weight, such as baked goods loaded with trans fats, candy bars high in saturated fat, and sugary, empty-calorie sodas.
"When other cultures do snack, they choose healthy items such as fresh fruit, or fiber-rich whole grains, or nuts, all of which help their health in other ways as well," says Jonas.
Another typically American mistake: Eating snacks as if they were full-sized meals.
"Regardless of what you're snacking on, a snack should be a snack-size portion -- something to take the edge off your hunger -- not a whole meal," says Heller.
But it's not just snack time that we overindulge. From Asia to Africa, from the Middle East to the Mediterranean, Jonas says portion sizes are notoriously smaller everywhere than on the American plate.
"Americans have lost touch with what it feels like to be 'full,' having replaced that feeling with one of being 'stuffed' -- one reason our portion sizes are now so large," say Heller.
Finally, experts say it's time for American's to spend less time in those bucket seats and more time on our feet.
As Mireille Guiliano, author of Why French Women Don't Get Fat, points out, while Europeans typically walk to the bakery, the butcher shop, and the vegetable stand for food that is prepared every day, Americans often load their groceries into trunk of the four-wheel drive, and try to park as close to the store as possible.
"For [the French], walking is the most simple, the most inexpensive exercise there is. Besides what it does to your waistline, it is also exercise for the mind because it gives you time to relax, to think, to dream, and to look at the sky or the buildings or at nature. So it has many other effects that go with the French lifestyle of body and mind," Guiliano recently told WebMD.
At the end of the day, she says, "the idea is to move your butt" -- and put your metabolism in motion.