What Euros Think of American Lifestyle

Portion size is a little skewed in the U.S. ... these muffins are probably 3 servings each

I had dinner last night with two very good friends, both from the U.K., who have lived extensively throughout Europe and the U.S. They've literally been from Paris to Alabama, from Boston to Scotland.  They have a unique view of the world. We were sitting down to dinner at one of my favorite Thai restaurants where we were served big bowls of pho soup.  They smiled, looked at each other, and said, "Right, American portions."  I sighed.  We Americans are so good at undermining our own good intentions. The main reason why Europe doesn't have as much of a weight problem as America is because portion sizes overseas are normal.  If you're in the U.S., normal is NOT a relevant word.  We don't get normal.  We get a big plate of food and we just shovel it in. The fact that your stomach is about the size of your fist is lost on the vast majority of people. Over dinner, we started talking about a variety of issues and my friends had some interesting things to say.  Keep in mind, this is only two Brits, but it does reflect the sentiment of what's going on outside of the country. Jamie Oliver's success in Britain is starting to erode.  He's a hero over there; he really did effectively overhaul the school lunch program.  But this recession has been so grinding and even though his adjustments are only pennies per meal to increase nutrition some schools can no longer afford this and are cutting back, returning to the old ways. Dukan diet.  I asked them if they'd heard of the Dukan diet, the French diet that's becoming quite popular over here.  It's essentially a Zone or Atkins diet (protein-based).  The husband looked at me and shrugged; he'd never heard of it.  The wife said yes, it went through a phase of people trying it, but there was a report discrediting the diet and it's fallen out of favor now. Farm subsidies.  A lot of our health problems can be traced back to farm subsidies.  Monies that used to go to struggling small farms now seem to mostly go to Big Agra in this country.  They said it wasn't like that in Europe but it's starting to go in that direction.  The husband said, "Farm subsidies were originally designed to keep food stuffs local so people wouldn't war against each other for food if it became scarce."  We seem to have lost that perspective. Perspective.  Good word, isn't it?  We get so caught up in our view of the world that we forget how others see us, or how skewed some of our viewpoints really are.  Sometimes it seems like the way we deal with obesity in the U.S. is nothing more than throwing hundreds of band-aids over a scratch when what the patient really needs is surgery.  It's so frustrating.  We need to get real, take a hard look at the true problem, and act on it. Sigh. There will be more on this later ... I've got some additional thinking to do.  What do you think about how others view the U.S.?  Do you think it's fair?  How would you change our lifestyle habits for the better? Cheers, Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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4 Responses to What Euros Think of American Lifestyle

  1. TraceyJoy June 23, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    PBS (or Nightline) I believe a feature about foods portions some years ago…French Women Don’t Get Fat or something like that. It showed basically that a child’s portion in the USA is the large portion in Europe if not even a bit less. That made me start ordering form the kids menu when I could. I re-trained my body to accept less, guess what I didn’t starve! Was doing really well then…IDK what happened. I went right back to eating my normal way easier I guess, we are all about ease and convenience right. Except at the movies (I don’t go often anymore maybe 2-3 times a year) I still get a kids pack, it’s cheaper and honestly you really have enough snacks. I must go back an re-train to eat smaller again. The problem wasn’t eating smaller portions out it was at home, where I have my beautiful white dishes from Pottery Barn and they look so pretty all filled up. It really is a huge plate, it’s our normal. It wasn’t our normal 50-60 years ago in this country. Dinner plates were smaller back then. Hmmmmm… I think this is something that will take in individual households, not as a general rule. There will be far too much upheaval if that was to happen I think. This helped me recall back to mind eat smaller, you’ll have enough, plus my body has some reserves I’ll be fine ; -) Thanks Lisa, very good post

  2. Lisa Johnson June 23, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Hi Tracey,

    Even the plates haven’t gotten bigger over the years. Average diameter of a plate in the 1940s was 9 1/2″ now it’s 11 1/2″ thanks, Lisa

  3. Melissa July 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    I have lived in Europe for 12 years (Italy, Germany and now France). In MY opinion, and as I have spoken to many people in Europe, general thoughts are that our number 1 problem is Fast Food and the portions that go with that. The other problems I have heard talked about, include too much alcohol, not enough exercise and TV. As I travel back and forth from Europe to the US, I would agree with the fast food problem and I totally agree with the TV/not enough exercise. It amazes me how many people walk, ride a bike, take the tram/bus (walking to get to the stop) and take leisure walks with their families. Maybe I didn’t live in the right neighborhoods in the US and maybe I have been gone too long, but I rarely saw anyone walking or riding a bike. (In fact, in the US people get irrate over bike riders) and I know for me personally, I relied completely on my SUV to go down the street for work, for groceries, for whatever. Now, I do not have a vehicle and I find myself walking and taking public transportation everywhere I go. There are fast food restaurants here, just as everywhere, but it’s funny, a lot of people here blame the US for bringing them here and they detest them. Case in point, my friend will not even be SEEN at a McDonald’s. He eats there at least 1X a year, but will make me go, for fear his friends will see him. Now, that is extreme I admit, but I think it’s a general consensus here. Just my opinion. I think it’s fair. I think it’s partly true. I think we have moved towards more exercise and a healthier way of living for sure, if we could just get it to catch on to the majority of the people. Maybe if we didn’t make Fitness clubs so expensive, or well, shoot, I don’t know. I also think that we need to get back to family meals. We rely so much on already prepared, fast food, etc that we don’t take the correct time to enjoy our meals, cooking together, eating and socializing with our family and friends on a day-to-day basis. On the flip side, I will say it is super nice to be able to go out to eat and take home half of your meal for a later time. While the portion sizes here aren’t AS large, it is still a lot for some people and you must eat it all or risk offending the kitchen/chef. I once left half a bowl of risotto and the chef came out and told me that if I wasn’t hungry, I shouldn’t have come to his restaurant! Just my two cents worth. This is my first EVER blog! ;) heehee

  4. Lisa Johnson July 28, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    Melissa, thank you so much for your comments and contributing perspective to this blog. It’s great to open the dialogue and have people see things from both sides. It also sounds like you’ve had a pretty amazing life living in all those places! :-) I agree fast food is a big culprit in our society but I would also include a fast lifestyle that keeps us hopping from thing to thing and not taking time to live the fun parts of our lives. We rush, make bad choices and go down the rabbit hole. :)



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