So That's How European Women Stay so Slim!

Hint: It's all about finding the perfect balance between healthy choices and indulgences

For over 20 years, Layne Lieberman, MS, RD, CDN has worked as a nutritionist and dietitian, yet she found that trying to break the grip of America’s love for fattening fast food was not an easy task. However, Lieberman found the answers to the health and obesity crisis during the two years she and her husband moved to Switzerland. “Looking at it from a cultural standpoint, I said, ‘Wow, it’s not that complex.’ When I learned about the cultures of the three healthiest countries in Europe—Switzerland, Italy and France—it became very clear to me how someone can stay healthy and slim and live a long life, and still enjoy decadent foods without feeling deprived.”

Lieberman’s new book, Beyond the Mediterranean Diet, offers her lessons learned oversees, along with 50 recipes. Here, she offers 10 lifestyle tips that will add more delicious food on your plate, as well as years to your life:

Start Cooking “These three countries eat home way more often than we do,” says Lieberman. “From an economical standpoint, it makes sense , but it’s also much healthier. When you cook for yourself, you have control over your meal, over how much salt, fat and sugar will go into your food.” She adds that we’re also more tempted to overeat when dining out because the portions are bigger—and most people want to clean their plate in order to get their money’s worth.

Get a Juicer Europeans, especially Italians, never drink juice from a container, and that’s because they juice their own beverages. “It’s not a big deal for them since they keep a juicer on their counter and it takes about one minute to juice two oranges,” says Lieberman. “This will produce about four ounces of fresh juice, which is exactly the right amount. And the result is so much more satisfying because you’re getting nourishment and enjoyment—those two things together are very important in your diet. It’s what a diet should be!”

Eat This Kind of Meat No ifs, ands or buts—eat grass-fed, organic meats. “Grass-fed animals are leaner and produce meat higher in omega-3 fatty acids, compared to corn-fed animals that produce meat high in omega-6 fatty acids,” explains Lieberman. Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body while omega-6s cause inflammation. Grass-fed animals also produce more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which reduces inflammation and strengthens immunity. “And grass-fed meat is much more flavorful, so if you only eat three ounces, you’ll feel much more satisfied with a smaller quantity.”

Substitute “Bad” Fats for Good Fats Europeans get their fats from whole foods and not from refined oils and processed fats, states Lieberman. So how does that translate into our everyday diet? “For example, instead of putting cream cheese or butter on your bread, smear some avocado on it instead. Coming from a whole food, it’s good in monounsaturated fat, it’s good for your heart and has vitamin E, along with a number of minerals and nutrients.” A couple of more examples include sprinkling walnuts on your salad instead of croutons and using almond butter in place of butter or margarine.

Eat Authentic Pizza Lieberman states that Italy ranks number two among European countries boasting the longest life spans. So one way to eat like a real Italian is to eat pizza. “But that does not include the typical American thick-crusted, doughy pizza oozing with salty and highly processed mozzarella cheese,” she states. “Instead, find a pizzeria that specializes in authentic Neapolitan pizza. It should be made with a thin crust and the freshest ingredients, including basil, tomato and buffalo mozzarella cheese, and baked in a wood-burning oven.”

Know Your Sources Lieberman says the Swiss, French and Italians shop at their local farmer’s markets about three times a week—sometimes each day—and they decide their meals around what’s available and what’s in season based on what looks and smells delicious. “If the food is local, it’s going to be fresher and taste better,” she says. “The Europeans also talk to their purveyors and the people who are growing and producing their food,” she says, adding that we should be chatting with the employees at our local farmer’s markets. “If you’re buying a fresh chicken, you should ask if it’s been fed organically its whole life, or has it just been caged. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—the farmers want to share their stories!” Start from the Bottom After cooking, talking and spending time with French chefs, Lieberman learned that this culture loves their sauces. “However, they don’t pour their sauces on the food—they pour sauces on the bottom of the plate so that they can control how much sauce they want to eat.” But it’s the opposite in our country, since everything from a salad to a finished dish tends to be doused or dripping with sauce. “Remember that chefs and line cooks are usually heavy-handed when it comes to salt, sugar and fat,” she adds. So when you’re dining out, ask for sauces on the side. “Even fast-food chains will let you hold the sauces and even the bun.”

Dine Off the Right Plates Lieberman gives you permission to buy new dinnerware! She says that the size of the typical American plate, 12 inches, has increased by 23 percent since our grandparents’ time. And many studies have shown that we eat with our eyes. “A Cornell University researcher found that those who use small dishes serve themselves 12 percent less than they intended, and those who use large dishes serve themselves 13 percent more than they intended!” Another recent study says that the rim size and color also matter. Europeans typically eat on 9-inch plates and use smaller utensils (the size of our salad forks and teaspoons). “With this size plate, you can regulate your portions without having to weigh and measure your food. And when you eat with a smaller fork or spoon, it’s harder to gobble down your food. Therefore, you’ll linger over your meal long enough for your brain to register that your stomach is actually ‘full’ about 20 minutes after eating.”

Pound the Pavement Healthy Europeans leave the car keys home far more often than we do. “The lifestyle activity in these countries is simply amazing,” she states. “They mostly walk and bike, even in freezing temperatures. They bundle up and walk to the local market instead of getting into their cars.” She says they organize friend and family weekend plans around outdoor activities, as well. “They’re also getting natural vitamin D, where our culture depends on pills. Again, it’s about going for the natural source.”

Eat Together One of the most important elements of the European way of living is that they share and enjoy their experiences with food. “They eat slowly, they share the cooking of their meals with friends and family—so they’re certainly not eating dinner in front of a computer while paying bills online!” And even when they don’t have time for lengthy meals, Lieberman says the Swiss, Italians and French still make it a point to eat dinner around the table with their family. “Sharing their food is one way of sharing their love, and the social aspect of the meal fills you with companionship. It’s not about feeling the fullness from food, but feeling the fullness from sharing and engaging.”

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