By Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D., TheBestLife.com lead nutritionist
As a trim, chic couple passes me on the street, I hear snatches of their conversation—in French. The other night at a restaurant, I heard Italian coming from a nearby table of three generations: healthy children, parents and grandparents. Living in Washington, D.C., with all the embassies and international organizations, I wind up hearing many different languages. When I recognize one, I do a quick—and surreptitious—assessment of the speaker’s body weight. My amateur research findings, corroborated by legitimate studies, are that in most other countries, people are at healthier weights than Americans. For instance, our obesity rate is 3.5 times that of France’s.
I’ve pumped my international friends—all of whom are at a healthy body weight—for their secrets. No matter where they come from, there is one strategy they all share: They respect the concept of mealtimes. They eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, with little to no snacking in between.
My French friends tell me lunch is so sacred that French companies have a cafeteria providing free or very subsidized lunch. If they don’t, employees get vouchers to eat at nearby restaurants. Lunches are nutritionally balanced: a hot meal of fish, chicken or meat plus vegetables (and a glass of wine and coffee!). In Paris and other big cities with short lunch breaks, a sandwich might have to suffice. But in smaller towns, people still go home for lunch, and come back to work two hours later. All over the country, families eat dinner together, and Sunday dinner with the entire family, grandparents included, is the norm.
French traditions also spell out what should go on the plate—the hot meal I described for lunch is also typical dinner fare. And those famed pastries and sweets are reserved for the Sunday family dinner, or other special occasions; everyday dessert is a piece of fruit. Similar traditions are still alive in many other countries.
Unfortunately, here in America, we’ve lost our eating boundaries—we eat virtually all day long. Family dinners have been replaced by every man for himself at the microwave. I’m not out to bash America—instead, I’d like to encourage us to look at other cultures where 66 percent of the population is not overweight or obese and see which of their healthy habits we might be able to incorporate into our own lives. Seems like breakfast, lunch and dinner is a good place to start!