Anglo Adventure

Travel with a sense of humor

Why are Americans so fat? 5 clues from skinny countries

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The Stereotype:

betty draper fat,

Betty Draper - fat and rich. Classic American stereotype.

(Disclaimer: I don’t care that Betty Draper is fat. It makes her more human. Read about why we care so much.)

If you plan to live abroad, expect to be asked, “Why is everyone in your country so fat?” Pre-arm yourself with a response because it’s likely to make you mad.

Real-life Examples:

My dentist once told me to open my mouth like I was eating a Big Mac. I almost retorted with, “why don’t you open your mouth like you’re eating a baguette?” 

A Moroccan friend announced to our class that I gained weight. I attributed this more to a cultural misunderstanding more than my three-week binge over Christmas in the States.

My French teacher once said, “Les femmes qui viennent des Estas Unis sont groses” I responded with a “C’est pas vrais!”

I love Americans, I am American and I can finally admit the truth: Yes, yes we are. We are fatter than Canada and probably most other countries. But why? What the hell is going on here? All I had to do was cross to the Great White North and I felt like I shed five pounds within the first month. I didn’t drastically change my eating habits and actually picked up a few bad ones.

Fries with mayo? Pourquoi pas! Weekly poutine? Oui, oui.

And it’s not like Canada doesn’t have an obesity problem. But the American percentage is around 10% higher.

Before I get a million slanderous comments, I am not anti-fat. I don’t believe in judging people based on looks. I have my own body issues and don’t believe people should be discriminated against based on looks. I really don’t have a problem with it. I am all about the curves and have my own American-sized hips and thighs.

But if you want to lose weight without diet pills or deprivation, take a cue from other countries.

The Difference: More activity.

canada, living abroad, americans fat

Maybe if we took up more sports like ski joring

Quebec has the worst weather of any place, ever.  It’s almost inhabitable if you ask me, the pampered Chicago/Seattle-ian. That’s right – Chicago is almost tropical in comparison. Quebec winter stops in LATE April. But to the Quebecois embrace bad weather. They are cross country skiing, snowshoeing, running, bicycling all over the city in weather so frigid it burns to breathe.

Also, not everyone drives a car. The minute I gave up my Honda Civic, thereby forcing myself to miserably shuffle through the snow everyday, I dropped weight.

Weight loss tip:  I highly recommend selling your car and making yourself walk or ride. Don’t make it a choice because if you’re like me, you’ll never do it. If you don’t live where there’s good public trans, try walking to work once a week or taking family bike rides. Fun exercise means you’ll actually want to do it. Quit the gym because you won’t want to do it. Try something that’s actually fun, like jump roping on the sidewalk outside. So what if you look like a nut? 

The Difference: Food labels aren’t feeding you lies.

squeezits

100% sugar-juice is more like it. These were discontinued. I used to drink them all the time.

When I returned home, I cannot help but notice all the food packaging: the non-fat, low-fat, whole grain, no gmos, no growth hormones, no sugar, no added sugar, natural sugar, no transfat BS. I have to launch my own label investigation to tell if something is actually good for me. Oftentimes, it’s not.

I’ve watched enough Dr. Oz to learn that whole grain doesn’t always mean whole grain. In QC, the food packaging doesn’t lie like this. If something says “All Natural” I believe it has to be killed in a forest. You wouldn’t find it on Oscar Meyer hot dogs. (Note: I believe. I freely admit that I don’t want to sift through nutritional labeling regulations to figure out if I am wrong.)

It’s so much easier to make healthy choices in Quebec, rather than search through a mile-long ingredient list and pondering if all-natural evaporated sugar cane extract is bad sugar or healthy sugar. Or sugar at all.

Weight loss tip: Carefully examine every package. If something just has a list of chemicals, don’t buy it. Read, read, read. The less ingredients, the better.

The Difference: Portion sizes/Meal times. 

Diet tips from other countries - portion control

The best thing I ever ate. And yes, I was full after this meal. (Ps. Try La Patriarche in QC)

America is the land that likens portions to the size of your head: “burritos the size of your head!” “burgers the size of your head. A pizza the size of two heads” Heads are over-used. I think we should compare them to another body part: “A sub sandwich the size of Ron Jeremy’s…”

Honestly, American restaurants are giving us too much food and too little time to eat. I used to think restaurants in Quebec were obnoxiously snail-paced and then I realized how nice it was to sit and savor my tiny portion of filet mignon. It cost enough. Might as well spend some time with it.

Weight loss tips: Eat appetizers for dinner. Split the portion in half right away and have the server take it away, then eat it the next day for lunch. Make each meal take an hour and a half and time yourself. Drink an espresso for dessert and don’t order pop. Avoid anything with the words:”bottomless” or “all you can.”

The Difference: More fruits, vegetables. Less sugar. Less dairy.

denmark food, copenhagen, travel tips, diet tips, quebec

Denmark: simple food, seriously slim people.

I made friends from around the world in my intensive government-issued French class. One of the things we loved to talk about is food. I enjoying finding out what they like/hate/have trouble with in North America because it’s damn interesting and because most of them are the same size I was in high school.

Multiple people from multiple countries said the same thing: Our food (including Canada) is too sweet. Even when they find ingredients or traditional dishes from the homeland here, it’s too sugary and too processed. They all complained about gaining weight in Canada, while I celebrated my weight loss. Dairy doesn’t seem to be a major player in their diets. Neither does pop, my go-to drink until last week when I finally quit cold turkey. My friends also rarely frequent restaurants.

I also noticed they have an abundance of fruit stands in Copenhagen, where hordes of future fashion models zig zag through the city on bicycles. I really wish instead of hip food trucks, we had more one-stop corner shops for some fresh rasberries and wraps.

Weight loss tip: Embrace fruits, veggies, and fish. Cut back on sugar. (First you have to find this dirty weight gain culprit. It’s often in unsuspected items like BBQ sauce and juice). Drink water, all.the.time. Put lemon in it if it helps.

That’s all I got. If you lived/are living abroad, ring in below with your own tips, opinions. What are the traditional dishes of your host country?

Author: angloadventure

Professional travel writer and near-professional wanderer. Recently lived in Seattle and Quebec City. Traveled across country three times in a car. Can find the best pizza in any city. Published in Fodor's travel guides, Where magazine, Viator and others.

4 thoughts on “Why are Americans so fat? 5 clues from skinny countries

  1. Excellent post – it really is that simple. And don’t worry – Americans are not the only ones struggling with weight-gain issues (that’s my euphemism but you know what I mean). Europe is catching up and may well overtake their US friends. In the Gulf (Arabian) where I live, obesity is a massive (sorry!) problem as are the related health issues such as late onset diabetes and heart disease. Diet and lack of exercise – it all boils down to this in the end. Glad to be following you and looking forward to more of your writing. That French/Canadian meal photo – oh la la!

    • Interesting. I think it’s the need to make everything faster, cheaper and that more people are working in offices. I know when I freelance, I drop weight so easily because no one is bringing in donuts and cakes. When I go to Europe and even Canada, everyone seems skinnier. But perhaps it is changing.

      Thanks for the follow! I am also a follower of yours!

  2. I loved the line about how food is compared to heads and stuff. Maybe if more places advertised “pizza as big as your beer belly,” it’d be easier to refuse.

  3. My unsuspecting weight gain culprit was Greek yoghurt! I thought I was being so healthy, then one day my jeans didn’t fit! I checked the fat content on the yogurt and I might as well have been eating a bowl of mayo every night!

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