Lose 10lbs with smart habits from around the world; so many Americans struggle with weight, while people in other countries seem to stay slim effortlessly. Learn how to follow their lead

Lose 10lbs with smart habits from around the world; so many Americans struggle with weight, while people in other countries seem to stay slim effortlessly. Learn how to follow their lead – Cover Story

Daphna Caperonis

IF YOU LIVE IN THE UNITED STATES, chances are you need to lose weight. The latest figures say that 61 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese. Nutrition experts place a lot of the blame on modern American culture–our love of cars, fast food, and oversize portions.

France, China, and many other nations, on the other hand, have lower obesity rates, sometimes significantly lower. We asked researchers, nutritionists, and other authorities why. As it turns out, a country’s customs greatly influence how many calories its citizens end up consuming (and burning off). By creating your own healthy culture with the following tips, you can lose weight and keep it off permanently.

Go Ahead and Feast

Surprise! Feasting won’t sabotage your weight-loss goals. Italians and other Europeans feast once or twice a week without gaining weight, says Dun Gifford, founder and president of Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, a Boston-based nonprofit group that studies traditional diets around the world and promotes alternatives to unhealthy foods. Europeans get away with this indulgence because they eat small meals on all other days. If you stick to slimming habits most of the week, feel free to splurge on a sumptuous brunch, order dessert after a meal out, or throw a dinner party a gourmand would love.

Add Calm to Your Meals

Many observant Hindus prefer to take one meal a week in silence, a practice that encourages them to focus on their food, says Donald Altman, a religion scholar, former Buddhist monk, and Portland, Ore.-based author of Art of the Inner Meal (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999). This habit teaches you to savor every bite, rather than wolf down great quantities of food.

Rediscover Peanut Butter

Americans often consider nuts and nut butters too fattening to eat. And that’s too bad. They are part of a healthy diet and deserve some credit for the slimmer waistlines of many people who live in Mediterranean countries. In a 2001 study of overweight people, a Mediterranean-inspired diet that included daily servings of nut butters and other healthy fats helped participants lose weight and keep it off; the study was published in the International Journal of Obesity. “Many of [the study subjects] hadn’t touched peanut butter in years. At first, they said, `I’m going to get fat from that,'” says Kathy McManus, R.D., director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the study’s lead author. But eating 1 to 4 teaspoons of almond or peanut butter daily, for example, helped subjects lose an average of 11 pounds and keep it off for 18 months.

Oil Your Veggies

Greeks, Italians, and other Mediterraneans cook their vegetables in olive oil or drizzle it over salads to enhance their flavor. If your vegetables taste better, you’re more likely to choose them over higher-calorie foods like meat or potato chips. Case in point: The subjects in McManus’s study who were encouraged to use olive oil instead of fat-free dressing to help increase their fat consumption to 35 percent of calories added more vegetable servings than those who were asked to restrict dietary fat to 20 percent. The higher-fat group stayed with the diet and kept weight off longer.

Practice Yoga

Yoga has fat-burning advantages over other forms of activity, according to Jan Maddern, a yoga instructor in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and author of Yoga Burns Fat (Fair Winds Press, 2002). Yoga, that ancient Indian practice, builds muscle, which boosts your metabolism. But unlike, say, weight training (which also builds muscle), yoga emphasizes breathing and meditation. These, in turn, help reduce stress and balance hormones that can cause weight gain, like cortisol. Maddern recommends attending a yoga class that incorporates a broad range of poses, including standing postures, forward and backward bends, inverted postures, and deep rhythmic breathing, at least three days a week.

Serve More Dishes

Spaniards traditionally eat small meals made up of several courses known as tapas. Varying tastes and textures is more satisfying and provides more nutrients than eating only a few foods, says Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., director of the nutritional sciences program at the University of Washington in Seattle. For a similar effect, serve a simple multicourse meal consisting of a cup of minestrone, a fish fillet with cooked greens, and a salad.

Walk After Dinner

Strolling after a big meal is a major reason why people in France, Germany, and other European countries stay trim, says Gifford. Besides burning calories, “it helps the [digestive] juices flow,” he says. Plopping down after dinner, on the other hand, may cause bloating because it compresses your stomach and intestines. Even if you only tour the block, aim to move your legs after dinner each night.

Resist Oversize Portions

If you ordered the original size of McDonald’s french fries in the mid-1950s, you would have gotten one-third the amount of the largest size available in 2001, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) this year. This is just one example of how American food portions have grown. But you won’t find the same trend overseas. European fast-food containers are about one-third smaller than ours, according to Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., chair of the nutrition department at New York University in New York City and co-author of the AJPH study. Order the smallest soda or fries, split an entree, or, better yet, favor restaurants that serve moderate portions.

Eat Trail Mix

A fistful of raisins and peanuts won’t just propel you up a mountain. It may help you lose weight. Slender citizens of countries from Brazil to Egypt to China traditionally ate small handfuls of dried fruit and nuts, says Gifford. Compared to many packaged snacks, this option is lower in calories and satisfies you for a longer time. Try dried apricots and almonds, dried mangoes and Brazil nuts, and dried figs and walnuts. But be moderate. Eat no more than an ounce of nuts (like 10 whole almonds) at a time.

Garage Your Car

On average, French women over age 50 are substantially thinner than their American counterparts, according to Drewnowski’s research. Why? “I believe it is [because the French are] walking, not relying on their cars, and taking public transportation,” he says. Adding walking to your commute or doing more errands on foot will automatically increase your calorie burn.

Don’t Fear Carbohydrates

Many cultures have shown that you can base your cuisine on a whole grain and not have weight problems. Corn, rice, wheat, quinoa, teff, and other grains provide steady energy and filling fiber. Feel free to eat these grains and foods made from whole-grain flours, like whole-wheat tortillas, says Gifford. But avoid foods with white flour. They can raise your level of insulin, a hormone that signals your body to store carbohydrates as fat.

Dine Seated

Other cultures consume most of their daily calories in three sit-down meals. If you do too, you’ll feel satisfied enough to avoid all-day grazing, which can supply more calories than you realize, says Drewnowski. Not eating on the run or relying on convenience foods is a huge challenge for Americans, acknowledges McManus. But we shouldn’t give up on the challenge, because taking time to prepare and savor our food as traditional cultures do helps ensure good health.

Easy Steps to Lose 10lbs by Summer’s End

Generally, to lose a pound of body fat, you need to burn (or not eat) 3,500 calories. If you make these four changes, you can shed 10 pounds by the end of the summer.

1 Oil Your Veggies

What to Do: Substitute 1 cup of tomatoes, steamed spinach, or grilled asparagus drizzled with 1 teaspoon olive oil (about 80 calories) for a 300-calorie starch, like a baked potato or two slices of Italian bread with 2 teaspoons butter. What You’ll Lose in 3 Months: 19,800 calories, or about 5.6 pounds of fat.

2 Walk After Dinner

What to Do: Walk briskly for 15 minutes every night after dinner (a 140-pound person would burn about 82 calories). What You’ll Lose in 3 Months: 7,380 calories, or about 2.1 pounds of fat.

3 Resist Oversize Portions

What to Do: Split a plate every time you go out to eat. For example, halve the Olive Garden’s 730-calorie Shrimp Primavera or the Cheesecake Factory’s 1,560-calorie carrot cake. What You’ll Lose in 3 Months: It depends. But if you dine out six times this summer, sharing dishes like these can save you 2,190 to 4,680 calories, or about 0.6 to 1.3 pounds of fat.

4 Eat Trail Mix

What to Do: Five days a week, replace a 250-calorie snack, like 1 ounce of pretzels and a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, with 10 roasted almonds and 5 dried apricot halves (120 calories). What You’ll Lose in 3 Months: 7,800 calories, or about 2.2 pounds of fat.

Daphna Caperonis, a senior editor at Natural Health, walks 2 miles to work and has adopted her Greek grandfather’s snack of dried figs and walnuts.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Weider Publications

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group