As an American with a wide cultural background and lots of traveling and living abroad experience, I have always been amazed at how much rich foods European men and women eat and yet remain so slim.
We’ve all heard that French women don’t get fat, but my experience in the Netherlands has shown me that Dutch women don’t get fat either.
After moving to the Netherlands and adapting to the culture here, I quickly figured out why: Lifestyle.
What is it about Europeans that allows them to break almost every dieting rule ever written and still remain so slim?
They eat almost nothing but carbs, have their last meal way after 7pm, drink real milk, eat real mayonnaise, have dessert after at least one of their three meals… You know, all those things they tell you NOT to do when watching your waistline!
And yet, we in America with all of our diets and weight loss aids, a plethora of lite, reduced-fat, and fat-free foods are the ones who are overweight.
The answer is very simple and very logical, yet always overlooked because it is so simple (not to mention it actually takes work).
Of the 3 other countries in which I’ve lived, there’s only one that I have enough experience in to actually speak with any sort of authority: Holland. I moved here early December 2008 after marrying a Dutchman.
My first several months here, I drank several cups of tea and coffee per day sweetened with pure sugar. I went from skim milk to halfvolle (“half full” or “half whole”). Every night after dinner, my husband and I would have dessert: ice cream, custard, pudding, etc. Every night we’d watch a movie and polish off a bag of M&Ms between the two of us.
I was introduced to all the Dutch treats. Patat: a large cone filled with fat Flemish fries, smothered in whatever topping you choose. Most Dutch just go for plain mayonnaise, but curry and peanut sauce are also popular. My favorite: a mix of mayonnaise, peanut sauce, and onion called Patat Oorloog, or “fries war.” Ollieballen: a New Year’s treat. It literally means “oil balls.” You take it from there. Bitterballen: God only knows what’s in it, but it’s some sort of meat mixture that’s fried. Speculaas: a spice cookie. Eirekoeken: some sort of bread/cookie thing that resembles angel food cake in texture. Hagelslag: sprinkles that come in all sorts of flavors. Chocolate’s the winner in my book. Vla: a custard pudding. You get the idea.
Do you know how much weight I gained? None. Zip. Zilch. Nil. Not a single inch, kilo, or pound (until my mom came over and lavished us with Easter candy…). Cool, huh? You’re probably wondering how I was able to pull this off… In one word: fiets.
Fiets is Dutch for bike. The Dutch are nuts about their bikes. In the city I live in, they have the traffic lights rigged so you can pretty much expect every light you arrive at to be red. The hope is that this will motivate more people to use their bikes or public transportation. There are bike paths literally everywhere complete with special bike traffic lights and road rules.
A Dutchie utilizes all parts of the two-wheeled contraption: the baggage carrier on the back, the handle bars, they add baskets and bicycle bags, attach baby seats and wagons – anything you can imagine. They carry everything from fresh flowers, to several of their buddies, to furniture.
Families travel on vacation by bike and many Cloggies can even ride without using the handle bars at all! Since being here, I have accomplished riding a bike in heels, with my dog Turner on the leash, with ridiculous amounts of cargo, while talking and texting on my cell, and while holding an umbrella against deadly winds and pelting rain. I cycle to my classes, I cycle into town, I cycle to my friends’ places, meetings, the dentist, the train station, and to work.
But of course, I don’t attribute it all to my bike (her name’s Bonnie, by the way).
The title for this post comes from the title of the recent popular book by Mireille Guiliano, French Women Don’t Get Fat.
What’s the weight situation in your new country? Have you found your eating and exercise habits improving… or not so much?
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