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The Secrets to How Europeans Stay Thin

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Traditional Italian fruit and vegetable stand.

Traditional Italian fruit and vegetable stand.

I Have Two Little Secrets to Confess

  1. I love good food.
  2. I love fine wine.

As a full-time historical fiction author, most of my time is spent sitting in front of a computer. My former job as a gastronomic tour guide put me in constant contact with delicious, tasty treats and wonderful Tuscan cuisine.

I cook often and have published many food articles and recipes. Food is an extremely important aspect of my life. The number one question I get asked by people when they visit Florence is:

How do you stay so thin?

Travelers and tourists seldom fail to notice that there are not many fat people in Europe. Despite all the incredible food that is available here, the obesity percentage is much lower than in other countries like the U.S. and U.K.

People marvel at the fact that many Europeans stay fit and slim well into their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

I do not have a high metabolism. On the contrary! If I don't keep an eye on my diet and lifestyle, I will quickly gain weight (and it seems to go straight to my hips and thighs, just like most women). I don't smoke, nor do I overindulge in coffee (usually one espresso in the morning, maybe another later in the day). I don't have a tapeworm, either.

So, what's my secret to keeping slim?

Healthy seasonal vegetables.

Healthy seasonal vegetables.

Secret 1: Mediterranean Diet

My entire family comes from Portugal (Azores) and I was raised to embrace my cultural heritage, especially when it came to food.

Learning From My Parents' Habits

My mother purchased seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, used a lot of high-quality olive oil, and made everything from scratch. My sisters and I were raised in the U.S., yet we rarely ate junk food.

My father is the perfect example of how most Europeans eat on a daily basis. Every morning, his breakfast consisted of toast with cheese and a cup of coffee. He would leave work at noon to come home for lunch, sit at the dining table and eat a full meal (complete with a glass of red wine) before returning to work. Dinner was the same time each night (6 pm) and he would have another proper meal (usually with another glass of wine). No snacks in between, no junk food, just three good meals a day.

My father has always been very active. He walked to work, rode his bicycle a lot, worked in the yard (we had a full garden, including a grapevine), and was always fixing something around the house. He is now over 75 years old and he's still fit, healthy, and very active.

Fortunately, I have retained the eating and drinking habits that I learned as a child. Sometimes, my tour participants would appear a bit shocked when I informed them that I was introduced to wine in my early teens and taught that it was meant to be appreciated with food. I'd like to add that I never abused alcohol because it was really no big deal when I turned 21 (the legal age for drinking alcohol in the U.S.).

Healthy Beverages

In addition to drinking wine on regular basis, I drink a lot of water throughout the day. I also consume green and herbal teas, and a bit of natural fruit juice. I do NOT drink any prepackaged sugary beverages or soft drinks since both are full of nasty chemicals, artificial colorants, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.

Balanced, Fresh Foods

When it comes to food, my husband and I are omnivores. We don't eat meat every day, however. I like to prepare vegetarian meals about three times per week. I don't eat any frozen dinners or industrial, prepackaged foods due to their high sodium and fat content. I don't eat canned soups, canned meats (except for some tuna in spring water), or so-called "foods" that are wrapped in plastic with unusually long expiration dates (real food decomposes and rots).

Nothing Low Fat or Artificial

It may surprise some of you readers that I also don't eat anything that is labeled "fat-free" or "low-fat." My morning yogurt has all the fat and creaminess that is so good for my hair, skin, and nails (let's not forget my taste buds, too). I only use real butter for baking and real sugar—no fake stuff! I avoid margarine, artificial sweeteners, and basically anything that is man-made.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

My best friend in the kitchen is extra virgin olive oil, which I drizzle on everything, especially salads since I never use bottled dressings. My husband and I consume one liter of extra virgin olive oil every 2 to 3 weeks. Remember, only eat it raw because if you heat it up, it will ruin all the health benefits!

Eating Seasonal

My soups, sauces, cakes—just about everything—are made fresh from scratch. Since I work, most of my recipes are quick and easy. I follow a seasonal diet, eating the freshest produce I can find at the local market. My midday meal is my biggest meal of the day, I don't usually eat between meals, and I never eat late dinners or have fattening treats before bedtime. I try to control my portions, eating enough to satisfy my hunger and stopping when I am full.

It takes a bit more time and effort to make everything from scratch, but it is so worth it. Not only does it keep me at a healthy weight, but it also keeps me healthy. My last blood exam was great: sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure—all normal. To me, being healthy is my most valuable asset. Without good health, you cannot enjoy your life!

Don't deprive yourself of treats. Just eat them in moderation.

Don't deprive yourself of treats. Just eat them in moderation.

Secret 2: Active Lifestyle

Notice that I didn't write "exercise." To be honest with you, I really don't like that word at all. When I lived in the U.S., I maintained memberships at health clubs for more than 10 years. Like many of you, I packed a gym bag, got in my car, drove several miles to the gym, changed into my workout gear, worked out (many times self-consciously enduring unwanted attention), and then finally ended the whole unpleasant affair with an even more unpleasant communal shower experience. Ugh!

I tried to convince myself that I liked going to the gym while I sprayed disinfectant and wiped some other person's sweat off the weight bench so that I could use it next (disgusting). I have had my fill of the gym and of all the aerobic workout videos, too. I hate them all. Wow, it feels great to just admit that publicly!

Ditching My Car

When I left the U.S. to live abroad, I also left my car. You know what? It's one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. True, it is inconvenient at times, but the benefits of not owning a car outweigh the disadvantages. No maintenance or fuel costs, no expensive insurance coverage, and no more searching or paying for a parking space. It's one less material thing in my life to stress over or to pollute the environment with, and to me, that is important.

Walking Everywhere

I walk just about everywhere, and if there is a place that is too far to walk, I will take a bus or train. It's really that easy. I walk to the grocery store and carry my bags home, which naturally keeps my arms toned. The Palazzo where I live does not have an elevator, so I climb up and down almost 50 steps (more than once a day), which keeps my butt and legs toned. Hopefully, I can defy gravity for a few more years!

Walking in green spaces is crucial to my sanity and emotional health, so I try to do a daily 40-50 minute walk. Sometimes, if I feel like it, I'll do some stomach crunches after I stretch. No set routine, no disciplined regimen, just when I feel the need. In short, I have designed a lifestyle for myself that keeps me in shape whether I like it or not. I'm forced to walk, forced to climb, forced to carry, so every day I am working out and don't think of it! My world has become my gym.

Small Changes Add Up to Big Differences

What you eat, what you drink, how you live—all of these factors contribute to your weight and your health. It's really all about choices, isn't it? Ditch the diet food and choose the delicious tastes of fat and sugar, but don't eat them all the time. Have them once in a while, in moderation.

Choose to walk or take the stairs whenever possible. Choose to eat fresh vegetables and fruits instead of prepackaged, industrialized junk food. Choose to drink a glass of wine with your meal instead of a soft drink (red wine is the healthiest for your heart). Choose to drink a lot of water during the day to detoxify yourself and stay hydrated- avoid soft drinks. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil on everything!

These are all small changes that you can easily adapt to your life. In the long run, they will make a big difference!

Note: The advice I have offered is what maintains my healthy weight. If you have a few extra kilos or pounds to shed, then give the Mediterranean diet and an active lifestyle a try (then let me know how things turn out). If you are obese, my advice still applies, but please consult with your physician beforehand.

Thank you for reading!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2010 C De Melo


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 04, 2019:

We could definitely benefit by adopting a Mediterranian-type diet and exercising more. Your points are well taken.

Virginia Billeaud Anderson from Houston, Texas on October 04, 2019:

Yep, large quantities of olive oil every day. And plenty nuts!

Ced Yong from Asia on July 17, 2016:

I think the habit of walking whenever there's the opportunity for it is key to great health. So I was told, always make it a habit to stroll for at least 15 minutes after a meal.

Geri McClymont on December 12, 2015:

Great article and great advice! Not having a car was one of the most liberating experiences when I lived overseas, and of course it also resulted in helping me stay fit. I also agree with your comments about eating all foods in moderation. So true and I could not agree more.

mareezy13 on March 21, 2012:

You are so right! I have started to try not buying prepackaged snacks for my family, but popcorn is my biggest downfall. Luckily I got a popcorn maker for Christmas!

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on December 19, 2011:

Wow, you make me feel so guilty! I should really start paying more attention to what I eat. I also realize that it is not a good idea to fight my sugar addiction with artificial sweeteners.

C De Melo (author) on December 10, 2011:

Thanks for your comment, Veronica, I really appreciate your feedback. It is definitely good advice. Maybe I should post a photo of my 70+ year old father- he looks AMAZING and is in such great shape. Mediterranean diet WORKS :)

Veronica Roberts from Ohio, USA on December 10, 2011:

I really enjoyed this hub, and your sincere honesty and wit along with it. You've got it right, and I hope that others follow in your footsteps.

It's sad, to me, how busy, but lazy us Americans are (as a whole). I sometimes feel it'd be easier to be somewhere where I could walk or bike everywhere that I need to go, have a garden (or at least a market nearby), & parks within walking distance. Maybe one day... =]

I, too, hate gyms, and decided to make my own in my upstairs office. It's been so much easier to go at my own pace, and not feel stressed about time or other people. I've found the more pressure I put on myself to maintain a certain regime, the more resistance I have to really do it. I'm with you on that one!

I agree, though, that it is entirely up to us what we put in to our bodies!

Great advice!

C De Melo (author) on January 04, 2011:

UrsulaRose, I totally agree that food is our FRIEND! It´s all about moderation. Brava!

UrsulaRose on January 01, 2011:

Fabulous Hubpage full of extremely useful information.

Food is to be enjoyed and savoured for all of its idiosyncrasies.

Food is not our enemy but our friend if consumed in moderation as anything done in excess cannot be good for us in the long run.

C De Melo (author) on November 05, 2010:

Thanks, Jai Warren...and in no way do you look like your in your 50s in this photo. NO WAY!!! Wow. My compliments, Bravo!!!

Jai Warren from Dallas, Deep Ellum, Texas on November 04, 2010:

Extremely good advice. Eating healthy and getting regular exercise is the key to staying fit. You could call me a "fanatic" of both. I'm well into my fifties and weigh less than I did in high school... a lot of work, but well worth it!

Enjoyed this, Ciao!

BTW C, if you want to link all of your Hubs (i.e. food, travel, health), in edit mode, add a link capsule. It let's you direct your readers to similar Hubs by you.

lose weight product on October 25, 2010:

Yes, those are zucchini flowers. Very delicious. Have you tried them before? Here, there are many ways to make them, like dipping in light batter and frying, or even stuffing them. - lose weight product.

C De Melo (author) on October 23, 2010:

@Trinsick- my parents live in Florida now and there are hardly any sidewalks, and I think THAT is crazy! Walking is the most natural thing in the world. Our bodies are machines, if we don't use them, they break down. I've never been to Denmark, but I hear it's nice.

@Ingenira- I eat many things for dinner. Sometimes, a plate of risotto or pasta, sometimes a piece of grilled meat and veggies, maybe a pizza. If I am REALLY lazy, I'll get fresh baked bread, good cheese, wine and a salad. My heaviest meal is midday, so I don't eat too much at night.

Thank you both very much for your comments, I appreciate them! xoxo

Ingenira on October 22, 2010:

Love what you wrote. :)

I have known some Germans who only take one or two slices of bread or buns, and some fruits for dinner. What do you eat for dinner ?

Trinsick from Cali on October 22, 2010:

I lived in Denmark for a while and the active lifestyle part was true, they walk and bike everywhere. If someone in the U.S. does that we think they're crazy.

C De Melo (author) on October 22, 2010:

Ciao, thejovial.

Brava! Yes, those are zucchini flowers. Very delicious. Have you tried them before? Here, there are many ways to make them, like dipping in light batter and frying, or even stuffing them :)

thejovial from United States on October 22, 2010:

In that big picture, is that the flower from squash leaves?

C De Melo (author) on October 20, 2010:

quuenieproac, thanks for your comment! Greens are so good for you and the Mediterranean diet has been medically proven to be one of the healthiest (and delicious) :)

quuenieproac from Malaysia on October 20, 2010:

I need to follow your Medit diet, more and more greens.

Good health tips. Thanks.

C De Melo (author) on October 20, 2010:

Thanks for your comment, INFJay! Funny, I just had a couple from San Francisco on my tour a few days ago and they said that they went from 2 cars to 1 and that they walk a lot more now. I think that's excellent. I have only seen S.F. in the movies, but I hear it's a very nice, trendy and beautiful city!

Jay Manriquez from Santa Rosa, California on October 20, 2010:

Well said! So true too about not having a car. When my wife and three children moved to San Francisco, we gave up the car and what a lifestyle change that was for us. We walked everywhere. When we went grocery shopping, we walked. We were very active and we formed healthy habits that have served us in later years. I look forward to reading more of your work.

C De Melo (author) on October 19, 2010:

Thanks to Jimmy Fuentes and makamkaki for your comments. Jimmy: YES, the portions are smaller here. Also, they never put everything on the same plate. First course is either soup, pasta or risotto and the second course is your meat and vegetable. There is a pause in between courses. Perhaps this helps digestion?

makamkaki from malaysia on October 19, 2010:

wow.. there is a lot of information. thanks you.. - lose weight product.

Jimmy Fuentes from Rancho Cucamonga on October 18, 2010:

Great hub. Enjoyable to read. I had also read somewhere that part of they way they tend to remain thin is that their portions are significantly smaller than the U.S belt-busting portion sizes.

C De Melo (author) on October 15, 2010:

Thanks Cedar Grove Farm and WebsiteDesigner for your comments!

WebsiteDesigner on October 15, 2010:

Mmmm! Those veggies look so good! Great advice!

Cedar Cove Farm from Southern Missouri on October 14, 2010:

Some worthy advice, thanks.