Hello friends! Long time no post – life has been crazy for me lately! I graduated from Ohio State’s Medical Dietetics program in May, studied for my RD exam and passed in June, then headed to Europe in mid-June for 29 days. Along with 3 of my best friends, I backpacked through 7 different countries and 10 different cities (Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Split, Venice, Rome, Cinque Terre, Pisa, and Paris).
Europe was absolutely incredible – the food, the sights, the history, and the people J There is something incredibly refreshing about stepping out of your comfort zone into a completely different world. So often I feel that we get caught up in our everyday lives that we forget what else is out there! Traveling is one of my favorite things to do and definitely a passion of mine. More than anything, I love to see how other people live their lives. Spending 29 days in Europe, I noticed Europeans’ take on health. These are the 6 points that stood out to me the most:
1. Time for R&R
In almost every city, I noticed that many shops and restaurants closed after lunch time in the mid-afternoon. I came to find out that many workplaces have “siesta” in the afternoon – which is a time for relaxation and a break from the work day. While I realize most workplaces in the US do not follow this schedule, I think we can still learn something from it. This time for relaxation is key to re-charging both our minds and our bodies. Setting aside even a few minutes every day to take care of yourself can be incredibly rewarding.
2. There’s No Need to Fear Foods
In Europe, very rarely do you find that people avoid certain food groups for “health” reasons. Gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, whole 30 approved, etc. are terms that are few and far between. Each food group can serve its purpose in a healthy diet. Stressing over the tiny details rather than focusing on food as fuel as a whole is something I think Americans could improve. *P.S. I absolutely believe gluten-free/dairy-free options are important for individuals with food allergies, I just want to make the point for the average, healthy individual*
3. Moderation, Not Deprivation
“Moderation” is something you hear all the time – but I believe it is one of the best ways to view healthy eating. The Europeans sure do enjoy the yummy things we tend to demonize: bread, butter, pastries, gelato, cheese, etc. However, they do not enjoy them in excess. While I, as a dietitian, would recommend consuming certain foods more often than others, it is also very important to listen to your body. Like I mentioned previously, ALL foods can fit in a healthy, balanced diet.
4. Meal Time is for Friends + Family
Going out to dinner is somewhat of an ordeal in many European countries. Typically, families are in the restaurant much longer than I’ve noticed in the States. Servers typically do not interrupt to bring the bill and usually you must ask to have the bill brought to you – or else they will let you sit there for hours! Most people view meals as quality time spent with loved ones. This stresses the importance of your environment in which you eat. Often, scarfing down lunch in the car is an everyday thing for many people. While this is unavoidable some days (believe me, I’ve done it too), it is important to sit down at a table and eat meals with others, whether it be family, friends, roommates, significant others, etc.
5. Movement for Enjoyment
Gyms were few and far between in many areas that we visited. Trust me, I am the first one to advocate for workouts in a gym (it’s one of my favorite things to do), but it doesn’t work for some people. Due to the abundance of public transportation in Europe, many people walk to subways, trains, or busses. Riding bikes to get around is a common sight in many cities, as well. Although we cannot change our public transportation system, we can change the way in which we go about our days. Choosing to walk or ride a bike if the distance is doable rather than driving is a good way to exercise without feeling like you are. Finding something that you enjoy doing is key to make exercise a sustainable activity in your day-to-day life.
6. Overall = LESS stress!
I think all of these points boil down to one point: less stress! Stress (AKA cortisol in the body) can make a huge (and often unrecognized) impact on our health. I think as a whole, Americans can work on trying to reduce stress when it comes to everything in life – including food, exercising, work, and life in general! What you eat, when you eat, how much you exercise, how fast you can do something – it all matters, but not at the scale that we make it to be. The best advice I could give is to fuel your body with wholesome, nutritious foods (as well as greasy pizza on occasion), move in a way that you enjoy, and make time for you!