Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with a fitness friend. What I admire most about her is her intelligence and her drive toward excellence. She is a joy to coach and her positive energy is infectious. Jamie is fluent in the Spanish language and culture. I had the privilege to sit down with her and absorb some enlightening information about her trip to Spain. As we were talking, I asked her if she would mind sharing a small piece of her travel story and how it now transcends into her daily life. The following in an article by Jamie, for Habitude Fitness.
*Buen provecho is the Spanish equivalent to bon appétit.
I had a roommate in college who wasn’t in the healthiest of relationships. The trouble was that she just didn’t see it. As an outsider, I could see it for what it was: a crummy, harmful relationship. Sometimes, to really be able to see something clearly, you have to step outside it.
While my views on food and nutrition have certainly evolved over the years, there is one specific factor that sticks out in my mind that truly changed my view on food forever. In 2008, I stepped out of America, and I took a trip to Spain.
Experiencing Spanish food was enlightening to say the least. Over the course of the trip, I began to realize how impoverished the typical American diet really is. It became increasingly clear to me that in America, we value convenience over quality. An excellent example of this is bread. In America, bread will stay “fresh” for three weeks. Think about that. There are very few real foods that will stay fresh for three weeks. (By real foods, I mean foods that haven’t been manipulated in any way. For example, a potato = real food. A potato chip = not real food). In Spain, people go to the bakery and buy bread every day. It isn’t because they don’t have the knowledge or capacity to make bread that lasts longer. It’s because they value the authenticity of the bread and the quality of food. Bread isn’t supposed to last three weeks. But in America it does because we gladly consume copious amounts of preservatives if it means that food becomes more convenient.
I also noticed some missing words in Spain: low-fat, fat-free, reduced-sodium, low-calorie, sugar-free, and low-carb. They simply don’t exist. Spaniards eat real food. Not to say they have a “clean” diet, but it’s a heck of a lot cleaner than the American diet. They eat real bread, meat, fat, wine, carbs, whole milk, rice, and cheese. What they eat a whole lot less of—processed, refined foods. Their meals are the result of a combination of a few fresh ingredients tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, vegetables, meat, a starch, and fresh herbs and spices.
The obesity rate in Spain is 26.6%*, compared to the United States at 33.0%*. Not that great of a difference, huh? About 6.4%. Wouldn’t you think that in the U.S. the number would be way lower? I mean we have all of these great food creations aimed at helping the masses lose weight. (Why eat fruit when you can consume single-serving “100-calorie pack” fruit pastries?!) Or is America’s obsession with being “healthy” taken us so far off course that we can’t identify what’s important anymore? We’ve lost the ability to see the proverbial tree in the forest.
So what does all of this mean for those of us here in America who are consciously trying to make good decisions about what we put into our bodies? It means it’s time to analyze our own views on food. On the Likert scale of nutrition, where do you fall? As with everything in life, perspective is everything. A person who may consider themselves a “very healthy” eater may be voraciously consuming Reduced Fat Oreos and Diet Coke by the gallon on a daily basis. Shift your perspective to the amount of real foods in your diet. Where do you stand?
Very real | Somewhat real | A little bit of both | Mostly unreal | Very unreal
Now, no one can be 100% perfect all the time. But, just caring and taking the time to think about your food choices is a fantastic start. From there, you will start making better food choices and you’ll start moving more and more towards “very real.” My rule of thumb is that if an ingredient on the package isn’t something I would cook with, then it isn’t worth putting in my body. When was the last time you went to the grocery store looking to buy some potassium benzoate? Or the last time you told your husband to grab some extra dimethyl dicarbonate for tonight’s dinner? Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?
Finally, this post is not meant to make you feel like a nutritional failure! But rather to bring awareness to what we, as Americans, consume and how our diet is different from that of other countries. At the end of the day, we are all works-in-progress. For me personally, I feel that in order to continue progressing, I need to play an active role in my life and make the decisions that will make me the best possible version of ME. One meal, one workout, one day at a time.
Note: If you would like to research a cleaner approach to eating, I suggest reading any of the Clean Eating books by Tosca Reno.
Many thanks to Jamie, my workout buddy and good friend! Is anyone else itching to travel…?!
*Sources: http://www.who.int/nmh/countries/esp_en.pdf, http://www.who.int/nmh/countries/usa_en.pdf