Why Americans Don’t Get Thin

The Hidden Factor in Mediterranean Diet Success Since the 2004 publication of Mireille Guiliano's bestseller Why French Women Don't Get Fat, the health benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle have gained widespread recognition from U.S. physicians and nutritionists. The American public, on the other hand, remains skeptical. For the typical American weight watcher, thinness is as a temporary state of grace achieved by a 30-day penance of Slimfast lunches and 5 a.m. boot camp classes. In a culture where The Biggest Losers, liposuction infomercials, and celebrity endorsements of bariatric surgery define the top-shelf weight loss strategies, a simple, natural approach has become a tough sell. Obesity Rates: A Tale of Two Cultures Yet a comparison of the obesity statistics in these three countries’ populations suggests the citizens in Europe’s top two eat-drink-and-be-merry nations are laughing all the way to a wine and cheese party. Italy: 8.5%France: 9.4%U.S.: 30.6%. For many Americans, the numbers just don’t compute. Perhaps native Europeans are genetically hard-wired to avoid overindulging in pasta and pastry. How else could those enviably thin Parisians and Romans get away with an exercise regime that strikes the average American gym rat as a walk in the park? Or maybe it’s something in the air or the water over there. Obviously something is getting lost in translation. Rediscovering the Pleasure Principle In fact, there is something in missing in the American cultural atmosphere that predisposes people to obesity and rapid weight cycling. That elusive missing factor is the very attitude that strikes Americans as a health threat, if not a sin. In France and Italy, every citizen sees enjoyment of the celebrated regional cuisine as his or her birthright. As noted Mediterranean food expert Clifford A. Wright explains: "Mediterranean cuisines developed as a reaction against the monotonous foods of centuries of famine and starvation. The historical progression of Mediterranean culinary culture is a battle of taste over monotony, of life over death." *

The Middle Path to Natural Slenderness and Lasting Youth It’s this sense of entitlement to a bite of la dolce vita that I believe is the secret to avoiding the temptation to overeat and overexercise. In Southern Europe and other Mediterranean cultures, a daily dose of joie de vivre has proven to be the perfect antidote to the body’s instinctive reaction to deprivation.

A lifelong vacation from guilt may strike you as undisciplined, but in fact it’s the exact opposite of losing control and letting yourself go. The key to regaining a healthy relationship with food is the mindful practice of respecting your body’s need and nurturing happy, peaceful mind and spirit.

That’s not to say you should become a coach potato or a junk-food junkie. Instead, strive thoughtfully and continuously for the happy “middle way” between these two unhealthy extremes.

Begin to change slowly, and monitor the effects over time. If you’re achy and exhausted from over-exercising, skip a day or two to restore your energy and motivation. Most important, remind yourself that rest and relaxation have nothing to do with laziness. In fact, you’ll find this more flexible and rational approach will actually help you maintain a regular fitness regime by protecting you against exercise burnout.

Still worried about throwing away your rulebook?  In my next post, I’ll share some suggestions for easing your transition to a naturally beautiful way of life.

*Clifford A. Wright, A Mediterranean Feast (William Morrow, 1999).