Watching My Waistline

Another day, another diet! Sadly, weight-watching has become a permanent facet of my life. I don't think I'd know how to act if I could, as suggested by those in-the-know, eat three balanced meals a day, and NOT gain a ton of weight. Can anybody? I mean, seriously, even when I went to the gym for an hour a day, everyday, I couldn't eat three meals a day and maintain my weight.

As I have a daughter and son-in-law who have both, at one time or another, earned a living as 'certified' personal trainers, I am well aware of the new dietary trends that emphasize balancing carbs (good and bad), fats and proteins. I also understand that there is a timing element to when you eat what, in relationship to how and when you workout. I know there's science behind it all, and if you put in enough effort at the gym and pay enough attention to the factors above, you may indeed look like those beautiful people on TV.

Honestly though, at fifty, I just want to live out the rest of my life, happily eating a little of this and a little of that, when I'm hungry, without ending up in an over sized coffin.

Some people go all in for funky fad diets. Not me. I'm an old-school calorie counter. Back in high school Mom gave me a little book (the kind they sell at the grocery store check-out stand) of calorie counts. At fifteen, I had the entire book memorized. Mom's diet philosophy was to eat healthy foods in smaller portions and no snacking! It works for me!

There was an article in the paper earlier this week that said only about 5% of American children were obese in the 1970s, compared to a whopping 20% today. That's scary, but believable when you consider the convenience and snack food items available today.

Consider also, that prior to the 1970s, more moms were home to monitor what their children ate and when. Sack lunches used to be a staple in American schools. It was Mom's responsibility to make sure that what came out of her kid's lunchbox was nutritious and filling.

My Mom will never live down the cream cheese and date sandwich she packed me in the seventh grade. I had absolutely no idea what those brown things on my sandwich bread were!

After school, kids came home to a parent that supervised snacking and had time to prepare well-balanced home-cooked dinners. I'm actually very grateful that my mother cared enough to help me understand early on, that I can't just eat whatever I want, when I want it, without consequences.

I remember coming home from school in ninth grade and sitting down each day to a bowl of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with mint chocolate chips. Mmmmm. Mom must have noticed my thickening waistline, because she began suggesting that I eat a piece of fruit instead of the ice cream.

Many children today, make their own choices regarding what and how much they want to eat. Grocers shelves are full of boxed and frozen menu items that are easily heated in a toaster or micro-waved by hungry children, in or after school. Giant sized bags of snack-chips, carbonated beverages and candy can be purchased relatively inexpensively at every neighborhood gas-station-convenience store.

Kids and parents alike, are snookered into believing that most of the juice or health beverages they purchase by the case and drink freely in place of water, are nutritious when they are loaded with sugar and sodium. I can still remembering reaching for the coke and hearing my mother say, "Have a glass of water."

While living in Belgium, we were amazed at the difference in European eating habits. Europeans simply do not snack! Therefore, they don't sell a large variety of snack-foods. You can find bags of chips or 'crisps' (seasoned potato chips mostly), but they only sell them in little bags - not lunch-box sized bags - but what they call 'family' sized bags, which are about one third the size of a regular bag of chips here. Trust me, nothing says, "I'm an American," more than walking around a grocery store with a cart full of potato crisps.

Americans have this idea that Europeans top off every meal with a yummy cream-filled pastry or tart. Wrong! They really aren't sweets eaters. Most European cookies are extremely low in sugar and tasteless by American standards. They do sell packaged cookies in the grocery but the selection is very limited. The biggies are chocolate covered marshmallow puffs on little shortbread disks, chocolate covered, cream-filled wafers (like Kit Kats) and little shortbread rounds with a fruit dollop.

Basically, you'll find the same three types of cookie all over continental Europe. The English produce a real treat, ginger lemon-creme sandwich cookies! I used to make a special trip to the British store in Brussels just for the ginger creams.

Perhaps because they don't snack between meals, Europeans eat more heartily than Americans at mealtimes. Don't look for a sandwich on a menu, because they don't have them.

Likewise, don't waste time looking for a restaurant that serves salad. We learned this the hard way while traveling with my aunt who insisted we find a restaurant that served a 'cup of soup and salad' for lunch each day. That sort of thing just doesn't exist. When you sit down for a meal (no lunch counters in Europe), you eat a meal.

I don't know if any of these differences mean anything, but European children don't have the obesity issues that Americans do.

There is one final difference between our cultures that I'm sure impacts personal health. Europeans are walkers! Those people will walk anywhere and everywhere, rain or shine. In fact, baby carriages are sold with clear plastic bubbles to protect from inclement weather.

On my first few visits, I found it bizarre how many people would lazily stroll along city streets and parks in the rain. After six months living in Brussels, I found myself doing the same thing. Why drive two miles to the grocery when you might just as well walk!

Speaking of which, I promised myself I'd turn off the computer at this point and go outside for some fresh air and exercise. After all, I have a date with a beach in California in three weeks. Yikes!

Men's Health Magazine published an article online on March 3, 2010 entitled, The Unhealthiest Salads in America. One of my favorites,
Applebees Oriental Chicken Salad with Oriental Dressing, contains a
hefty 1,430 calories. Whoa!


  1. Love those comparisons between us and the people across the pond.
    One thing I'm extremely grateful for is that my children simply do not just go and "help themselves" whenever they please in the pantry and fridge. Well, at least they don't yet! I'll definitely need to keep reinforcing this behavior as they get older.

    me, on the other hand..., well, I'm a work in progress.

  2. I like the comparison as well. In our house it is a major offense if a certain 5year old even opens the fridge or pantry door without permission. Just like when I was a kid. I hated it then, but today I completely agree with the rule. Setting boundries! What a concept.

  3. I too had set meal times and snacks designated by my mom. But, as my children have gotten older and I am not around after school, I see that they will opt for that quick fast food item and then want to skip dinner altogether! This of course discourages me from eating dinner as well and the bad food cycle continues. I wish I could have done it differently. Oh well, there's always the grandkids to do that for. (Just not any time soon!!! LOL)
    BTW, i don't have a user id so you can call me Blondie222