Where Is The Data Behind Slim Europeans & People Traveling There?:
He said one of the things he noticed is his friends come back from trips to Europe weighing less than they did at home.
Unfortunately, the next few questions he asked were on whether or not people have any data to back this up.
As far as I know, there isn’t a lot in study-land, only “anecdata” from friends and associates.
So to aggregate a few things, including info from friends who are from the EU, I’ve created a list of all the main answers and studies I could find here…
The Short Answer:
- The answer could be as simple as Americans who eat bigger portion sizes and get less daily exercise.
- There is no one definitive answer, but that could be close.
- Many other factors with data behind them might come into play.
- The major ones are listed below in the Table Of Contents.
- For this entry, that’s probably the best way to navigate anything fancier and more interesting than calories-in, calories-out.
- Thanks again to Sam for asking a great question.
Read on to find out the details…
→ Table Of Contents ←
- 1) Less Sitting And More Walking:
- 1a) What The Walking & Standing Differences Look Like In Numbers
- 2) Bigger Portion Sizes = More Plates, Less Dates::
- 3) Eating Meals For Euros Is All A Part Of A Curated System:
- 4) Except For Breakfast, They Also Take Their Time:
- 5) The Euros Use Internal Fullness Cues Not External Ones:
- 6) No Snacking Or You’ll Ruin Your Appetite!:
- 7) Everything’s Bigger In The US, Including The Calories!:
- 8) Food Science. The Euros Don’t Use Much Omega 6 Seed Oils:
- 9) More Science. EU Food Safety Regs Ban More Items Than US Ones:
- 10) No Dessert If You Don’t Eat Your Vegetables!:
- 11) Europe Is Also The Fresh Food Capital Of The World:
- 12) One Last Idea. What If It’s Also Psychology & Tourists Just De-Stress?:
- X) In Closing. Great Question Sam!:
- References & Links:
Let’s face it, not only is the US rate of obesity at 42%, and being overweight at 31%,
The CDC is basically begging people to get any exercise they can.
But even fit people in the US probably sit for at least 8 hours a day working.
There’s no data on this, but I’d imagine that it’s a lot less than that while on vacation.
UPD: Rick Steves’ forums users say 6-8 miles/day, or 12,700-18,000 steps/day, depending on stride.
Also everywhere you go in the EU, it’s built for walking.
For the average male, this means ~200 more calories/day burned by the Euros, [UPD:] and almost 800/day more for an American tourist there.
And unless they’re on the tour bus, people on vacation are likely to spend a lot more time walking (and standing) than they realize because they’re distracted by all the sights to see.
The standing part alone could add up to ~50 extra calories burned per day.
One thing you’ll also hear from Europeans who’ve seen our food is that the portion sizes are huge.
So going the other way, Americans traveling to the EU may get the impression they’re eating a lot, but it’s probably not true.
For example, according to research cited by The Infographics Archive, the average portion size in Paris is 25% smaller than in the US.
And our portion sizes have gotten bigger over time, as well.
A fast-food restaurant meal today is 4 times larger than one in the 1950s.
And to hold all that food? Our plates have gotten larger, and Cornell researchers found Americans will eat everything is put in front of them.
One of the things I learned staying in Europe is that each country has its own meal system that’s been handed down over time.
The same amount of each course is eaten at each meal.
Whether it’s my friend Laurence from France, or the Italian guy in this Quora thread.
Europeans usually eat a very small breakfast of bread or croissant (that’s 50% smaller than the ones we bake here) & jam and a coffee.
Lunch is usually bigger, and dinner is usually smaller than lunch.
At some meals, they’ll go for maximum variety which tricks your brain into thinking you’re fuller than you are.
This is done with small portions of about 4 different plates:
3) Main Dish
4) Small Dessert or 4-6oz pot of yogurt
I have never seen anyone there having any more than 1-2 small slices of baguette with dinner.
Half for the cheese, half for the sauce on the main dish plate.
The other part of eating there is it’s done slowly, which leads to lower rates of overeating and obesity.
Because it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to register you’ve actually eaten something.
Awhile back, Cornell’s Food & Brand Lab did an examination on how the French eat vs. Americans.
What they found was the French used more internal cues for determining fullness.
Whereas Americans used more external ones like, “Is there still food on my plate?”, and “How much are other people eating?”.
Pair that with slower meals, and you get a population of people who are much better at being intuitive eaters.
I have it on good authority from Laurence again that the French system does not involve any snacking at all between meals.
Anything like that is reserved for high-school kids 1x/day, and is pooh-ppohed after about the age of 17.
The same may be true of other countries like Portugal, Spain, and Italy.
This also means lower intake of Ultra-Processed Foods
If you go back to point 2), you could also guess that bigger plates & a “Clean Plate Club”-mentality for ‘Muricans equals more calories.
And you’d be right.
There are several sources out there, but the average daily calories for an American is somewhere around ~3,800.
For the average of the bigger EU countries, it’s closer to about ~3,500, a difference of almost 10% every frickin’ day.
1) The daily calorie allowance for the average adult is ~2,000
2) That ~300 calorie difference is equal to an average American male riding a stationary bike at moderate pace for +/- 30 minutes.
If we look at this map from the “Map Porn” sub-Reddit, we can at least get an idea of what fats & oils the EU uses in cooking.
The only mistake Redditors cite is that Spain uses WAY more olive oil than the map indicates.
And the ranges are backed-up by the UN-FAO study mentioned in this page.
Why does this matter?
Canola oil in particular gets singled out by the EU Food Safety Cops.
The EFSA has at least 10 additives & ingredients that cannot be used in food-production there.
A lot of the reasons make sense when you read about them.
Also, according to this post at XTalks, there are at least 8 American processed-foods that can’t be sold abroad either.
So imagine all the biochemistry-bullets our friends across the pond are dodging because of the EFSA.
It looks like Europeans consume anywhere from as little as 6% to as much as 25% more vegeables than Americans.
With all the fullness of low calorie-density and fiber, there’s a chance that anyone eating in Europe will get better nutrition and fewer calories/day just because of this difference.
One thing that isn’t an anecdote is small amounts of microbes on produce can be a good thing.
We learned this in The Hygiene Hypothesis.
Well, there’s a good chance that Europe has a lot more farmer’s markets supplying all kinds of ingredients for what they eat.
As a result, they probably get more beneficial microbes in their food that help with things like inflammation & digestion.
Because if UMN found that immigration to the US quickly ruins your gut microbes, why couldn’t they get better when Americans go to Europe?
The simple idea here is that elevated stress hormones are associated with inflammation and abdominal obesity.
So what if going to a new place and having things together enough where you can just check-out of your job and current responsibilities isn’t just a change of scene, but a huge weight off your shoulders.
-That then takes away some weight in your middle?
So Sam’s thoughts were a great reminder and inspiration.
Even though some EU members are not as healthy as others, I think the idea is still a great one.
That’s changed and it’s now the Brits.
But hopefully, we can make this a “living document” that gets updated & tweaked from time-to-time.
I hope you had as much fun here as I did!
Until next time, take notes on those slim Europeans and take good care of yourselves, too!
Special Thanks: Laurence E. from France for answering all my nerdy questions about the French nutrition & meal system.
• Source: Sam Parr on Twitter
• Data & Study Sources (the short version):
•Rick Steves Forums
•CDC – US Body Stats
•SportsMed – Outdoor Walking Speeds of Apparently Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
•WebMD Exercise Calorie Calculator
•PubMed – Energy expenditure differences across lying, sitting, and standing positions in young healthy adults
•HT – The Clean Plate Club
•Giuliano Janson, Quora
•HT – Eating Too Fast & Obesity
•Cornell, How French & Americans Eat [Archived]
•HT – How To Become An Intuitive Eater, (Megapost, honestly)
•HT – Ultra-Processed Foods
•Wikipedia – Daily Calorie Intake By Country
•Reddit,MapPorn – Use of cooking fats in Europe
•Cureus – Dietary Omega-6/Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA) and Omega-3 Are Associated With General and Abdominal Obesity in Adults: UK National Diet and Nutritional Survey
•EFSA – Canola Concerns
•RegAsk – Banned Additives
•Nutrients – Global Vegetable Intake and Supply Compared to Recommendations: A Systematic Review
•HT – Hygiene Hypothesis
•NeuroBioDis – Ethanol exposure alters Alzheimer’s-related pathology, behavior, and metabolism in APP/PS1 mice
•UMN – The microbiome of immigration
•CurrObeseRep – Effects of Chronic Social Stress on Obesity
•Spiegel – Germans [Were] Fat
•OECD – Fat Brits