South Americans are some of the sexiest and fittest people in the world.
When you think of European or Brazilian beaches, you automatically think of the most gorgeous people in the world (or old guys in speedos…eeww). It’s true, though. When I was in South America, even though I didn’t see a beach, I saw the most number of fit people per capita than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. Didn’t see that many speedos though…
It’s also not a secret that the US is one of the fattest countries in the world. So when my Paraguayan wife came into town for the first time, I took the opportunity to ask her what are some habits she has seen that make us fat? She had some interesting things to say.
Eat smaller portions
The very first thing she said was that our portion sizes are very “exaggerated”. Our plates are bigger, and therefore our portions are bigger. When I took her to our first restaurant, she was shocked at the size of the appetizer. She barely touched her main dish, and she ate from it for three days.
If we want to start learning how to eat like thin people, portions are probably the first places we should look.
Move around more
While I lived in Paraguay, we walked everywhere. When we went to the store, we walked. When we went souvenir shopping, we walked. When I went to school or church, I walked. We walked in the plaza while we talked about our relationship. We walked to visit friends. We even walked 4 kilometers to our honeymoon resort – uphill (after the bus dropped us off). We had to; we didn’t have a car.
Here in the US, I sit behind a desk. I sit in my car. I sit on the couch. I lay in bed. I don’t move around much unless I work it into my day. After eating right, moving around more is the best thing we can do for our bodies.
Drink more water
It’s easy to drink tons of water in South America for one simple reason: it’s flipping hot. I was always sucking back water. I’m sure I went through 4 liters every day. For whatever reason here it’s a lot more difficult for me to drink that much water. I’m doing it now, and it’s slowly becoming a habit, and I actually know what thirst feels like. But it’s a challenge.
Lots of people drink lots of things that they want to use instead of water: diet teas, diet sodas, regular teas and sodas, juice. But let me ask you: do you sweat diet tea? Does your body benefit from the artificial sweeteners? Water is hands down the best liquid you can put into your system. Drop the Crystal Lite and pick up a cup of tap water (heck, it’s even cheaper).
Water has more benefits than we realize, and I am going to explore that in another article soon.
Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
With grapefruit, lemon, orange, and mango trees growing like weeds in my wife’s yard, it was easy for them to eat a lot of fruit (mangoes were so abundant they were considered the poor man’s fruit, and her family is not rich). There was always some kind of jugo natural (freshly squeezed fruit juice), and each meal had some type of fresh vegetable. They are staples, and you don’t even have to trick kids into eating them!
On 4HB, I don’t eat that much fruit regularly, but I eat a ton more vegetables. The fact is when I’m eating vegetables, I feel fuller and more satisfied. I don’t crave sugary stuff that much because I’m too busy eating broccoli. My favorite part about vegetables is you can eat a whole pile of them and you’ve barely reached 70 calories.
Avoid preservatives and processed foods
Eating organic is almost the modus operandi in Paraguay. The fruit and vegetables are almost all organic, no preservatives. The beef is almost all organic AND grass fed (yes, it does taste different…it’s called “more delicious”). Lots and lots of people make their own bread in the brick ovens they have in their back yards. Several of our neighbors had (free-range) chickens they used for eggs and occasionally dinner.
At least where I was, the food was just fresher, and you could taste it. Cookies, crackers, and chips were all more expensive, so they were more luxuries than necessities. Here people say that eating fresh is more expensive. There, that’s not a problem.
Make your food at home
It’s expensive to eat out in Paraguay. McDonald’s, for example, is a luxury. Pizza Hut is fine dining. I’m not even kidding. They use American prices there, so it would be the equivalent of you paying about $20 for a Big Mac meal. There are cheaper, local options, but all the same it’s just more economic to just cook at home.
One of my favorite things about making my own food is knowing exactly what’s in it. Even in “healthy” dishes in a restaurant, who know how much butter, salt, oil, and sugar is in them? Fast food is even worse. Have you ever seen how many calories you get in a Whopper? 650 calories, over 50% coming from fat. Add fries and you’ve topped 1000 for one meal. To keep it in perspective, if you made your own 1/4 lb patty and ate it with a slice of cheddar on a bun, you’ll eat less than 400 calories and only 144 would be from fat.
In addition to the extras, making your food at home makes it easier to use portion control. Yes, I know they have to-go boxes, but if you’re like me you keep eating while you wait, and before you know it you need no to-go box.
Drink more tereré
The last thing she was was that they drink a lot more yerba mate in South America. Tim Ferriss wasn’t the first one to declare it a healthy, slimming drink!
Tereré is just what they call yerba mate when they drink it iced. Drinking it helps beat the heat, but it also helps them cut the fat, they say. It keeps you hydrated, but the yerba also has some really fantastic health benefits. Before meals it’s especially fine because it helps digest your food better. It’s a staple for me during cheat days. They drink this instead of soda, but they also still get their water (you can’t drink yerba with food…it’s either rude or difficult, I’m not sure).
Adopting the lifestyle changes
I’ve heard many times that if I want to be thin, I need to eat like a thin person. I’m glad I have a thin person living with me because she’s really helping me to see how exaggerated I used to be with food and activity. I’m happy to share those things with you, and as I learn more I’ll write more. My hope is that one by one we can make the US a healthier society.
What other tips do you have that you’ve learned from other cultures that are considerably thinner than ours? Especially interesting would be things that are counter to our way of thinking.