I’m here in the Mediterranean studying French for a few weeks, and I’ve noticed a lot of nuances in the locals when it comes to food and lifestyle.
Everyone is so healthy, yet they’re leisurely eating, drinking, and even smoking. No one seems concerned about “nutrition” and “exercise” in the American sense. And people are just much more relaxed here.
So what’s their secret? How is everyone so healthy, yet they seem to barely be thinking about it?
There’s a few particular things I’ve noticed that are a natural part of the lifestyle, and that set the foundation for health. Today I’m going to share them with you.
You might already know that I rarely recommend diets — I recommend real food. Whole, unaltered food that works for your specific body. No two people are the same — which is why it’s never safe to recommend any one diet to everyone.
The Mediterranean Diet is an exception, because it’s not really a diet, it’s a whole foods approach. It’s the eating style of a region of the world, and it doesn’t rule out anything altogether — except for super processed garbage that’s not suited for human consumption anyway.
The secret behind it — why it works for so many people — doesn’t have to do with food.
But let’s cover the basics first.
First of all, what is the Mediterranean Diet?
Doctors consider the Mediterranean Diet the gold standard for heart health. It was created in the 1960s when they noticed that people in Italy, Greece, the South of France, and the surrounding countries were healthier and had lower rates of heart disease than folks in the United States, Central Europe, and Northern Europe.
This popular diet is based on these foods…
- Local fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains like brown rice and farro
- Healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds
- Eggs, fish, chicken, and beans
- Dairy in moderation
- Red meat on occasion
Another factor: The people here tend to grill, roast, steam, and sauté their food over frying it.
How often do you see French fries, fried chicken, or schnitzel in the Mediterranean? Rarely. You might see a fritto misto (lightly fried seafood) here and there, but fried foods are not as common.
And what do fried foods do? Clog your arteries and lead to weight gain, to name a couple negative effects.
Ok, so we know what the Mediterranean Diet is, but what’s this non-food secret behind why it works?
People here are much calmer, and they’re naturally active. Their stress levels are lower. They’re not rushing from event to event, hardly catching their breath. They’re taking life slow and enjoying themselves. And yes, they walk a lot.
These are the five particular things I realized make the Mediterranean “Diet” work so well…
- Slow living: People here take life at a slower pace than the rest of the world
- Relaxing meals: Nobody is overly busy, and meals are savored over hours
- Quality time: People value relationships over constant hard work
- Activity: Walking, swimming, and biking are a part of daily life
- Indulgences: No one I’ve met here is on a diet, they just eat well
Let’s unpack each of these…
- SLOW LIVING.
In America, you ask someone how they’re doing and the standard answer is BUSY. It’s like you’re a nobody if you’re NOT crazy busy.
Even some retirees I know are always rushing around!
In the Mediterranean, people pride themselves on taking it slow. Everyone is wrapping up and going home by 4:45pm. No one works late! That’s just how it is.
Why? Because they know how important it is to keep their stress levels in check and enjoy their precious life… and it shows up in their bodies. They’re simply healthier.
- RELAXING MEALS.Businesses close midday so everyone can sit down to a proper lunch and take their time. Meals are prioritized and cherished as valuable time to nourish yourself and connect with friends and family.
By relaxing when you eat — instead of rushing and worrying about the rest of your day — you engage your parasympathetic aka rest and digest nervous system state.
Being in that state allows for easier digestion, better assimilation, less stress and anxiety, better heart health… and dozens more benefits!
When our bodies go into that sympathetic stressed state, digestion and metabolism slow down as the body dedicates all its resources to keep you alive in the face of danger.
We cannot constantly be in the stressed state.
I immediately noticed an improvement in my own digestion and energy after being here in France for a few days… and I was already in a good place.
- QUALITY TIME.The culture here is very social. People invest in relationships and take the time to enjoy each other. It’s not just a 15-minute FaceTime here and there. Friends and family get together for hours at a time.
There are cafés where you can get 100 different types of drinks — from coffee and tea to wine and mixed drinks.
I can go to a cafe, order my mojito, and sit for two hours before even getting food! And it feels so good.
It’s not about drinking to get tipsy and forget about your stressful work day, it’s about the time spent together. What’s relaxing and nourishing is the company.
These extended social hours make you feel happier and more connected. Why? More serotonin production, the happy hormone.
- ACTIVITY.The people here get a lot of movement without having to step foot in a gym. It’s just a part of their lifestyle.
I’ve been walking up and down hills every day… and I’m feelin’ it!
Almost everything is up a hill or down a hill: Restaurants, coffee shops, a friend’s house. You have little choice but to get your heart rate up and circulation moving daily.
You don’t have to commit to a complicated exercise plan or invest hundreds of dollars in a fancy gym membership to feel good in your body. Just get moving.
- INDULGENCES.Something that might surprise you about Mediterraneans is that they do NOT stick to salmon and veggies all day. They’re not perfectly restrained or regimented.
They drink alcohol, eat bread, and enjoy sweets and rich foods… slowly and in moderation.
There’s no deprivation mentality like in the United States, which makes overeating and binging a non-issue.
When we tell ourselves we can’t have something, we naturally start to crave it like crazy. When all foods are available to us, we can easily choose what’s best for us without agonizing over it.
You don’t have to give up gluten, dairy, or sugar, unless you have an allergy or intolerance. You just have to adopt a healthier lifestyle. And relax more.
- SLOW LIVING.
Do you follow the Mediterranean Diet? How about the LIFESTYLE?
Which of these lifestyle factors do you need more of: Slow living, relaxing meals, quality time with family and friends, activity and movement, or a little indulgence here and there? Being too restrictive can be a big issue, too.
Once you’ve identified what you need, decide how you’ll start getting more of it today.
Leave a comment below, I’d be curious to hear from you.
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