When I was 21 years old, I took a summer off when I was in college and moved to Dublin, Ireland. Didn't know anyone, no job, and no real plan other than it was something I had always wanted to do so I was doing it.
Eventually I formulated a plan for getting a job when I got there. The plan consisted of one step: Walk around until I found a job. There is a reason you can't rent a car until you are 25, males below the age of 25 do not have fully formed brains and are not known for making excellent decisions. Some say their brains never quite get there after 25 either.
I managed to secure a job interview as short order cook at a local pub. Part of the interview process was to gather all of the applicants into a room, give them a Guinness, have them hang out, and do a feeling out process.
This was the greatest job interview ever! I was laughing, having a good time, and I thought it was all going great until I heard a disapproving noise. And the noise was aimed directly at me.
The noise was followed by a disapproving sentence from the owner. He said, "That's the problem with you bloody (cleaned up for this e-mail's sake) Americans, you do everything so bloody (edited) fast!"
After a moment of confusion, I looked around and realized what he was talking about. Everyone had about 3/4 of their beer left and mine was just sitting there in a pile of lonely foam.
Spoiler alert I did not end up getting the job. But while I was living there I noticed that they have a lot of very lean people and a low number of overweight people.
So I started observing and I came up with 5 ways they stay in shape in Ireland.
1. Slow eating and drinking
This is the one I first learned at the job interview. Irish meals would be drawn out over music, laughter, and conversation. They would eat smaller amounts of food, but would feel full because they gave their brains the time to tell their stomachs that they and eaten enough.The focal point of their meals was the company they were with, not the food itself. This was pre-smart phones, so it may be different now.
2. Lots of walking
Everybody walks! I'm guessing it is because the people that drive are on the wrong side of the road. Crazy people. Think about how many calories you would burn if you walked 1-2 hours a day. Not to mention avoiding a lot of the trouble brought on by excess sitting.
This place in Ireland reminded me of McDowell's in Coming To America
3. A lot of the food is terrible
Seriously. Hard to eat to much when you don’t enjoy the food. I made the mistake of wandering into McCary’s (thinking it was a McDonald’s). Had the golden arches and everything, but I'm pretty sure the burger was made of ground leprechaun. It was AWFUL.
The thing I started doing is just using food as fuel, not a way to make myself happy. It was a mind set shift for me. Food should be enjoyed, but it's not a way to alter my mood. This ended up being a very valuable lesson for me down the road.
4. Avoiding fast food
Whenever I went into a fast food place (I was desperate! Have you ever seen blood pudding?) it would be 99% tourists. The locals would not eat there. A co-worker put it simply "We don't eat it it's because the food is addictive and it will make you fat." The Irish have a way with words.
Weird how "outsiders" can see that so easily, but we Americans keep right on keeping on with fast food.
5. Access to affordable, fresh produce
I was making the equivalent to about 4 dollars an hour. Not much in a big city like Dublin, but I could still afford to get fresh fruits and vegetables from the Farmer’s Markets they would have scattered throughout the city. Not that I ate vegetables back then, but a lot of the locals took advantage of it.
I'm not asking you to eat terrible food, but: eating and drinking slower; walking more; eating more fresh fruits and vegetables; not using food as a way to alter your mood; and avoiding fast food are all habits you can start adding to your life that will be a tremendous help no matter where you live.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day tomorrow, have some green vegetables!