Things We Can Learn About How to Get (and Stay) Skinny From Other Cultures

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Things We Can Learn About How to Get (and Stay) Skinny From Other Cultures
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At Kickoff, we promote gradual and sustainable weight loss that focuses on overall well-being. This means placing more importance on feeling good, having energy, building strength, and sleeping well than the number on the scale. 

While this is our preferred approach, we understand that some people may want to learn about methods for becoming skinny. We can learn a lot about cultures from around the globe that have adopted unique lifestyle practices to help them stay thin and healthy. And they don’t involve crazy workout routines or strict diets.

We scoured the literature and talked to nutrition and fitness experts to help us compile a list of the most effective strategies, traditions, and habits. Read on to discover how you can apply these techniques to your life to help you lose weight and keep it off.

Best Ways to Lose Weight

1. Try fasting 

Fasting has played an integral part in various cultural, spiritual, and religious traditions throughout human history. It’s worth noting that almost every major religion in the world practices some form of fasting, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Taoism. 

Ramadan, for example, is a period of fasting practiced by Muslims all over the world. For a whole month, followers avoid eating from dawn to sunset. Studies have found that Ramadan fasting causes fat loss, reduces waist circumference, and lowers cholesterol levels.  

Scientists have studied the impact of fasting on certain health markers and outcomes, and it’s been shown to have beneficial impact on blood sugar control, reduced inflammation, cellular repair, and weight loss

One of the most common and well-studied types of fasting is intermittent fasting. It involves eating only during a specific window during the day or fasting on certain days of the week. The most popular form of intermittent fasting is the 16/8 method, where a person fasts for 16 hours and eats during an eight-hour feeding window. Research has shown intermittent fasting helps people lose weight as effectively as regular dieting

There could be weight-loss benefits to longer fasts, too. A review of research shows that every-other-day fasting dramatically improves obesity because of the changes that happen in your gut microbiota (the bacteria and organisms in your gastrointestinal system) as a result. 

Losing weight through regular dieting can be difficult because being in a caloric deficit can make you constantly hungry. Unlike dieting, intermittent fasting helps reduce appetite and may increase fat loss. 

To incorporate intermittent fasting into your routine, start with shorter fasting periods (14/10, for example) and gradually increase the fasting duration over time. Make sure to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed. 

2. Eat whole foods

Things We Can Learn About How to Get (and Stay) Skinny From Other Cultures
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Certain cultures have also taught us that eating less ultra-processed foods (like Froot Loops) and more whole foods (like apples) can help you shed pounds and keep them off.

Americans tend to eat more highly-processed, highly-sweetened, calorie-dense foods like chips, cereals, and pastries than in other countries. These foods are designed to be highly palatable and easy to overeat, making weight loss difficult. Diets high in processed, fat- and sugar-laden foods can contribute to weight gain and obesity, and may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.   

Here, we can turn to the Mediterranean diet for answers. This diet mainly sticks to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, fish, and lean proteins, and has been touted for its numerous health benefits, including weight loss and obesity prevention

According to Catherine Gervacio, registered dietitian and nutrition writer: “The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and olive oil while limiting the amount of red meat, sweets, and processed food. Practicing the Mediterranean diet can be considered to reduce the consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods that lead to weight gain and health risks like heart disease and diabetes.”

And the research backs this up. A review found that people following a Mediterranean diet lost, on average, between 9 and 22 pounds over the span of a year. A study of over 32,000 people found that the Mediterranean diet was linked to less weight gain and belly fat over a period of five years. 

One of the main reasons the Mediterranean diet leads to weight loss is the emphasis on nutrient-dense, whole foods. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are low in calories, which helps support weight loss

These foods are also high in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which can help reduce inflammation and prevent chronic disease. A pro-inflammatory diet (think fried foods, soda, processed meats, refined carbs, hydrogenated fats) is linked to weight gain and obesity.

One quick tip to incorporate more real foods into your diet: Stick to the edges of the grocery store. The middle aisles are usually where the highly-processed foods are. You’re also more likely to find whole foods at a local farmer’s market.  

3. Eat moderate portions

Everything tends to be bigger in America — including our portion sizes. The typical portion size in many other countries would be considered downright tiny in America.

But if you’re looking for a smaller waist, look no further than the size of your plate. According to Gervacio, we can learn a lot from the French in this regard.

“In France, people have always been diet conscious. They also invest in vegetables instead of red meats and are aware of their food portions. They serve their dessert in small quantities and would prefer eating fresh fruits instead of refined carbohydrates,” she says.

It's not surprising that studies have found that French portion sizes are 25% smaller than in the United States. This may help explain why the French obesity rate is less than a third of the United States.

Interestingly, research has consistently found that people eat more food than they normally would if given a bigger portion size. Simply using smaller plates or bowls for your meals (and not refilling them) can help you eat less and enhance weight loss. And avoid eating from the package or container, as it’s harder to judge portion sizes. 

Another lesson we can borrow from the French: less snacking. People who snack less are less likely to be overweight and obese

4. Practice mindful and intuitive eating

By simply paying more attention to the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations we get from food, we can achieve that slim figure we’re striving for. 

Often, we eat because we’re bored or stressed out and not because we’re actually hungry. It’s at these times that we’re more likely to eat highly-processed junk food. That’s where mindful and intuitive eating comes in. 

Mindful eating is when you eat while paying attention to what you're eating, how it tastes, and how it makes you feel. Many cultures practice mindful eating to stay lean and healthy. 

Intuitive eating is a closely-related practice that promotes listening to your body’s signals for hunger and fullness when deciding when and how much to eat. Both practices can help you maintain your weight loss over the long term. 

The people of the Okinawa islands, a small group of islands off the coast of Japan, follow an intuitive eating practice called hara hachi bu, which roughly translates to “belly 80% full.” This means they stop eating well before they’ve reached their limit. It works because the signals from your stomach that tell your brain it’s full are usually delayed

One survey asked people from eight countries, including the United States, Japan, and Italy about eating habits. It found that higher levels of intuitive eating were linked to lower BMIs, high body satisfaction, and self-esteem across all countries. 

To put this into practice, try slowing down when you eat and pay attention to how the food you’re eating affects your thoughts and emotions. Try to identify all of the distinct flavors and smells. And really listen to your body when it tells you it’s had enough. 

5. Stay active 

Things We Can Learn About How to Get (and Stay) Skinny From Other Cultures
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It’s easier to achieve a slim figure with exercise and diet than simply dieting alone. That’s why cultures that tend to be on the skinnier side maintain a low level of activity every day. But they’re not killing themselves in the gym.  

“In Japan, their lifestyle is one of the many reasons why they have a low obesity rate. Students and workers are used to riding bicycles instead of [driving] cars,” says Gervacio. 

You may think you need to be in the gym doing intense cardio sessions three times a week to lose weight. But this isn’t the only way.

If you don’t like high-intensity interval training and suffer through it every time, pick an exercise you do enjoy. This can be as simple as going for a brisk 20-minute walk each day or working in the garden. You’ll be more motivated to stick with a routine you enjoy, which will help you maintain a healthy weight over the long term.

Let’s Recap

Losing weight and keeping it off doesn’t have to mean tracking every calorie and constantly being hungry. Cultures around the globe have shown us there are better ways to stay lean, like intermittent fasting, eating whole foods, and being mindful of our eating habits.

These strategies may not lead to quick weight loss, but that’s not the goal. Rapid weight loss often leads to a plateau, and eventual weight regain. Instead, these cultures can help us adopt a lifestyle that naturally promotes and maintains a more slender frame.

If you’re struggling to lose weight and feel like you’ve tried everything, schedule a free consultation with a personal trainer who can help you lose weight.