Ever since moving to Sweden I have been fascinated by a country with so many food options and so little obesity and overweight problems (in proportion to what I have seen back in Kenya and with worldwide averages). I have tried to explain this in various ways, down to how much coffee they drink here and its possible effect on overall metabolism 🙂 Ok, I wasn’t serious with that last theory but it did cross my mind.
The casual weekend baker here can create wonderful desserts, cinnamon buns are a national heritage and candy …if you have not tasted Swedish chocolates and Candy put it on your bucket list.
So how does the average person here maintain a slim waist line? Let me break it down for you.
- Those treats I was talking about? They remain treats. Totally banning Candy from your household is almost impossible, kids will find a way to get some anyway. So it is a national tradition to have Candy on Saturdays only…yes, and it has a name… “Lördags Godis” – Saturday Candy (but I like Goodies as a translation….) This came about because continuous exposure to the sugar in candy causes cavities, exposing the teeth only once a week to candy was found to be less damaging. I think it is a great way to teach self control and how great delayed gratification is. Kids learn from an early age to enjoy goodies once in a while, a habit that definitely is healthy to have in a world that is obsessed with instant gratification.
- Swedes like their exercise NEAT…There I said it, they are obsessed with cleanliness….okay, this might be true but has nothing to do with waistlines. NEAT stands for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This is basically everything physical that is not a scheduled exercise session. Take a look at the diagram that I googled and downloaded then uploaded here that explains what I am talking about: –
- You see, exercise takes up very little of your total energy expenditure. To truly succeed in losing and keeping your weight off, you have to increase your total energy expenditure. Mothers and Fathers actually PLAY with their kids in playgrounds as opposed to sitting around and watching them from a distance (Kenyan Parents I am talking to you!), people bicycle to work and walk to and from the super market even though they have cars parked in their garage…oh, and the weather? If you’re in the tropics stop complaining, this happens even in minus degrees. They actually have words for talking a walk for leisure – promenade – and walking dogs is a national past time….yes, you get a dog that you HAVE TO WALK BY LAW willingly, and that’s NEAT. (EDIT – From the comments I learnt a new Swedish word, “vardagsmotion” – it means everything that is no structured exercise –
*Swedish health experts say that if you have at least 30 minutes of vardagsmotion every day, it will bring great health benefits. Vardagsmotion is the kind of exercise where you don’t get so sweaty that you need to take a shower (at least not in Swedish temperatures…))* So you see? I am not imagining things!
- A nation of Gourmet while the rest of the world switches to Gourmand. – If food snobbery is a thing, it is not a thing here. Swedes experiment with food a lot, but, they appreciate high quality food, prepared with taste and finesse, and I am not talking about restaurant experiences here. Enter a typical Swedish Kitchen and you will find several cook books for inspiration. The supermarkets offer cooking suggestions (yes they are advertisements but they are never your typical meal, always something a little more adventurous). Fresh fruit and vegetables are a culture and there is variety. Training your palate to appreciate the taste of fresh food is one of the ways to wean yourself off junk food high in salt and chemicals. Carrying food for lunch from home is common. Like Candy, fast food is a once in a while affair. I usually have a few panic attacks if we have guests home because I know Swedes appreciate effort put into a good meal, and creativity of dishes they have never tasted.
- When they do exercise, they exercise en mass . Fitness and exercise has become a national tradition, so much so, that those who participate in activities do so in large groups. Fitness classes have to be booked before hand and the more popular classes have a waiting line. Such is the demand that low cost fitness facilities exist. It is cheaper to access these facilities in a country where the cost of living is generally higher than the rest of the world. Making exercise a national past time is integral to this.
It all comes down to habits and attitudes. What one considers leisure and enjoyable and what one considers an unpleasant chore. Whether food is viewed as fuel or as a pleasurable experience….the perception of time and putting time aside for oneself for things like preparing your own meals or for a morning promenade before work.
Swedes are complaining they have a problem, 14 percent of the population is obese according to the World Health Organisation. This is compared with the United States where 36.5 percent of the population is obese. In Kenya, where I come from, over 40 percent of the urban population is obese….the national average is much lower (13 percent) but I use urban figures because of what is available to eat in urban areas is different from rural areas. So there is a lesson or two to be learnt on why though the averages seem to be growing, they are still not as bad as in other countries.
If all else fails, drink more coffee 🙂