Isn't it weird that the Mediterranean Diet gets its own month? After all the Grapefruit Diet never got its own month, and neither did Atkins, the Cave Man diet, Weight Watchers, Zone, Blood Type, low fat, low carb, food combining ... you get my point.
But the Mediterranean approach stands apart because it is also a cultural heritage, and reflects the traditional eating behaviors that these healthy people have expressed for centuries. And, this cultural way of eating is not a diet in any way, shape, or form like those mentioned above. That's why the Mediterranean Diet Month is important as a way to address one of the most important public health issues of our time.
SO HERE'S THE ISSUE: THE WEIGHT EPIDEMIC
Most Americans are overweight or obese (about 67% of us, in fact). And this one single marker of poor health contributes to cancer, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and a closet of disastrous consequences. We have cycled through the yearly parade of fad diets, and every year - in every State of this nation - the obesity rates increase.
HERE'S WHERE WE GET CONFUSED: FAD DIETS D'JOUR
Everyone knows that we need to live a healthful lifestyle, without resorting to stupid, fad diets. But even though the phrase, "Diets don't work," is a tired, overused mantra at this point, no one really seems to know what that even means.
Don't eat out? Don't eat fats? Don't eat carbs? Don't eat at all?
That's why the dietary habits of the Mediterranean region have so many people excited. First of all, the people in this region are healthier and thinner, with fewer cases of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. But-even better-they didn't get this way by following the diet d'jour; they never wore fat-be-gone rings; they never ate margarine; they never avoided eggs; they never ate low fat foods; they never avoided carbs; they never wrung their hands about their blood type; and they never felt like they had to eat every three hours because some theory told them to. They are made thin and healthy because by the same lifestyle they have enjoyed for centuries.
The promise of the Mediterranean approach is that we can adapt and adopt their eating system as a dietary model for ourselves. After all, if we do what they do, we will get lower weight, healthier hearts and longer lives. Just like them.
THERE'S JUST ONE PROBLEM: HOW CAN THE MEDITERRANEAN LIFESTYLE TO ADAPTED HERE
We don't live there. Bummer, right? We don't have 2½ hours to eat our lunch, fresh markets on every corner, five weeks of mandatory vacation, and a culture that works to live rather than lives to work. Double bummer.
Yes, they are living a healthy lifestyle-but how are we supposed to make that work for us? How are we supposed to "Rosetta Stone" their cultural habits into our lives here at home?
THREE KEYS TO UNLOCK THE SUCCESS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN LIFESTYLE
Don't Micromanage Your Meals
The first key to translating the success of the Mediterranean lifestyle is to stop being so detailed and specific. Followers of this lifestyle don't care how many carbs are in their daily baguettes, how many points are in their crème brulee or how many calories they burn when they take a walk.
Micromanaging molecules- whether calories or carbs, points or proteins-is the very definition of a diet, and is not practiced by any healthy culture at all.
Eat Real Food
The second key is to focus on principles you know to be true. For example, the Mediterranean people eat food, not synthetics (that's sugar, not non-nutritive artificial sweeteners; olive oil, not hydrogenated oil; bread, not "wonder" bread; and vegetables, not supplements). Even in America, we can adopt the Mediterranean habit of choosing items that are real food, made with real ingredients.
Another principle we can adopt is to learn to love our food again. Yes, you need to LOVE your food.
But it's a common misconception that the love of food is equivalent to the consumption of food. The more you ate, the more you loved it. What a uniquely American equation (love = consumption) and certainly not one applied by healthy cultures in the Mediterranean region. For them, the love of food is less about the quantity eaten and more about the quality enjoyed.
Enjoy Family Time at the Dinner Table
Finally, a key principle to the Mediterranean lifestyle is to return to the family table. Americans used to practice this just as religiously as other cultures, but we have somehow forgotten it. The research is clear here: when you eat at home with the people you love, you tend to eat higher quality food and also control consumption in the process. Thus, you end up controlling calories, eating healthier foods, and developing a better relationship with the people who matter most in your life.
Win, win and win.
Dr. Will Clower is an award winning author, media personality, and CEO of Mediterranean Wellness.