Luxembourg Travel Thoughts Pt. 2: A Culture's Role in Fostering Healthier Relationships With Food
I didn’t even know a single month could fly by so quickly.
Going into this past month's trip I was nervous. VERY nervous (read more about why on my post about travel anxiety). But I now realize all of that worry was unnecessary.
My trip to Luxembourg taught me that I don’t suck at traveling and that I’m more resilient to change than I thought. The first three weeks were a total DREAM. I felt good, I was proud of myself for being so open minded and pretty dang go-with-flow, I felt energized and happy.
But I’ve got to be honest. The last week was really tough for me. My stomach stopped cooperating as it had been and I felt sick quite a bit. I was drained of energy and I started to get very homesick. Feeling sick in a foreign country will do that to you. Despite that, I tried to make the best of it – exploring with my mom (with a few failed attempts along the way… getting on the wrong bus can really throw a wrench in your plans lol), visiting my favorite foodie spots (oh Rawdish, how I will miss you) and throwing myself into the blog. That’s what I’ve truly learned from this trip too. Writing, researching and every other aspect of blogging gives me so much undeniable joy. Even when I was feeling sick this week, getting to sit at a cute café and work on the blog never failed to help me feel better (maybe not physically, but at least mentally).
(The super yummy soy-free vegan burger with a GF bun that I got at the first foodie spot I tried out in Luxembourg!)
I’m a very reflective person, so naturally, despite the difficult last week, I’m feeling a weird turmoil of all different emotions – I’m so excited to be home that I can hardly stop from dancing all day long, but the transition home is a little strange. I’m feeling nostalgic thinking back to the crazy adventures, the beautiful sites, the kind people (and some not-so-kind people), the cobblestone streets, the tiny towns, the many countries I got to visit… The vast remarkableness of this trip really hits me when I think about it this long.
Being away from home for that long also made me have such a deeper appreciation for it. I now realize all of the little things I completely took for granted before – the lake I get to see every single day, the ease of having a car to drive, the constant accessibility to fun and healthy food, the big kitchen I am lucky enough to get to cook in every day, the friends I feel so blessed to have in my life, the healthy restaurants/coffee shops/juice bars I frequent almost every day without a second thought. Being home, I now realize that these are things I need to be grateful for every. single. day.
As this month has gone on a few things regarding food and nutrition have been tumbling around my mind that I’ve wanted to share on here.
One of the most glaring differences between the culture in Luxembourg and the culture here at home is the food culture. And honestly, I like the food culture in Luxembourg a lot better. I think it’s healthier, not because of the food they’re eating, but because of the environment they’ve created around food. It’s mentally healthier.
The first, most obvious, difference can be found by simply looking at the nutrition label. I don’t read nutrition labels to look at calories, but I do look at ingredients and, if it’s something like a bar, I’ll look at the protein content. During our first grocery haul at the natural food market I picked up some fun new bars to try and was looking at the back to see how much protein they had (during marathon training, making sure my protein intake is high enough is crucial) and the calorie-count caught my eye. It was a super small bar, but it said it had something around 550 calories. I just shrugged and was like “hm, that’s weird, they really packed some goods into this thing!” but was also kind of excited because after long runs it can be hard to eat enough to keep up with how much I burn off. I was like YES, tiny but mighty bar I like it this will be so helpful!!!
(Rawdish became one of my favorite spots. I went there to work a bunch because I loved how all of their food was gluten, dairy and refined sugar free! And it was all sold in glass not plastic!!)
Then, after looking closer I saw that every bar, nut butter, cracker, etc. that we had bought had the nutrition information for 100 grams of the particular food. So, that bar was only 30 grams, but the back still just gave a blanket statement of information for 100 grams. Because I’m so used to the nutrition labels here that tell us the nutrition information for one serving size I was really surprised by this. While in America the back of our nut butters say the calories, fat, carbs, protein, sugar, etc. in two tablespoons (the typical serving found on any nut butter), the back of the nut butters I bought in Luxembourg had either the information for 100 grams or the entire jar.
And this got me thinking. Why have we, as a culture, decided two tablespoons is how much you “should” eat of nut butter (or anything with a serving size)? I realized, having no serving size is truly so much healthier. Letting people decide for themselves how much they want to eat of something, based on hunger or desire, is how it should be. Do you think our ancestors had serving sizes? Hell no! They ate based on hunger cues, based on desire and based on whatever other factors. But they didn’t eat based on numbers, and apparently not everyone in the world today does either.
Our society is completely run on numbers. Calorie counts are on everything (even many menus now) and it seems that everyone is always checking them, mentally calculating how many they’ve already eaten that day.
(The best freaking almond milk latte I've EVER had!)
I keep seeing these photos pop up on my explore page of Instagram that show the “reality” of a “serving” of nut butter versus what people “think” is a “serving” and honestly I’m getting really pissed off about it. WHY CAN WE ONLY EAT TWO TABLESPOONS OF FREAKING NUT BUTTER. I’m just using nut butter here as an example, but it can be applied to any food. Who decided ¼ cup of granola is a “serving”? Or 10 crackers? Or ½ of that kombucha?
And I’m not saying numbers don’t affect me too in this realm. Last summer I started counting macros (I kept it up for about 7 months), and at that time it was completely necessary for me and extremely helpful. I was in a place of finally accepting that I desperately needed to gain weight so I began seeing a sports nutritionist. He introduced me to macro counting as an option to help me understand how much food my body truly needed to fuel my intense exercising. Without seeing the numbers I wouldn’t have been able to make myself eat as much as I had to at that point. It actually became pretty humorous how much food I had to eat (I literally ate the biggest bowl of protein oatmeal with fruit and nut butter after dinner every single night), and I was able to find the humor in it all because I also trusted my nutritionist and trusted the process of counting macros. Counting macros retrained my brain to see food as fuel and I’m very thankful for that.
But sometimes I resent my time counting macros because, although it trained my brain to see food as fuel and showed me how much I truly need to eat, it also trained my brain to see the numbers that make up every food. I didn’t look at an egg, I looked at 70 calories, 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein and 0 grams of carbs. And although I don’t count macros anymore and I don’t honestly give a rats a** about the macros I take in because I’ve finally figured out how to truly listen to my body, I still have those numbers swimming in my head subconsciously (note: the one number I think IS important to check on is added sugars in products! And, if you know you need to up your protein like me, checking protein content can be important).
I think so many numbers creates a problem in our society, because instead of enjoying food fully and training out bodies to know when we are satiated and fueled well, we have given up that control to a set of numbers.
I think serving sizes and the like can be helpful if someone is trying to lose weight in order to lead a healthier life or has truly lost touch with their body and don’t know how much fuel is necessary or appropriate, but I just think it’s something to ponder (because I know I have been quite a bit since my trip). When did we lose touch with our bodies and allow numbers to dictate how much we “should” eat?
Another huge difference I noticed about the food culture abroad was the tendency of slow eating. Not literally chewing slower (I didn’t weirdly observe people’s eating patterns lol), but truly taking the time to enjoy every meal.
There were hardly any fast food restaurants (I think I saw two McDonalds and one pizza hut), which was a very nice surprise. AND people actually sat down and enjoyed their meals, even in the middle of the day on their lunch breaks, which you don’t see very often here. People weren’t grabbing and go-ing (let’s pretend that’s a word) and they weren’t eating as they dashed from one place to another. My mom and I first noticed this when we were walking through the main square one day during lunch and noticed that every single restaurant that lined the square was PACKED with people we could tell were on their work lunch break. We were baffled.
I feel that it’s far too normal in our society to not prioritize meals. We eat at our desks or we grab something quick and eat it as we walk or we eat in our cars as we’re driving. Trust me, I’ve done all of these things too and a lot of the time I feel that I have no choice but to eat at my desk or as I walk from one class to another (or in class… which is always awkward). It was so refreshing to see people actually sitting together, eating slowly and enjoying their food. A lot of this most likely stems from the difference in working cultures in American versus Europe as well, but I found it very interesting.
I find so much joy in food, which wasn’t always the case when I was struggling with a negative relationship with it, and I always try to prioritize making and enjoying real meals. No matter what, I make sure I have enough time to make a nice breakfast and sit down and enjoy it and my favorite days are the days when work doesn’t coincide with lunch so I can go back to my apartment after classes to eat. Last semester I had a 9AM class twice a week, which didn’t give me enough time to sit and enjoy my breakfast after working out and getting ready. Even just two days of having to eat breakfast on-the-go annoyed me to no end and I noticed I didn’t seem to start my day as positively.
Food should be enjoyed and enjoyed with others. Try to prioritize meal-time and find joy in the meals you’re preparing and eating. And I get it, life gets crazy and busy and hectic and sometimes the Tupperware life is just the way it has to be, but just being more mindful and trying to truly sit down and enjoy meals more often can be a huge game changer. I find my stress levels go down and my happiness goes up when I get that time to just sit and fuel my body.
This trip truly was so eye opening and I’m so thankful for everything I learned, not only about myself, but about the culture in Luxembourg as well. Although it made me grateful to live where I do, it also showed me ways in which the society I live in doesn’t foster the healthiest relationships with food.
So here’s to being in-tune with our bodies, saying f*ck it to the numbers, eating less meals on the go and more meals at a table and spending more time truly enjoying food.