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Culture shock: Your family may be making you fat

Jenn Zerling, MS, CPT (JZ) has been an athlete her whole life and a fitness expert for over 10 years. She holds a masters degree in kinesiology and multiple national certifications. She currently works for Cenegenics Medical Institute i...

Break the cultural bond with overeating

Whether your family has roots in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, or the vast and varied continents of Africa and Asia, cultural influences on your diet and eating habits are often ingrained.
Italian grandmother cooking pasta

In many households, it is disrespectful to leave the table without a clean plate. While eating when you're already full may be a compliment to the cook, it's no favor to your own body and health.

Your cultural roots affect your diet

While sitting around the family dinner table, are you often asked “Did you get enough to eat?”—after you've already gorged yourself on a three-course meal of supersized portions, with heaping platters of food on the table throughout the meal. Even though your belly feels like a giant balloon, you find yourself thinking that there’s always room for more.

Sound all too familiar? You are certainly not alone. It's a scenario in homes across the country where many family members constantly fight the battle of the bulge. But you can break the cycle of culturally influenced overeating.

pastaRecognize that you have an addiction to overeating

Once you acknowledge your eating patterns, you can change them. One of the ways of addressing food addiction is to educate yourself on nutrition. For example, understand that high-glycemic carbohydrates (e.g., bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereals and sweets) can promote food cravings throughout the day and eventually lead to overeating. Also, if you’re not consuming enough lean protein and healthy fat at each meal, you won’t feel satisfied, and this will also lead to overeating.

Consider your eating habits

Another factor in overeating is how many times you eat each day. Perhaps your family tends to eat many meals throughout the day, ultimately consuming too many calories. Or maybe you've grown up skipping breakfast or lunch and eating a huge dinner every night. Recognize that if you skip meals throughout the day, you’ll be famished at night and at risk of overeating at the worst time of the day. Regardless of your culturally influenced eating pattern, do your waistline a favor and distribute your calories into five mini-meals every three to four hours, with protein, healthy fat (avocado, freshwater fish, seeds and nuts) and low-glycemic carbohydrates (most vegetables, sweet potatoes and fibrous fruits such as berries and apples).

Integrate healthier choices

Your family may come from a culture that has raised generation after generation with fried food and an abundance of refined foods and high-glycemic starches. Despite your cultural tradition, find a healthy alternative and introduce your family to a healthier diet.

Try these delicious ideas:

  • Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy, try mashed sweet potatoes with a handful of raisins, walnuts and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Instead of breaded fried chicken, try chicken covered in almond flour with poultry seasoning. Instead of a side of plain white rice, swap in quinoa mixed roasted broccoli and carrots.
  • Instead of spaghetti, try spaghetti squash with lean ground turkey, topped by a low-sugar marinara sauce.

Make healthy eating easy

Do your homework on recipes to learn how to cook healthier meals and check your local coupon books for the best buys on ingredients. It requires some work, but the benefits are worth it. The biggest bonus is that once you learn how to eat healthier, it will be easier to make it a habit.

Track your progress

Optimizing your nutrition takes a desire to change, the ability to change and the tools to do so. Start your weight loss journey by keeping a food log to learn about your patterns on a daily basis. This will be helpful so that you can see what’s working and what’s not.

Take it one day at a time and keep your focus on the benefits today and tomorrow. Through your efforts,  you can eventually break your cultural bond with unhealthy habits and help family members and subsequent generations see the benefits (and ease) of healthier eating.

More diet tips for the new year

Super food: Healthy ways to eat your sweet potatoes
Workplace strategies to lose weight
Top 10 weight loss tips for long-term success

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