American cuisine came as a bit of a shock.
I hadn’t been gone that long—20 years, give or take—but stepping off that plane into a world of monster muffins, 30-oz drinks, and endless crinkly packages … well, my eyes went as wide as the waistlines.
Things had changed. No one ate food anymore. My native country had been overtaken by snacks.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we Americans used to eat meals?
Cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, meat and potatoes with something green for dinner?
Maybe I had a protected childhood. Kind of like the Waltons, with three squares a day and cookies and milk after school. Fast food was for special occasions. Given that it was a half-hour drive just to get to the nearest Dairy Queen, I didn’t notice what I was missing.
That upbringing set me up well for living in rural communities across the world, where locally-grown produce featured heavily and processed foods were hard to find.
When you’ve got time but no money, you can grow food and cook it.
When you’ve got money but no time, you rely on the food industry.
Not just rely but depend on it. You don’t have time to think about what you’re eating and how it’s been prepared. You just buy it, shove it in your mouth, and go.
And when you have even LESS time, sitting down for a meal is a luxury you can’t afford. You stifle hunger pains with a snack, hoping for a break later in the day that never materializes.
So there’s a reason snacks are getting larger and larger.
They’re replacing meals. They’re meal-sized snacks. In fact, they’re no longer snacks at all. They’re what we eat for dinner.
There’s a saying I heard a lot when I was living overseas:
EVERYTHING is bigger in America.”
That’s the first observation foreigners make about our country.
They’re talking about the highways. The houses. The pancakes. The steaks. The portions. The people.
From 1999 to 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the average American male’s waist expanded an extra 0.8 inches in circumference, while the average American woman cursed jeans that were now too tight by 1.5 inches.
Could our expanding waistlines be related to how we’re eating, as well as what we’re eating?
I’m not going to tell you to make time for meals. You don’t have time. It’s okay.
But what I can tell you is that there’s a simple secret to snacking that will insulate you against the spreading waistline curse.
It’s an easy-to-remember rule that lets you eat almost anything you want, with just one restriction:
Everything you eat as a snack must come from the outer perimeter of the grocery store.
What do you find on the perimeter of a grocery store?
The perishables. Fruit. Vegetables. Meat. Bread. Dairy products. REAL food.
And that’s really all there is to it. You can eat whatever you want as a snack, as long as it’s perishable.
The more perishable, the better.
Bread that goes rock-hard in 3 days is better than bread that stays soft for weeks. You’re looking for things that go moldy. Grow slime. If it goes off when you leave it out for a few days, then it’s got the green light.
Here’s why this simple technique works.
Our human bodies have been nourished for thousands of years on real food. A thousand years ago, Twinkies weren’t around.
But our ancestors had grains and plants and meat and milk. They had to prepare their food using only what nature provided: fire to cook, water to soak, the sun to dry. They didn’t have chemical preservatives and artificial flavors. They couldn’t flash freeze or vacuum pack. Forget about sugar; even salt was a treat.
Our bodies remember those days.
We might feel modern, but our bodies are the same as our ancestors’. Our bodies are used to an ancient way of eating that hadn’t changed significantly in hundreds of years—until now.
When we give our bodies snack foods encased in shiny paper with a shelf life extending into infinity, our taste buds leap in delight while our guts quiver in confusion.
Maybe your body just wanted a strawberry, and instead you gave it strawberry-flavored candy made of high fructose corn syrup. Talk about a poor exchange.
So try making the switch to real food, foods that have nourished the human body since the dawn of time.
Don’t give up snacking, but change what you eat.
No more granola bars. No more protein shakes or instant soup. No more potato chips or pretzels.
But the alternatives are dazzling. Fruit smoothies. Freshly baked bread. Slices of gorgeous cheese. Thick slices of ham.
My mouth waters just thinking about it.