The XX Factor

Eat Like A Honduran

Photo by ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

Amanda, KJ, to add to today’s food theme, I’ll report on a conversation I had with my daughter who’s spent the past month living with a family in a small town in Honduras. One of the things that struck her most was the eating patterns. Because almost everybody works within walking distance of home, many people return home for lunch, so it’s common to eat three home-cooked meals a day. This sounds like a lot of labor for the wives, but my daughter said the food is simple and quickly prepared. There are always beans, rice, and tortilla, then often chicken and a vegetable. A frequent dinner is avocado, feta-type cheese, and eggs. To her surprise she found that meal delicious and satisfying and it took about 10 minutes to prepare. My daughter said she was struck at how much better she felt, how much more energy she had, and how much less hungry she was by only having three meals and no snacks, prepared foods, or sugary drinks.

I told her she was experiencing a way of eating that was standard in America 50 years ago. I don’t have soda, snack food, or even much prepared food in the house. But my daughter is a teenager, so one way of socializing is to eat junk with her friends. When they get together, it’s stuffed pizza for dinner, not avocados. Obviously, we cannot go back to a world in which three meals a day are eaten at home. But this study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill shows there has been an enormous increase from the 1990s to the 2000s in the calories eaten away from home, helping to fuel the obesity epidemic. I agree, KJ, that reforming the Happy Meal is encouraging, but I’m not sure some apple slices are going to make that much difference. I agree with Dr. David Kessler that a huge part of our problem is the breakdown in food cues. As my daughter discovered, and Kessler writes about in The End of Overeating, adults used to eat three times a day in fixed places. So they didn’t experience their cars, their desks, their city blocks as an endless buffet where they were tempted all day with the availability of fat, salt, and sugar-laden items. In the absence of a structure in which eating is a time and place-limited activity, I don’t see that we’re going to make much progress curbing our increasing girth.