How my North American Diet has Changed in Europe

I love the way the Swiss eat.

Well, I love the way I eat in Switzerland. I have no idea if it’s representative of a typical Swiss diet.

For starters, I have been eating bread, full fat cheese, meat, and OMG CARBS for breakfast instead of the smoothie I had grown accustomed to in Toronto. Last year, I swore that no other breakfast could ever satisfy me in the way that a protein and fruit smoothie could.

A typical “day” in Toronto used to consist of:

Breakfast

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My standard go-to Smoothie breakfast in Toronto. I had this even throughout the Winter months.

Smoothie made with protein powder, water, frozen berries, leafy greens (spinach or kale), and yogurt if I was feeling frisky. I’d top that with some homemade granola and try to hold off on eating again until lunch.

Lunch

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A typical lunch. So much hummus.

I’d cook up a big serving of every single vegetable I could find in the tiniest bit of oil or water and then have that with some oven roasted tofu, eggs, or a ton of hummus. I made jokes about going through a container of hummus within days. My “starchy carb” of choice was rice, quinoa… or tiny slivers of bread so small that you couldn’t even use to make a finger sandwich with.

Snacks

Looking back, it’s no wonder I snacked voraciously throughout the afternoon. I ate a lot at lunch, but none of it was really satisfying. I would try my hardest to just ignore the temptation to snack too much until dinner time and feel a sense of pride if I “made” it until dinner time.

Dinner

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I tried to fill up on veggies, and skimp on the protein & starchy carbs because that’s what I was “taught” to do. #healthyliving #orsomethinglikethat

Mike and I would trade off nights during the week to make dinner, and it usually contained some type of protein, vegetable, and starchy carb. I usually went back for seconds or thirds.

Evening snack

Snack? I tried not to. Except on weekends. Mike and I would try to cut out chocolate throughout the week and then on the weekend, we’d pick up 2-3 of our favourite chocolate bars and then go to town. We’re self-proclaimed chocaholics. I always promised myself I’d have some restraint, but would end up eating the equivalent of at least one whole bar of chocolate.

Then I’d feel guilty for the rest of the week and try to start over. Was it healthy? In some ways, yes, I think I ate a pretty healthy diet in Toronto. But, in other ways, the constant obsessing, snacking, and the guilt I attached to any “bad food” I would eat was exhausting and stressful. I’ve realized that living a life of guilt over my food choices cancelled out any of the “good” ones I was making.

A typical day in Switzerland now consists of:

Breakfast

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The muesli breakfasts started in Sweden – enhanced by this amazing Oat milk. Here in Switzerland, we just eat it with regular cow’s milk.

A bowl of muesli, store brand “bio” corn flakes (because I love them, dammit!), and some unsweetened wheat puffs. I drink this with regular cow’s milk. Drinking cow’s milk in Toronto is like asking for a world of stomach pain for the rest of the day. Here, it means making my breakfast more filling because I’m drinking that instead of diluted nut water that typically has emulsifiers and sweeteners added to it. How big is my serving? I don’t know. I don’t measure, I just pour it into the bowl and have seconds if I feel I need it. I usually don’t.

Lunch

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Our host Maja made this Swiss bread with fresh yeast and kneaded the dough with her own hands. It was the softest, most pillowy sandwich bread I’ve ever eaten. When we don’t have fresh bread like this available, we typically pick up a small whole grain sourdough loaf from the local bakery.

Lunch consists of a salad with whatever vegetables we have in the fridge. Usually that’s some type of leafy green salad with carrots, beets, and pepper (or capsicum as Mike refers to it as). Then I’ll slice myself some bread and make a sandwich with … wait for it… smashed avocado, full fat cheese and pickles because I’m weird and think that combination is absolutely amazing. Sometimes if I’m really lucky, I’ll fry up a fresh chicken egg. Is this really my life right now?

Snack

I always have a coffee right after lunch. Sometimes Mike and I will share a pastry in the afternoon if we end up at a cafe to do work. Sometimes I’ll have a banana if I’m at “home”. Some days I’ll eat several handfuls of nuts and chocolate covered raisins (at certain times of the month, this is almost a necessity). Sometimes I won’t have anything at all until dinner.

Dinner

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Lots of meat, freshly made spaetzle, and a side salad.

Dinner has been a big salad and whatever we’re in the mood for. Sometimes it’s a traditional Swiss dish like Raclette which is essentially melted cheese over boiled potatoes. Other times, it’s just scrambled eggs and some bread. A few times I’ve had the desire to cook something more fancy and made a vegetable stir fry. Once I even pan roasted some tofu, but I haven’t had the desire to do that again since.  Something tells me that tofu isn’t a food they specialize in here anyway so it’s not as good as what I had available to me in Toronto.

Evening snack

Chocolate. Always chocolate. I tried waiting until the weekend, but decided that life was too short.

♦♦♦

I haven’t weighed myself since I’ve come to Europe. I’ve struggled with disordered eating a lot in the last few years and have learned that it’s generally better not to know. For now, all the clothes that I brought to Europe still fit. As long as they don’t get so small that I’m forced to buy a new wardrobe, I’m in good shape.

I don’t necessarily think my meals are drastically different, I still get my vegetables in (so long as they’re available), but I don’t really pay too much attention to the amount of fat in the food I eat and hell yes, I eat bread every day (#carbsforlife). The main differences are that I don’t fear “bad foods” (high in fat! bread and chocolate every day! white rice and white bread!) anymore and that I’ve been amazed by is how good the food here makes me feel. Maja tells me that there are extremely strict food laws here. I guess that’s why the food is so expensive, but that’s also why it’s such good quality. In Toronto, drinking milk and eating cheese on a daily basis would always result in me huddled into a ball in pain.

I know there’s a whole food movement that companies are aggressively marketing in North America, but here, I don’t feel like there’s even a need to do this. Because it’s just a standard cost of entry. There’s no need to go to a specialty grocer and worry about a dirty dozen, or that any animal protein you buy could be packed with antibiotics and other fillers.

Vegetables here have so much flavour, that I don’t even find myself reaching for salad dressing. I don’t obsess about getting my fill in every day  – some days I get more servings, other days I get less. I feel satisfied, and I think about food less overall. I look forward to every meal, but I don’t worry about calories or getting enough of a balance. I just eat, and then I move on with the rest of my day.

I used to read about people who claimed to eat this way. I’ve read countless articles on “intuitive eating” and honestly never thought it was possible for me to adopt that type of lifestyle. I obsessed way too much about food. I worried when I ate “badly” and always felt like I was making up for something (e.g. no chocolate or baked goods for a week because I “indulged” on something and felt bad).

I know our situation in Switzerland is unique – we only have three grocery stores near us and the few restaurants in our area are extremely expensive and ordering off the menu is a big guessing game since hardly anyone speaks English. I don’t know what life will be like wherever else we go. I know that this way of eating was something I got used to in Scandinavia but fell out of in England when I felt like there was food to tempt me everywhere I looked when I went outside. In England, we ate out every day and many times those meals included chips (fries for you North Americans), burgers, and who knows what else. Some days, I wouldn’t have any vegetables at all.

I know I could easily fall into my old habits in Toronto, especially because (in my opinion), the culture as a whole is obsessed with food and you can’t really escape it. But, I feel like it’s less in my face here and that has given me a new perspective that I hope I can take with me when I come back to Canada. I can’t really describe it, but it takes less of a centre stage here and for someone who’s been struggling with food for years… it feels like a huge weight off my shoulders.

alison

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4 thoughts on “How my North American Diet has Changed in Europe”

  1. Oh my gosh, no way, you live in Toronto like i do?! We should do a meet and greet. 🙂

    I’m going to China this summer, any insight on how I can keep up my fitness and healthy eating?

    1. I don’t live in Toronto anymore – I just left in January and am currently in Europe now otherwise I would have loved to meet you. 🙂

      The first thing I do when I go to a new place is to find out whether it’s safe for females to run — and if it is, then I use that as my primary way of staying fit. If I can’t run, I’ll walk as often as I can – depending on how much you’re moving around, that can be enough! I don’t usually pay as much attention to healthy eating, because I’ve done that before and felt I missed out. Usually I am more active when I’m travelling anyway compared to when I’m at home, so it all balances out. I hope you have a great trip in China! 🙂

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