Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Healthy Dutch table conversation

When Dutch men gather, talk often turns to diet and health. Travel, home repairs, and politics are also popular (sports and finance are almost never mentioned), but I'm consistently surprised at how often healthy eating dominates the conversation.

The South Beach low carbohydrate diet is their favorite, where bread, rice, potatoes, and corn are avoided inimage favor of meat, eggs, vegetables, and nuts. Usually there is a bit of associated head-shaking about German, Belgian, British, and French food and body shapes, and tips are swapped about what to eat, what effect it has, and how good we look after dropping a couple of kilos. An expatriate colleague speculates that this is because Dutch men are more open and self-confident; I think that they are just competitive at the waist instead of the wallet.

This interest was elevated to obsession after one of the bikers in our office got a Tanita body composition scale. image These high-end monitors measure weight and detailed body composition, then calculate overall fitness and physical age indexes. It's taken the Dutch diet and fitness wars to a whole new level. The scale estimated my physical age at four years less than my real age, where a colleague was ten years older: the office ranged from 5 years under to 20 years older. Soon, results appeared in PowerPoint presentations as well as lunch conversation.

This led to a spasm of bike riding and healthy eating as everyone drove their stats down over the next month. Cookies at the conference table were replaced by fruit; salads replaced sandwiches. Eventually, everyone happily stabilized a couple of years below their chronologic age, and conversation returned to comparisons of whole grains and biking gears.

Business travel is my worst threat to healthy living: from airplane food and conference table snacks to business drinks and dinners, the temptation to eat more and exercise less is ever present. I had just licked the holiday kilos before leaving for the US, and I'm sure it's going to be back when I return tomorrow. I hope for good weather to work it back down over the weekend...

(Appended observation: Why can't the Dutch put cheese and meat together between two slices of bread? It's always one or the other, never both. I admit to lagging in the lunch line so that I can quickly re-engineer the contents, escaping with a true sandwich and leaving two bread bits behind.)

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