22 Weight Loss Secrets From Around the World That Are Totally Worth Stealing
Just about every culture has some habit that can help keep people healthy.
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Weight loss secrets from across the globe
Whole food diets. Brief fasting. Walking before and after a meal. Tea as the beverage of choice. Some of the best weight loss secrets aren’t secrets at all—they’re deeply rooted traditions practiced by people all over the world. “People in the Mediterranean region didn’t sit down one day and say, ‘let’s create a hot diet book,'” says registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of Read It Before You Eat It—Taking You from Label to Table. “Their diet is actually a way of life.” But you don’t have to be a globe-trotter to benefit. In fact, you may not have to leave your house to try these healthy tips.
Italy: A heart-healthy approach
People in Italy and all the countries around the Mediterranean traditionally eat meals rich in fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, and whole grains. That’s a snapshot of the famous Mediterranean Diet, which has been proven to improve heart health, support weight loss, and possibly even extend your life, says Taub-Dix. That way of life includes communal meals, big lunches, and small dinners, and a focus fresh, whole foods, plus a little wine if you choose. Sound doable? Try this simple way to eat like a traditional Italian.
Thailand: Spice it up
Thai food is among the spiciest in the world. Hot peppers raise your metabolism, but the real benefit of food with a little zing is that it slows your eating, says James Hill, PhD, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Nutrition Sciences of the University of Alabama’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center. “Americans eat too fast,” he says. “By the time your body signals that it’s full, you’ve overeaten. Eating slower is a good weight-loss strategy, and making food spicier is an easy way to do it.” Need major weight-loss motivation? Here are 42 fast and easy tips to try.
Brazil: Serve a side of rice and beans
All that shaking at Carnaval isn’t the only body-friendly habit in Rio; Brazilians enjoy this traditional dish with just about every meal. A study in the journal Nutrients found that beans might be “anti-obesogenic,” which basically means they may lower the risk of becoming overweight while also being top-notch, budget-friendly sources of fiber and protein. Eating beans is also associated with cholesterol reduction and lowering the risk of cancer.
Indonesia: Try fasting once in a while
Islam, this country’s leading religion, encourages periodic fasting: no food or drink from dawn to dusk. Others in Indonesia practice mutih, which allows only water and white rice. Although experts don’t recommend fasting for weight control, fasting in moderation can break patterns of mindless eating, says Dr. Hill. “Most Americans never get hungry,” he points out. “We’ve eaten the next meal before we’ve entirely digested the last one.” No need for strict abstinence to get these psychological benefits: Try just cutting your calories in half for a day. Registered dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth, nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color, agrees, but says: “I wouldn’t recommend fasting for people who have a history of eating disorders, as restricting food may trigger their disorder.”
Middle East: Pulses make a main course
All over the Middle East you’ll find delicious dishes that feature pulses—chickpeas, red and green lentils, and dried peas and yellow split peas—at the center of the plate, including spreads, salads, stews, and wraps. “Pulses are a valuable protein source, and though they sound strange, you’re probably already including them on your menu,” says Taub-Dix. Studies found that pulses are packed with micronutrients such as iron and potassium, and act as powerful ally in the fight against obesity. (Try these 50 weight loss methods doctors wish you would follow.)
Poland: Eat at home more often than you eat out
Poles typically spend only 5 percent of their family budget on eating out. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, the average American family spends half its food dollars at restaurants and fast-food joints. To save money and pounds, start tracking how often you eat out and how much you spend each month, and gradually cut back. Your health will thank you! According to a study in the International Journal of Behavior, Nutrition, and Physical Activity, cooking at home five days a week was associated with more fruit and vegetable consumption, better blood glucose control, and more effective weight maintenance.
Germany: Eat your breakfast
An impressive 75 percent of Germans eat breakfast daily (compared with just 44 percent of Americans). They’re not grabbing Egg McMuffins either; they’re sitting down to fruit and whole-grain cereals and breads. Nutritionists have been advising people not to skip breakfast for years, but recent studies give a better picture of its importance. In one 2018 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, eating breakfast was associated with better health, lower stress, and a higher quality of life. Here are some healthy breakfast ideas to get you started.
Netherlands: Swap the gas pedal for the bike pedal
Bikes (18 million) outnumber people (16.5 million) in the Netherlands. But unlike Americans (most of whose two-wheelers languish in basements and garages) 54 percent of Dutch bike owners use them for daily activities, such as shopping and traveling to work. The average Dutchman pedals 541 miles per year. Traffic lights in parts of Amsterdam are even synchronized to bike speed. Try using your bike to run errands close to home. If you’re of average size and pedaling at a moderate pace, you can burn around 550 calories per hour.
Switzerland: Try a bowl of muesli
Muesli is a porridge or cereal made from oats, fruit, and nuts, each of which has been linked to better health and weight control. It was developed by a Swiss physician more than a hundred years ago to nourish hospital patients, but the Swiss eat it for breakfast or as a light evening dish. Muesli’s fiber makes it slow to digest, keeping you feeling full longer. Read the label carefully, though: Sugar content can vary from 2 to 14 grams per serving. Try these ways to add more fiber to your diet.
Turkey: More tea, please
Any culture that sips tea all day and always offers a hot cup to guests has a lot to teach the rest of us about health. Tea is an amazing source of healthy antioxidants, and the caffeine in green and black tea can boost your mood and may even help you lose a few pounds. But Taub-Dix notes it’s also a great weight loss crutch: “When I want a break but it’s not time for a meal I will always get tea,” she says. “I feel like a steamy mug of tea is a great alternative to an unnecessary snack.” Read about 11 things that might happen if you switch from coffee to tea.
Russia: Carve out a dacha plot
Country houses, or dachas, where 51 percent of city folk spend vacations and summer weekends, almost always feature a garden. Russians grow their own vegetables and fruits and preserve and can what they grow. That makes their diet more nutritious.
Malaysia: Turn up the turmeric
This spice, a key ingredient in curries, grows wild in Malaysian jungles. One of its chief components is a substance called curcumin, which may turn out to be a potent fat fighter. A recent review in the journal Foods found that curcumin is linked to a variety of health benefits, and may reduce cholesterol and the risk of metabolic syndrome. Try some in your next stir-fry, and check out these weight-loss tricks only nutritionists know.
South Africa: Sip some rooibos tea
Enjoyed throughout the country, rooibos tea is more robust than green tea, and because it’s naturally sweet, it needs no sugar. Ditching your daily Frappuccino for a cup of rooibos could save you thousands of calories per month. “Tea-drinking cultures generally have lower rates of obesity,” says Fred Pescatore, MD, a natural medicine physician and author of The Hamptons Diet. “That may be from special compounds, such as catechins, that certain teas contain, or it may simply be that we often think we’re hungry when we’re really dehydrated.”
Hungary: Crunch more pickles
Hungarians like things pickled: not just cucumbers but bell peppers, cabbage, and tomatoes. These tart treats can help maintain your weight, probably because of the vinegar that pickles them. Growing evidence suggests that acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, helps reduce inflammation, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and the formation of fat.
Norway: Take a Sunday family tour
It’s a deeply rooted Norwegian habit: On Sunday, everyone from toddlers to grandparents heads out to hike (in summer) or cross-country ski (in winter). Compare that with the typical American household, where the only Sunday expedition is from the fridge to the football game on TV. Start a Nordic tradition in your house.
India: Get yourself all twisted up
Most Americans respect yoga’s stress-busting and flexibility-enhancing power, but not many realize it facilitates weight loss. In fact, a recent study found that yoga devotees have a lower body mass index (BMI) than other exercisers do. There are probably multiple reasons. Yoga is best done on an empty stomach and can build muscle (depending on your preferred poses), which boosts your metabolism. And it encourages mindfulness, which includes paying attention to whether you feel full.
Japan: Perfect the power nap
In this on-the-go country, many people take time for a daily 20- to 30-minute nap, says James Maas, PhD, a sleep researcher and author of Power Sleep. There’s increasing evidence that chronic sleep deprivation raises the risk of weight gain. Dr. Maas blames two hormones: leptin, which helps the brain sense when you’re full, and ghrelin, which triggers hunger. The less sleep you get, the lower your leptin levels, and the higher your ghrelin. “Many people think they’re hungry when they’re actually sleepy,” Dr. Maas says. “Instead of a snack, they need some shut-eye.”
Mexico: Make the midday meal the biggest
Instead of ingesting the bulk of the day’s calories in the evening, as most Americans do, Mexicans traditionally eat their biggest meal between 2 and 4 p.m. If you eat less at night, you’ll wake up hungrier and eat a bigger breakfast, which facilitates weight control. As a general fat-fighting rule, try to get the bulk of your daily calories at breakfast and lunch. Find out the secrets from people who lost 50+ pounds and kept it off.
France: Sit long, talk lots
The French excel at the leisurely family meal. On average, 92 percent of French families dine together nightly, compared with 28 percent of American families. “For the French, eating is the event of the day,” says Dr. Pescatore. “For us, it’s something we do before heading out to do something else.” Lengthy meals actually encourage less eating, Dr. Pescatore says. Conversation slows down the fork and gives you time to realize you’re full. Incorporate some of these mindful eating tips into your next meal.
Finland: Take up nordic walking
This is one of the Finns’ favorite outdoor activities. It’s not as exotic as it sounds: All that’s required is a pair of inexpensive, lightweight walking poles. Holding these in your hands aids balance, which is great if you’re older or if you’re on slippery terrain. Even better: Because they make you use muscles in your shoulders, arms, and torso, the poles transform walking into a total-body workout that burns 20 percent more calories, according to a study at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Winter or summer, it’s a simple way to derive more fat-reducing benefit from your regular walk.
Iceland: Eat something fishy
This island nation is surrounded by cold water, so no wonder fresh fish is a huge part of the national diet. Omega-3s in fatty fish like salmon and tuna lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, and build cell membranes throughout the body that perform anti-inflammatory functions. Eating more fish can also help with weight loss, says Largeman-Roth. “Because salmon is so high in protein and good fats, it’s very satisfying, so if you pair it with whole grains and leafy greens, it will keep you feeling full for hours, which means you won’t need to munch on extra snacks in between meals,” she says.
Netherlands: Swallow more herring
The Dutch down about 85 million of these slippery fish per year (raw). That’s about five for every person in the country (and five more than eaten here). They’re pickled, then served unadorned as snacks or in soft buns with onions and gherkins for lunch. Oily fish like herring is slimming for a few reasons, says Dr. Pescatore. It contains lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and cortisol is known to increase the amount of fat deposited around your middle. What’s more, lunching on herring or canned sardines guarantees you’ll ingest far fewer calories than you would if you eat a burger or even fish sticks. Just don’t forget the breath mints. Next, read about the weight-loss breakthroughs your doctor wishes you knew.
- James Hill, PhD, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Nutrition Sciences of the University of Alabama's Nutrition Obesity Research Center
- Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table
- Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color
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