I first visited the island of Aphrodite during the summer between my third and fourth (junior and second) year at the University of Virginia. I had a summer internship to work at an import-export firm. I made a handful of friends, who were kind enough to hang out with a random 20-year old American living in a tiny apartment in the capital city of Nicosia. A friend came over one day after work. I pulled out a bag of pretzels for us to nibble on. I even laughed that I subsisted on rice (the only thing I knew to cook) and pretzels with mustard while at college.
This is the first time I realized the eating habits I had learned in America was fundamentally wrong.
My friend stared at me, curious and in shock. Rice and pretzels, she questioned. Doesn’t that make you fat? Of course not! Pretzels were fat-free, and so was the mustard. This surely had to be good for me, right? No meat, no sugar, little salt. What was the problem?
Basically, I was choosing foods that “stuck” to my bones. Bread, pasta, crackers, pretzels – they filled my belly, but did nothing to keep me full or satiated for longer than a couple of hours. I was eating according to the food pyramid I grew up with in the 80s.
Fast forward 10 years: I arrive back to Cyprus, this time with my husband (whom I met on that fateful summer internship), two kids, and 20 extra pounds of not-just-baby-weight on me. Years of sitting at a computer, at a desk, in a meeting, on an airplane coupled with fancy dinners (the company was paying!), “healthy” granola bars (saturated with sugar), and sandwiches on the go made me plump up. I was still consuming foods that stuck to my bones.
While living in Cyprus, I learned the art of filling up on foods that don’t stick to my bones. Now, I trade granola bars for fruit, home-cooked meals for sandwiches, grab cucumbers on the run, and eat a salad or soup nearly every single day. This has FINALLY allowed the weight to shift permanently.
Soup and salad? That’s just a lunch option at Ruby Tuesday’s, right? Wrong. This is how we folks in the Mediterranean eat. Every. Single. Day.
So let me break it down for you. It’s rather simple, actually. Fruits and vegetables grow in abundance in the Mediterranean region. People consume them to fill up. In the spring, summer and early fall, we eat a fresh salad at every lunch (which is our biggest meal of the day). In the late fall and throughout the winter, we enjoy a soup or stew to keep warm.
Either way, without realizing it, Mediterranean people fill our bellies with foods that don’t “stick to the bones” – they have high water content and allow you to fill up. It’s something that we in the West now call “volumetric.” Check out the article below for details on this “new” (I laugh as I write this, because there is NOTHING NEW about this diet! It comes naturally to us goddesses in the Mediterranean).
I don’t like being hungry. In fact, if I were honest, I can’t sleep if I am hungry. I am not a pleasant person to be around when I haven’t slept and I haven’t eaten (ask my husband). I can’t bear to deprive myself of food. With eating foods with high water content, then I am never hungry.
I love soup. I think it is a completely underrated food (group?) in America. Broth-based soups are the healthiest for you. In fact, a good way of retaining all those vitamins and minerals that often times get lost when boiling or steaming your vegetables is to add them to a soup. With every spoonful, you slurp up all those vitamins and none go missing.
I have read the Japanese enjoy a volumetric diet, as well. With miso soup and several cups of green tea consumed daily, you will never be hungry with so few calories.
Soups are also amazing as the catch-all when trying to empty out your fridge. Leftover chicken? Carrots that have lost their crunch? What to do with that half-head of cabbage left over from that fancy schmancy stir-fry? Homemade chicken and veggie soup. Lentils and veg with turmeric and a slight kick? My personal favorite. My kids’ favorite? Tomato-cream (I usually add carrots, onions and some basil) soup. Just experiment – what’s great about soups is that you can’t mess it up.
Most days, I don’t just eat soup for dinner. Like salad, it is a way to fill up your belly with healthy, light, water-based foods. In the Mediterranean, we don’t just eat a large bowl of greens and call it lunch. Salads are sides; but they take up about half the plate. Proteins and carbohydrates then comprise the other half, roughly equally.
Need to run, my fellow goddesses. Got to go make a pot of soup. It’s what’s for dinner.
Discover your Inner Aphrodite . . .