Most Spanish people we see are not fat. A disclaimer: We see only city people, and they are usually skinnier because of the walking and the peer pressure. However, I have some ideas about why the Spanish are svelte.
- They eat bread and coffee for breakfast. Nobody will tell you this is a healthy breakfast, but it has a lot fewer calories than eggs, bacon, and potatoes.
- They keep eating small things all day. About 11 AM, they start eating tapas: ham croquettes, roasted veggies, olives, omelet squares, or teeny mini sandwiches (called “minis”). A sandwich is a little roll with one slice of ham inside. This is food so small that it is burnt off in the time it takes to walk from one tapas bar to another. If you break down and order a burger, it will have a two-ounce patty and five fries. Which is exactly right.
- The Midgia Menu. The three-course prix-fixe menu is a midday standard delight, served everywhere from the lowliest bars to the fanciest restaurants. (Six euros to forty euros, most about ten.) The menu includes a little starter, a little entrée, and a little dessert, which could be the world’s best orange on a plate, or an entire carve-it-yourself kiwi. After eating a variety of little things, in three courses, you feel you’ve had lunch.
- They take a break. Most all the stores and businesses, including many restaurants, close between 3 and 5 PM, which means people are actually forced to stop working and do something nice for themselves other than eat.
- The bus stops are far apart. Once you’re on the city bus it will only stop every five minutes or so. That doesn’t sound like much, unless you miss your stop and you have to panic for the next five minutes and then walk back for twenty minutes.
- Walking is part of the culture. It’s not unusual for people to go for a two or three-hour walk on weekends. (This is not a hike or a run, it is a stroll.) It could take all morning, or just be an evening event. For example: drive to the coast, walk an hour by the beach, stop for a drink and tapas, walk around the town for an hour, then have dinner. Walk a bit more before going home.
- Food stores are all closed on Sundays. This reduces the chances of binge shopping by about 14.3%. Exceptions: fruit and vegetable stands. Binge on that, why dontcha?
- Moderate alcohol is the tradition. When you’re eleven and your parents actually teach you to sip a half glass of wine with Sunday dinner, it takes all the fun out of rebellion drinking for life.
- Health clubs are actually clubs. At least mine is. There is no competitive training, no grunting under barbells, no preening in front of mirrors, no showoff stretches, no matchy-matchy outfits. People go there to have fun, and they laugh a lot.
- Nobody eats on buses, trains, in stores, or while walking down the street. Except ice cream, of course.
So now you’re thinking: “Wow! Louise must be wasting away!” Not yet. So far, I’m just taking notes.