Losing the 'baby weight' US vs EU

This morning I read this article posted by @wandsci describing a woman's struggle journey to become and stay a size 0. I had never really thought about this much, but apparently in the eyes of some men "taking good care of yourself" as a woman means being skinny to the point where it's no fun anymore (unless you really enjoy running 8 miles every morning and exclusively eating iceberg lettuce for dinner. I wouldn't enjoy this much). Also: yikes. I have never been a size 0 but I also have never really struggled to be the size 4-6 that I am. I do however, have some observations to share regarding how easy it was to lose the ~10 extra pounds (5 kilos) that I had gained during both of my pregnancies.

While living in the US when BlueEyes was born, it took me about a year of normal eating and breastfeeding to lose those 10 pounds and fit back into my old jeans. While living in Europe for the past two months (Little Brother is almost 6 months now), I am already almost at my pre-pregnant weight AND I fit in all my old clothes. I could have written a funny blog post about how a stressful transatlantic move is an excellent, but very expensive, weight loss strategy, but instead I think there are three important differences between the US and EU in terms of how difficult it is to lose weight.

1. Added sugar. The first morning back in Europe when I drank orange juice from the supermarket, I could almost not keep a normal expression on my face:"oh my god this was so sour!". This made me realize how much added sugar the supermarket orange juice in the US must have. Same goes for most bread and a whole range of other products. Nearly everything you buy in the US tastes a lot sweeter than in Europe (yeah unless you buy organic super foods at Whole foods, but as a post-doc that means your entire paycheck turns into food).

2. Food availability. On the campus where I work now, there is 1 little supermarket, 1 restaurant (that is too expensive to eat lunch at on a daily basis) and a bunch of cafeteria's that have mostly soup and sandwiches but nothing fancy. The building that I'm in now, does not even have a vending machine! I bring my own lunch every day, because it is just too far to walk to anywhere I can buy food. Also: no free cookies/pizza/lunch or anything with meetings (I would be lying if I said I don't miss that..). But my point is: it is much harder here to find food, and there's much less of a culture of buying food for lunch.

3. Exercise. In the US, I would drive to work, park my car and have a 5 minute walk to daycare and the lab. I could bike to work, but I deemed it too dangerous to bike with BlueEyes, so only one of us could bike at a time. Here, we COULD drive to work, but we would have to park much further away from the lab. Also, because of traffic in the afternoon it literally takes an hour to get home, while it's a 20 minute bike ride. So we bike to work everyday, with BlueEyes and Little Brother in the cargo bike. But also in general, you usually have to walk just a bit further to get to a parking space from a store or to go to the downtown area of most cities. It's a lot easier to get 'free' exercise.

I'm not saying one is better than the other: I love the infrastructure in most US cities that allows you to park right where you need to be, instead of some European cities where taking your car to go pick something up from a store means trying to find very expensive parking for hours (and I realize this is very different between US cities too!). But it does make me realize how a bunch of seemingly small changes make such a big difference (at least for me) in how easy it is to lose weight without having to resort to long daily runs and eating iceberg lettuce for dinner.

6 responses so far

  • neuropolarbear says:

    i wonder how much of this is US vs Europe as opposed to urban vs suburban.

    Well i guess the added sugar thing is a continent switch. But the exercise part.

    • babyattachmode says:

      We actually live pretty similar here in terms of how far away we are from the lab and in what type of area we live. But you're right that it does depend a lot on where you are even within the US.
      I guess what I'm trying to say (but I'm in no way an expert on either city-planning nor weight/exercise/psychology-type issues) is that if you want people to lose weight or live a more healthy lifestyle, what matters a lot is the infrastructure and the prize and availability of food. And this has probably been researched extensively, I'm just now experiencing it myself. n=1.

  • babyattachmode says:

    The more I think about this I guess the challenge for future urban and building planning is to create cities and buildings that require people to exercise while not making them impossible to access for people with disabilities. Which might be a huge challenge.

  • Constance Reader says:

    "...the ~10 extra pounds (5 kilos) that I had gained during both of my pregnancies."

    Isn't the author already starting out on the abnormal side by only gaining 10 pounds during pregnancy? My friends were advised by their doctors that 20-30 lb weight gain during their pregnancy was normal and healthy.

    • babyattachmode says:

      That's why I say extra pounds. In total I gained about 40 pounds (from 130 to 170 if you want details), these 10 were left two weeks after baby was born.

  • Jessica Tollkuhn says:

    Fun post! With regard to disabilities, I have noticed that the UK seems way behind the US in accessibility in many buildings and train stations. I of course noticed this because I've had a stroller over there a few times and it is really hard to get around London with one. Not sure how things are in Europe proper.

    I have been biking almost exclusively for the past 7 years and we had to buy a car (and will prob have to get a 2nd soon enough) because we are going somewhere with no bike infrastructure and no public transit. Husband and I are really sad about this. He was discussing this fact with someone in his future lab who asked "why *wouldn't* you want to drive everywhere?". Aaaaaah, culture shock! Aaaaaaaaaaah!

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