Last week my husband and I returned from a two-week trip to Fort Lauderdale. I promised my newsletter readers I’d comment on some of my observations I made while down there, and here they are.  There are really two things I want to discuss – how I managed to keep up my own healthy eating habits and some of the ways American eating habits differ from our own (in Canada).

First off, it was surprisingly easy to stick to my intuitive eating habits that I’ve been developing over the last little while. I was actually stressing out a little before I left because I thought I’d be tempted to eat everything in sight because I was on vacation.  I was also worried that even if I wanted to make healthy choices, I’d be stuck with eating crap food from American chains like Cracker Barrel, McDonald’s (the horror!), and T.G.I. Friday’s because of a lack of proper restaurants that were reasonably priced.  Boy, did I surprise myself!

I found it was actually easier to eat intuitively while on vacation. No schedules, no running around and no stress meant that I could lounge about in the sun all day and eat whenever I felt like it, which was usually at very odd times of the day.  My day ALWAYS starts off with a healthy breakfast, so I just kept up that habit.  Having a mini-fridge and microwave in our room meant that we could do groceries and prepare a few of our own meals rather than have to eat out three times a day.  It also meant eating only when and if we were hungry.  Much to my delight, it turned out that there was a Whole Foods Market not far from our hotel, so I relished being able to to pick out healthy and delicious meals to keep in our room.  (To my Canadian readers, Whole Foods is a grocery store that specializes in gourmet, healthy, and organic food.  The next time you’re in the States, I insist that you visit one: Loblaws will never look the same to you again.)

In terms of restaurant choices, we deliberately only went to places that served proper food, as close to home-cooked as possible. We only ate fast food once, and that was to satisfy my husband’s cravings, not mine, if you can believe it.  We got snack-sized sandwiches, and shared the fries.  We found a great Greek place not far from our hotel, that was like eating at home.  It was so good, we ate there three times!  I also tried to eat one salad a day, since I have a tendency to neglect my vegetables while on vacation, which tends to “back me up” (a common problem with vacationers).

One disturbing observation, however: the times we did choose to eat out, I noticed the meals tended to be very rushed. Not by us, but by the waitstaff.  About a minute after being seated, often even before having a chance to open the menu, the waiter would come by to take our order.  When we stammered that we weren’t ready yet, they’d keep coming back every minute or so until we choose our dinners.  Talk about being pressured!  And everyone knows that when you’re pressured, you tend to make impulse (read: unhealthy) decisions.  The food usually arrived fairly quickly, nothing unusually fast, and then we proceeded to eat like we normally would back home.  Usually, when I eat out, I take my time, savouring each bite, making conversation, etc.  However, I noticed that down there, most of the time the waiter would come back with our bill about five minutes after starting to eat.  I thought was not only very strange, but very rude!  It really makes you feel like you’d better hurry up and eat and get the heck out of there. 

All this to say that eating out wasn’t a relaxing, enjoyable experience, but rather a rushed and somewhat stressful one.  If that’s how all Americans treat their meals, like something to be done with ASAP, then it’s no wonder mindful eating is so rare and obesity so common.  If anyone else has had similar experiences, I’d love to hear them! Feel free to comment at the end of this post.