More Than Eating Or NOT Eating; Why The Mediterranean Diet Is A Workable Lifestyle

Nutrition is more than just eating.

Diet is more than just not eating.

If you’ve been following my “Wellness Wednesdays” for the past few weeks, you know that I’m looking forward to dinner on Thursday night, when our Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner welcomes Julianna Saitta of Mediterranean Meals.

If it were just about eating a great meal, that would be fine. But it’s so much more than that. As we’ve been discussing, The Mediterranean Diet is a powerful, life-giving, and delicious way to eat.

Is It A Diet…or a Lifestyle?

I hesitate using the word “diet” when talking to people about nutrition because our culture has taken that word and turned it into something you do for a short time to lose weight in a hurry. That’s unfortunate because it really misses the point. Instead of “diet,” maybe we should use the word, “lifestyle.”

I think Ms. Saitta will help me illustrate that when she shares with us on Thursday night.

The Power 9

This week, I want to share one more aspect of the Mediterranean Diet that I think we can all benefit from. For years, I have been a part of the Blue Zones Project. If you’re not familiar, the National Geographic Society and researcher Dan Buettner studied the lives of 263 people around the world who had lived over 100 years. In studying their lives and habits, he identified nine traits that were consistent among them. In Blue Zones’ parlance, they are called the “Power 9.” Here’s how they describe it on their website:

1. Move Naturally

The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.

2. Purpose

The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy

3. Down Shift

Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.

4. 80% Rule

“Hara hachi bu”  – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.

5. Plant Slant

Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month.  Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards.

6. Wine @ 5

People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly.  Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.

7. Belong

All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community.  Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

8. Loved Ones First

Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).

9. Right Tribe

The world’s longest-lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

The Mediterranean Diet Lifestyle Checks The Boxes

One of the great things about the Mediterranean Diet is that it incorporates most of these tendencies. Depending on individual circumstances, you might be activating four, five, or six of these at a time. Bonus points if you are operating in all nine at once.

  • It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to enjoy a meal with your family and a group of local friends. I do this all the time. My mom and my sister’s family often come by for a Sunday afternoon meal, so you could say that reflects “Loved Ones First.”
  • When I have friends from church over, that displays my “Right Tribe” and “Belong” aspects. You might even say it reflects “Down Shift” because it’s usually a relaxing time for all of us.
  • A Mediterranean meal will always have plant-based foods, like a salad and fresh-cut vegetables, so there’s “Plant Slant.”
  • While I can’t speak for everyone at the table, I always stop eating before I feel full, so there’s your “80% Rule.”
  • If you’re a family-oriented person or you are motivated by serving or spending time with others, then this lifestyle satisfies your need for “Purpose.”
  • Depending on who’s at dinner, you might incorporate the “Wine at Five.” There is a lot of good research available about the health benefits of red wine (especially the presence of the natural chemical compound reservatrol), including benefits to the gut microbiome, heart, brain, and eyes. You can also make a case that it reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, especially in the lungs, colon, and prostate. I realize this is controversial, and certain groups have strong feelings about alcohol consumption, so I’ll leave that up to your conscience.

It Feels Good And It Is Good

That said, lifestyles that align with the Power 9 are associated with longevity, and the Mediterranean Diet/Lifestyle aligns with most of them. People who enjoy a casual social time around their meals benefit from the flow of positive, “feel-good” neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and others, which contribute to an overall feeling of wellness and peace and contribute to longevity.

One of the things that I really enjoy about our monthly “Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinners” is that it’s more than just a wellness lecture and it’s more than just food. There is a fun social aspect to what we do that adds all of these other benefits. Since gathering socially with like-minded people is as much a core component of the Mediterranean Diet/Lifestyle as it is of the Power 9, we are honoring both traditions at once.

Experience It For Yourself

I hope you’ll join us tomorrow night. It’s just one evening out of your whole month, but I believe that if you will adjust your calendar and make the effort to attend, you will find it well worth your time. Not only is Julianna a great cook, but she is also an entertaining and knowledgeable teacher. You might discover a love for a food you would never have tried otherwise. Break out of your routine — just a little — and do something fun with us Thursday night at 6:15. My office is located right behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road. I’m not much of a salesman, so don’t worry that I will try to hard-sell you on becoming my patient. It’s not my style.

Oh, and before you go… if this article was helpful to you, please take 8 seconds right now to share it on your favorite social media channel. You never know who else is looking for this information right now.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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