Why Aren’t Germans Fat?

Back in Bavaria, after four days of fried fish, moorish soups , bread, cheese and, obviously, chocolate, I am forced to contemplate an issue that has haunted me since I first shoved a brie brötchen down my gullet many months ago. Why aren’t Germans fat? This is a question I give, at intervals, a great deal of thought to, not only because I managed to stack on 9kg (of which 7kg remains) when I moved here, but also because I am genuinely enamoured with – and have subsequently adopted – the German appetite and want to know how they eat what they do without being completely enormous. Remaining, in fact, quite the opposite. Strong, healthy and often quite lithe! Is it their metabolism, developed over thousands of years of eating particularly heavy foodstuffs? Is it their height? Does their general efficiency extend to their ability to process food?

Upon hearing the title of this post, SG exclaimed ‘but we are! We are the second fattest nation in Europe, after the Brits!’ I couldn’t believe it, and momentarily renamed the post ‘Why Aren’t Germans Fat(ter)?’ But some swift googling revealed Germany isn’t even in the top ten fattest nations in the developed world, and as of 2011 is only the 20th fattest nation in Europe. Put simply, Germany just isn’t in the fat club. It isn’t fat enough. And this boggles my mind.

Stumps of chocolate coated whipped marshmallow.

Why should Germans be fatter, you ask? Is it because I am horribly jealous of their long legs tucked neatly into knee high boots, of their invention and consumption of the Super Dickmann* (ridiculous in form and name) and little hip gold to show for it? Possibly. But also because the staples of German cuisine comprise what a lifetime of glossy magazines, celebrities, fad diets and shaky body image preyed upon by advertising, taught me are ‘bad foods’. And for a nation that lives on bad foods, they look pretty damn good.

After a lot of field work – and I am nothing if not thorough in my food field work –  I feel confident enough to be able to break down the staples of the German diet.

Wurst

Really, I don’t need to say much here. Never come between a German and their wurst. To them, wurst is not just processed meat and a bit of stray trotter all mashed up and packaged conveniently in stomach lining. To Germans, wurst is art. It is cultural identity (a friend of mine once famously assumed the German drinking toast was ‘wurst’ not ‘prost’ and so yelled it, confidently, whilst chinking his glass). It is life. There is nothing the Germans can’t make into wurst, there is nothing they won’t make into wurst. There is no form of wurst they won’t eat – big rolls of lunch meat, sausages in jars, in bread, on the grill, boiled in water, smothered in curry powder, in paste form, able to be squeezed out and spread onto brötchen.

I asked SG how many types of wurst he thought there were in Germany and, looking quietly thrilled to be consulted, said, ‘oh, I couldn’t say. There are so many, the possibilities are endless. You can have a wurst that is one kind and then add one or two different ingredients and you have a completely different wurst.’  He went on to discuss a few different examples (‘and this is just breakfast wurst!’) and closed with this audacious assessment; ‘there are possibly millions of types of wurst.’

Brot – Bread

Coming from a city of sushi, Thai and artful salads, and a skinny-love culture in which carbs are the devil in fragrant, floury disguise, the first thing I noticed upon moving here (when I visited here in 2007,  I was too busy drinking Jagermeister and trying to stay upright on a bicycle to notice much) was the deep, deep German love of bread. Bread is their thing, and rightfully so. German bread is absolutely wonderful. Never has there been such variety, such quality in the bread roll (brötchen) field. This is a country that eschews simple sliced bread (known, rather disdainfully, I feel, as ‘toast brot’) consigning it to quick breakfasts or emergencies only. Sliced bread doesn’t do bread justice. Toast doesn’t do breakfast justice. A loaf of sliced Wonder White? There’s the door. Get out. And wash your mouth out with soap as you leave.

Bread isn’t a dirty word in Germany. It is a celebrated dietry staple. There are more bakeries than people*, they are on every corner of every street. They are open on Sundays. Bakeries are where you go to ‘grab’ meals. Whereas once I grabbed sushi, now I grab a cheese stuffed, sunflower seed covered bread roll. And often something sweet like, for example, a Berliner. Because any round ball of sweetness, dusted in sugar and filled with jam should not ever be made to feel unwanted.

Käse – Cheese

It helps when you share a border with Holland and France, two deities in the cheese world, and Germany produces some rather delicious cheese itself. But wherever it comes from, cheese is plentiful, tasty, varied and cheap. It is also on every brötchen in every bakery (often baked onto the brötchen, resulting the imaginatively named Käsebrötchen) every breakfast table and woven into as many dishes on as many menus as possible.

Schweinefleisch – Pig meat

Germans worship at the altar of the pig. To be a pig in Germany is to be loved and eaten with equal gusto. It is to be completely unsafe from bib-wearing Germans, licking their chops and getting ready to carve you up and eat every little part of you with a side of potato dumpling. They will roast you, fry you, crumb you, mince you, wurst-ify you, bake you, take your knuckles and your elbows, schnitzel you, roll you, smother you in cheese and bake you again, spread you, raw and pink onto their breakfast brötchen.

Not just tasty, versatile and plentiful, pigs are also considered lucky critters and the Glücksschweinchen (little lucky pig) appears in many forms (often marsipan, because, you know, why not) throughout the country, most often around Christmas and New Years Eve. A touch of research leads me to believe this perhaps has something to do with it being lucky to be in possession of a pig during harder, hungrier times.

Kartoffel – Potato

Fried, baked, boiled, molded into dumplings, cut into pommes, layered into gratin, flattened into pancakes, smothered in bacon and cream moonlighting as a ‘salad’ in the north, mixed with oil and vinegar in the south. Like the pig, the potato has many uses and, like the pig, is a menu star. Unlike the pig, it isn’t lucky. Just starchy and filling.

Other frequently appearing foodstuffs worth noting:

Dairy

Yoghurt, quark, cream, ice cream, drinking yoghurt, milk, cold kakao milk, creamy meat and seafood ‘salads’ for the breakfast table, creamy salad dressings, creamy soups, Hollandaise sauce, the aforementioned cheese.

Chocolate/Schokolade

Biscuits/Kekse

Cake /Kuchen

BEER

So there you have it. The German diet, handily condensed. Now can you see why I spend so much time thinking about this? I do have my theories – I would be academically embarrassed if I didn’t, after all of this strenuous field work and analysis, but I would rather like to hear yours. Lack of refined sugar? Efficient metabolisms? An overall healthier attitude to food? (Bolded to denote my preference for this theory).

Hit me.

* The only sweet that has ever defeated me.

** Fake statistic.

Brötchen image

48 Replies to “Why Aren’t Germans Fat?”

  1. I honestly think Germans are able to deal with their diet because of their devotion to exercise. Germans bike everywhere and the vast majority of them also play some kind of sport on a regular basis. They don’t eat and then sit on their butts like many nations do.
    Alas, the German devotion to exercise is something I have not yet picked up whilst I’ve been here, but I have adopted their diet rather quickly as my expending girth will testify.

  2. Hahahaha I adopted the diet but shunned the bike … probably explains a lot! I also have a theory that they have an overall healthier attitude to food. They enjoy it, then they walk/bike it off. I don’t see as much of this ‘bad food’ guilt shit that abounds in skinny-obsessed cultures. Have you noticed a difference in food attitude?

  3. The Dutch diet is similar except with an even higher percentage of fried foods. But they also love their fish, veggies and smoothies and are physically active (e.g., biking for transportation) and ourdoors a lot. I see a lot more portion control here as well.

    1. I thought about the portion control thing too – I mean, to me, meals here are QUITE big, generous one might say. That being said, I do believe American portions are on a scale all of their own, so perhaps compared, German sizes are smaller (certainly things like soft drinks and fast food sizes are smaller). And Germs aren’t too amazing with fresh fruit and veggies – that is something I do miss.

      1. Salads are really big in the area of Germany I lived. The diet was pretty varied, and in the Rhine valley lots of veggies, salmon, plus the usual fare. The difference I’ve seen since moving back to the US 9 months ago is the fat content of American foods-you can’t just get a Rueben sandwich, with sauerkraut and ham or corned beef, it now comes with american swiss cheese and a 1000 island sauce and/or mayo, and the bread is very different, even the whole grain local bakery bread. They use a different kind of flour than in Europe and I’ve gained 7 lbs since being here, and I swear it’s the bread!
        I loved how, after a big meal, Germans go for a long walk.

        1. They are definitely more active as a general rule of lifestyle – they cycle, they walk, most of them ‘make sport’ in their free time. I find the salads to be a little heavy on the dressing sometimes and not so popular down south – but up north they are and yes, lots of fish. I think as well, the Americans eat stuff with more sugar – the bread has sugar, the low fat stuff has sugar, everything has sugar. And that’s worse than good/natural fats. I put on 10 kg after moving to Germany because I was eating so much bread … because it is so delicious (and genuine)! Now I have to limit myself to weekends.

  4. Very interesting analysis, I agree that physical activity and all that yogurt and müsli definitely help staying slim, but I have an additional theory: the quantity of food Germans eat on a daily basis is quite modest.

    Let’s not consider special celebrations (e.g. Christmas) where feasting is the norm, by observing the people around me, on a normal working day from 9 to 18 all they seem to eat is yogurt, one or two small brötchen and fruit. I suspect that for dinner they have a substantial meal, meaning a decent amount of meat or fish or a plate of rice or pasta (which shouldn’t be eaten in the evening anyway). I don’t know how they do it, in order to operate I need a breakfast, a proper lunch and dinner and a small snack between each — eating five times a day at regular intervals is often recommended by doctors. So if my average daily calorie intake is, say, around 2200, theirs is probably 1700, meaning they’re not eating as much as they should: it makes sense that they’re not fat!

    1. It is true. I lived in Muenster as a foreign exchange student way back in the late ’70’s. Gained an enormous amount of weight, though walked it all off at the hands of my host parents before I returned to America.

      Still follow their diet: big breakfast and even bigger lunch. Powers one through the day. Evening meal in germany is just simple bread and cheese, not a big deal. Small, just to still hunger.

      Now, I actually do not eat anything after a “late” lunch anymore. Nothing after about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. No need to eat a big meal in the evening as we are all going to bed shortly, right? Big American evening meals are irrational, unless, of course, you are a football player and are intending to gain mass.

      And, yes, germans do bike and walk alot, so there’s where the secret lies.

      LOVED kase and brot and lots of pastries, which is why I got fat in the beginning. Though, actually, we all have our metabolic “set point” and it will naturally re-adjust itself if we are in balance (the biking and walking were key to introduce when I was in Meunster, otherwise, I would have remained ein dickes madchen).

      Language. I always advocate complete and total immersion, which is what I had to do when I was there. Attended gymnasium in a german school, so there was no room for set-defaulting to english. Foreign language only is very, very good for becoming fluent in a short period of time, which I did.

  5. I figure it’s the same reasoning as the “skinny French” trend. They eat good, quality food, but it smaller doses and accompanied by more active lifestyles. No guilt and good examples makes you less likely to overindulge, I suppose.

  6. I guess you got on the right path with ‘wurst’, ‘bread’ an ‘beer’… The Germans (to which I belong ;)) define their culture with their food. Its not that you walk around an think about ‘bad food’ as you call it, but its more the fact, that eating is strongly related to ‘enjoying life’.Nowhere else is such a sumptuous variety an high quality in bread or baked goods for example. Furthermore the German food culture ist strongly related to the social life. People visit you at home, you offer them some sweets or some selfmade cakes or whatever to show that you want them to feel comfortable with you and that you care for them. Maybe you can compare it to the turkish folkway to serve extremely sweet tea to guests… It is sort of cultural behaviour.
    And to answer your question: I am sure, we, the Germans would be much more fatter if we don’t do sports to compensate our love for substantial, tasty, good food 🙂

  7. You definitely covered the main ingredients of a German diet 🙂 But looking around me in my hometown or anywhere else in Germany to be honest, there are so many fat people…and enough chubby ones to go around. It’s not quite the scale of what I saw in the US when I lived there…but there are definitely too many fat people, it’s not healthy. And viewing the German diet from an outside point of view (I am living in Thailand now) it is very rich in carbs and fat. So if you are like me, love food and don’t really enjoy exercise then you need to keep your intake of food in check quite a bit 🙂

    All in all, a great article and point of view…and I miss my Wurstsemmel in the morning 🙁

  8. ” ‘there are possibly millions of types of wurst.”
    that’s ridiculous 1000 to 2000 on the outside and that’s probably accounting for schinken and leberkäse too if you want to lump that in with wurst.
    and no shop carries them all of course most them being regional specialties.

    rule of thump — the further south you go the more food and wurst obsessed germans grow.

  9. I had a friend make a similar comment on a photo of me in Belgium with a huge cone of frites – how could I not possibly have gained a bunch of weight? Sure, I eat fries and Schnitzel and beer, but not for every meal. I’m convinced that in addition to a healthier attitude about food and a more active day-to-day lifestyle, food quality plays a big part. Coming from America, I’m astounded at the tiny ingredient lists on even processed foods in the grocery, not to mention the lack of all the ‘diet’ crap that’s so tasteless, one ends up eating twice as much just to gain any sort of satisfaction. I too find the portion size here surprisingly large (not even close to America, but still) and rarely can finish everything on my plate. Which then of course elicits the German response “was everything OK?!!”, because something MUST be wrong if I left food on my plate. 😉

  10. Do they drink a lot of soda, full of high fructose corn syrup? That can add a lot of invisible calories. Do they use transit and walk a lot everywhere, as well as biking?

    What do they eat as snacks – junk food or do they even eat snacks? I used to work with overweight ladies who always tried to diet by eating light low-fat meals. I would have a substantial lunch, egg salad or ham and cheese sandwich , salad with oil and lemon, a soup, veggies and cheese bits and then fresh fruit for dessert. They were amazed I could eat so much and stay slim. But I noticed that around 2:00 they were always hungry again (I wasn’t, my lunch held me down til dinner) and then they had to slip out and get a bag of tortillas or chips to eat during break and often an ice cream after work before driving home. Their too small lunch seemed counter productive.

  11. Love the read Liv
    I don’t knowmy German girlfriend has to eat 3 times a day and is a size 8
    When we travelled together I couldn’t keep up with her eating
    Metabolism or just dam lucky

    1. I am still yet to find out – I think it may be processed versus natural or something. But even so, if I eat the grainiest of breads, I still put on weight. Perhaps it’s their efficient metabolism!

  12. I am German. Right now I live in the US, the fattest (second fattest?) nation in the world. So I got this.

    Why Germans are not fat:
    1. Less food. Three meals a day. Warm lunch. Light dinner.
    2. Better produced food (Try to find something that contains 70% high fructose corn syrup in Germany that is NOT from the US).
    3. Better bread. It is REAL bread. Eat three slices and you’re done for the next six hours.
    4. Universal Health Care. Nobody GETS morbidly obese because your doctor will just be pissed.
    5. Less huge fast food chains that people seem to go to on a regular basis. People in McDonald’s in Germany are always exclusively drunken people. Or lower income children on birthday parties. But that just happens a few times a year.
    6. More Bio food.
    7. More Greens/Econerds/Bio-people
    8. Schinken. Yes, Schinken is dead pig, but if you process it right, it has veeeeery little bad fats.
    9. No binge drinking of cheap alcohol. You ever wondered what is worse for you body? Five REINHEITSGEBOT’S beer or half a bottle of 8-dollar-vodka? Easy one. Also, we get really drunk less often, because we’ve known alcohol since we are like … five.
    10. Good Welfare system. Less people are really poor, so more people can afford a balanced diet. (For those who don’t believe that in industrialized states poverty causes obesity: Look it up.)
    11. We smoke. A lot. Smoking helps against eating.
    12. Cakes are only consumed by old ladies.
    13. Really, not too many people eat wursts. Look up how many people live vegetarian in Germany.
    14. We don’t like to put sugar in real meals.
    15. Yeah, you’re right. I guess this breaks down to: An overall healthier attitude to food.

    …that’s all I can come up with.
    Awesome blog 🙂

    Love from Durham, NC, with a bagel and a muffin in my hands.

    1. LOVE your reasons and absolutely agree with all of them. Germans have a much healthier attitude to food, a generally more active lifestyle – walking, cycling etc – and food is of a higher, less processed quality. Much, much better!

      1. Hey Julian and Liv,
        I completely agree! I live in the U.S. for four months now and I definetly lost a lot of weight, only because I refuse to eat “Toastbrot” and I am too lazy to make bread myself more than once a month. Luckily my hostfamily doesn’t mind me eating my huge lunch and then just my beloved yoghurt in the evening wile they have warm dinner.
        Another point is that from my experience I’d say we Germans are thirsty. We drink much water, tea and coffee. Maybe that helps our metabolism and keeps the stomach filled and prevents hunger between the meals? Just a theory… 😉

        1. what would you call a ‘huge lunch’ in germany? im just curious because i would like to try the diet that you had and see if it works for me.

    2. Super Dickmans Ingredients: glucose-fructose syrup, chocolate 24% (sugar,cocoa butter,cocoa mass, lean cocoa,whole milk powder,emulsifier:soy lecithin, vanilla extract, (wheat flour, sugar,wheat starch,yolk powder,cream powder,vegetable oil,emulsifier:soy lecithin sodium hydrogen carbonate, salt,natural flavour), humectant sorbitol, …

    3. I am currently on a school language exchange in northwest Germany.When i first arrived it was very healthy salat bread meat and some seafood. The breakfast is not bad but during the school day the teacher brought the class chocolate cake and my friend told me that they eat cake from the teachers in the school twice a week.

      I was so shocked because That is very strange to get cake from teachers. so im sort of worried i will put on a lot of weight during my time here. Also when i came home my guestmother gave me to eat chocolates, the wafers with chocolate in the middle, kinders and cake. I was so full i had to skip their dinner which was fried chicken ham and cheese bake.

      My diet here is very diffrent from where i am as i eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and fish. And maybe i am wrong but i think they eat more vegetables than fruits.

  13. Moin allerseits,

    I never really thought about these “cultural things” until I moved to the Netherlands about a year ago. I always enjoy(ed) reading about the perceptions of German(s,y) through the eyes of someone from another culture. I was born in Germany (Bielefeld, by the way), but have a Dutch mother and – not surprisingly – half my family is Dutch (although, thanks to different mortality rates, the balance has tipped in favour of my mother’s ancestry these days).

    Sometimes I would proudly pretend to my fellow Germans that I was Dutch (technically true) because of this “other side” to me. I enjoyed the German version of our family’s get-togethers with Kaffee und Kuchen (ate as much as I could), while during our visits to Holland, I usually had to survive on one piece of cake (which it wasn’t for me). There used to be (or still is) the Dutch custom of offering only one piece of anything to your guest (be it Kuchen oder Plätzchen). Fortunately, we managed to germanise our kin left of the border in that respect.

    They, however, retaliated by teaching us how to live without curtains, an endangered custom in the Netherlands these days. Proudly, my Bielefeld home remains a curtain-shunning bastion. You see, there are so many subtle and less subtle cultural peculiarities that you may take for granted, but once you go abroad it opens your eyes to these differences.

    So earlier this year I started my great experiment and moved to my mother’s country to do a one-year Master’s degree in linguistics and experience a bit of the culture that seemed so familiar to me during all the short weekend visits or holidays.

    To make a potentially very long story very short, I soon missed German Brot and Wurst, the Dutch equivalents of which feel and sadly taste like an afterimage of the real thing. Dutch bread is soft to the point where you think of using it as insulating wool… While we’re at it, I miss excursions to my Baumarkt which even without actual DIY projects was just paradise. @God: You can keep your Heaven, I’ve got Hornbach.

    Ah yes, Wurst. I once bought a tin of “knakworstjes” (I guess they were meant to be Knackwürstchen), and to my utter dismay discovered that the “Würstchen” had as much “Knack” as an old man on viagra. Makes you miss your Frankfurter, Wiener, and so weiter… The local cheese department is fabulous, but twice as pricey as back home. You know what I got on two occasions when I came home for a weekend? Weißwürste. Yum, so worth traveling for with Deutsche Bahn.

    So, after nearly one year (three weeks to go before I move back to Germany, home), I think I am more German than I realised, certainly more than I thought I was one year ago. You might wonder, if I was part Dutch to begin with, why complain now? Right, that’s what I tell myself: “Told you so!” Or with German eloquence: “Selbst Schuld”… But I am not complaining, really. I had a great time here.

    Best regards,
    Christian

    PS. Dutch people jay-walk & cycle. I’m busy staring them down. Doesn’t help but feels like the right thing to do. Send help. 😉
    PPS. Sorry for the diatribe. Tried to refrain from using non-essential words.
    PPPS. Das Beste kommt zum Schluss: Liv: superb articles, tremendously well written, and spot on! Enjoyed them greatly, especially the “What I know about Germans” list! 🙂

    1. Haha! Love your comment about the Dutch bread! I think the most awful thing about it actually is, that it sometimes looks like the good old bread from Germany and you are already in jubilation “yes I finally found good bread”and then you realize that it is till soft and squashy inside… Before I moved to the Netherlands I was always making jokes about all the Germans that move away and are complaining about the bread somewhere else, but I was living here for just about two weeks when I already had enough of the Dutch bread!
      So every time when I am in Germany I take at least one bread with me and put it into my freezer 😉

  14. Many Germans snack during the day. But that snack will usually be yoghurt or an apple.
    Also, because we eat a very nutritious breakfast, we don’t need to eat as much during the day. The quality food (especially the bread) fills you up much much longer than bread in other countries (toast).

    I also agree, that there are a lot of not-skinny people in Germany and personally found the jogging obsessed Australians to be way skinnier when I lived there.

    Now, that I am living in the US I’m coming to the conclusion, that a lot of it appears to be connected to education. At my college, most people have a healthy weight while those without college education seem to be putting on the pounds. Thinking about it I have seen it in Germany, too.
    A lot of unemployed people seem to be overweighed wich is possibly due to sitting around all day eating cheap food of a lesser quality.

    Also, for Germans eating is a social event.
    We love cooking together, eating together. Most families will never eat proper meals in front of the TV or on the run which has been proven to make you eat more and too fast.

    Oh, and we stop eating when we are full. This is why we have quite a great left-over culture. We love that tupperware and you will find leftovers in every german fridge/freezer.

  15. I lived in Munich for several years and I am married to a German. I agree with many of the things said already. The one thing that I would add is the culturally there is a big value placed on “restraint”. It kind of falls into their disciplined culture, I guess. I hear a lot of comments from my in-law family about not eating too much , or if/when they do, making sure they get out and walk afterward and/or make sure they cut back on the next few meals. Whereas in the US gluttony seems to be a good thing, there it is very frowned upon… One other thing – I found that things in Munich weren’t nearly as convenient (no one stop shopping, you have to carry much more stuff yourself, etc.) – while I found this very frustrating from a terrible customer service experience, I realized how pampered we are in our daily lives in the US. And…people do more things manually (e.g. people sweep their front steps, vs. washing them down with a hose). These types of things mean you just have to move more to “live”. I always hesitate to generalize because everyone’s experience is unique, but these were my observations, fwiw…

    1. Aaaabsolutely with the one stop shop. Us Australians are similar to the Americans, in that we tend to favour a very big supermarket with EVERYTHING. We don’t like shop-hopping. Germans shop-hop, and a lot of them do it by foot or bicycle. And you are so right about the manual thing. Plus they like taking walks after meals. I think it is a case of all of these little ingrained habits adding up to just a healthier, more active lifestyle. Plus, probably less processed, less sugary food in general.

  16. I think the food there is just better. Also, my German teacher in high school SWORE that Mineralwasser helped digestion. I don’t know if that is true, but it’s surely another idea.

  17. I don’t find Germans to be sooo much skinnier. Less overweight that the States? Yes (but really, who isn’t). Always skinny? Definitely not. Funny that I read this now, because recently I have been having the recurring thought as I walk down the street that “Germans are the masters of wurst, both in food and in clothing.” By that I mean, of course the bratwurst, etc., but on the clothing side, I simply see a lot of overweight people, OK women mostly, wearing really tight clothes and looking like well dressed sausages. Like those tight stockings that everyone wears all the time for all occasions here. In the States, I think they are called control top panty hose. And super tight jeans. And lots of tight sweaters. All this simply holds otherwise quivery gelatinous fatty parts together in a more solid looking form. Just like the stomach lining on a wurst. And the biking helps it stay a little firmer too. They are still overweight, but they know how to package it better and are prouder of it. Just like real live walking wursts. That said, whatever the secret, they do tend to look better and healthier on the whole than their American counterparts for some reason.

  18. So, with all these answers I didn’t really stop to read (damn internet, one would think I am less of a german for not being thorough) I’d like to compile a few thoughts I have on this.

    First off: The definition of fat is an interesting on especially the self conscious part. I considers myself to be overweight (not fat though) and I am trying to lose weight. But on a normal scale 88kg on 1.8m body height is really far from fat. For a man that is actually close to “normal weight”.

    I don’t have such a great metabolism as alot of my friends seem to have (this whole chucking down sugar, candy chocolate at alarming rates and still be tiny size 30 women complaining about their weight :P) so cutting down on sugar (especially lemonade etc) brought me down from near to 100kg. And there comes my first reason:

    Positive encouragement! Nobody ever (except my brother, but you know brotherly love ;)) told me I was fat or overweight, I not once in my life heard a “Hey did you gain weight?” from a fellow german. But the moment I started working on it an losing weight the opposite “Hey, you look great, did you lose weight?” questions popped up from everywhere. Which is a great boost of motivation and encouragement right there.

    So reason No. 1: If you try to lose weight in germany the chances are you are supported alot and if you are gaining weight chances are you are not shoved into a eating frenzy depression because people call you fat.

    Next part: Vegetables, ever noticed the 1/4 part of each supermarket being devoted to fresh vegetables and fruit? I have not so much experience with american supermarkets there but I don’t remember seeing such things in such variety and low prices in the normal TV-shwon parts. And then you got frozen vegetables as well. And the great variety as well, if you add to that the relative high standards for food processing in germany (Food with high fat/high sugar that is not supposed to be “dessert” or “snack” is really looked down upon) then there is a really high rate of healthy food around. Even the bread, high on carbohydrates, is high on fibers (completely different to the white bread which seems to be primary bread source elsewhere.

    So reason No. 2: High food quality, high awareness of “healthyness” in food by the general german and an obession with vegetables.

    Small part, I’d probably call 2.5: The “Sparkling” thing. If you start mixing up stuff with sparkling water 50/50 you immediately reduce the calories and sugar bei half, at the same time it increases refreshment. So by making Apple Juice to Apfelschorle you reduce the sugar/calories by half, increase refreshment and fulfill the german desire to have sparkling stuff.

    So Reason No 2.5.: Delitung stuff with sparkling water decreases calories 😉

    The next part had already been said, I am quite sure: In comparism to the US for example, people tend to forego using cars if possible. (Gas prices are at 1.5€/l by now so it does make sense form a monetary standpoint). When I hear horrible rumors of people getting to their car to drive to their mailbox 5m [~5 yards] from their door in the car instead of just walking to get the mail I am not surprised about obesity.

    And if people even walk to 1-2km to the supermarket or use the bike for it, then you have exercise piling up even if the normal german wouldn’t call it that. But such small things pile up and can really make up for some dietary disgressions.

    So Reason No. 3.: Germans have exercise even if they wouldn’t admit it

    The next one: Our Healthcaresystem and social services. Even if there are genuine complaints that the Healthcare isn’t performing as good as it should be and that the rates of social services are barely enough to feed yourself and your family both systems are generally far superior to those in other countries (except a select few that really excel there….looking at you scandinavia). So even the poorest germans don’t have to live by a diet of McDonalds, Taco Bell and cheap microwave food. Nor do they have to skip out on appointments to the doctor where they are told that “they should lead a more healthy lifestyle and might want to lose some weight, here is a broschure of some sportsactivity your Health Insurance covers…” [Yes, Health Insurance companies are (rightly so) encouraging and even paying for courses and different apporahces for losing weight and leading a more healthy life. Go figure it makes SENSE financially. [Healthe people need less expenses after all].
    On a small sidenote: Healthy food and self cooked meals are in most cases not even far mor healthy and superior in taste and quality but in 99% of the cases even far CHEAPER than take-out or fast food! [While it seems companies like McD and similar provide a far cheaper way to feed your family in America than trying to buy fresh food as far as my rumor mills told me.]
    If I calculate up I can eat quite good for 5-10€/per day if I take the time [I just have to buy some tuff in bulk or eat the same thing in a row.]

    Example: Rinced meat can be had at 1.80€/500g, one wouldn’t need more than 250g on a normal meal even if you stuffed yourself. So 0.9€ [which enrages lots of vegetarians because it is hell cheap….] Then even in winter I just bought a fresh brocoli for 0.8€ [And I eat alot of vegetables so that one would have been enough for two people!] So at max there are 2€ for meat and vegetables. Add Potaoes, 1€/kg or something, so the cost is negligible. Spices etc are not always cheap but you dont need a whole pack of 100g for one meal. so lets say thats another 0.5€ per meal.
    So at 3€ you got Dinner with potatoes, vegetables and rinced meat and it might even be enough for 2 people.

    One meal at McD costs around 6€-8€ so go figure 😉

    So Reason No. 4.: Healthy food is cheaper than fast food, Healthcare is avaiable for everyone and encourages healthy lifestyles and even people living on social security can, in comparism to countries that don’t have them, lead to acceptable healthy living [And yes I personally thing the social security rates are still too low to support a family due to the need for more than just food and clothing but well]

    Damn I am running out of reasons to write even though I had so many. I probably mashed them up into the 4.5 above anyway 😉

  19. I had my second baby in Oz just before we moved to Bavaria last year, I weigh more now than just after the birth. It’s the moorish pretzels & dense beer, coupled with my Nth Qlder disinclination to ‘go for a stroll’ (really a 2 hour powerwalk) after. My only recourse is to eventually return to the land of ‘it’s too hot for anything except salad & lying around’. Oh and the beer at home is awful, so no bloat! Haha, love your work Liv x

  20. I remember something I experienced on one of my trips to the US: We were in Orlando and wanted to by some basic food stuff. So we went into a local supermarket and encountered rainbow coloured toast, and a wall full of orange juice. Countless brands, but I wanted some proper juice, which is actually made out of oranges, not some sort of overly sweet juice pretender – so I could in the end choose from exactly two brands. That’s right, in the middle of orange county, it was nearly impossible to buy proper orange juice in a regular supermarket.

    And here you have your answer. The German diet is not exactly light, but what we put in our bodies counts. For most people soft drinks are something you drink at a party or if you are going out, but not everyday. A proper breakfast lasts for hours. Germans might sit down for café and cake, but you can bet that in turn they will eat less in the evening. And we actually walk if possible instead of using the car to get everywhere.

  21. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through some of these comments. I remember four days spent in Berlin where my friends and I would go to the same bakery every single day. I felt the same way that you described about bread and cheese. particularly the bread. I thought Julian was right on the money when he said it was real bread – the kind that fills you up and no nasties. Salivating over the blog today, Liv.

    1. A lot of their bread is fibrous as well, really nourishing and solid. I eat more bread here and I ever did at home, but I don’t feel bad for it. The whole anti bread, anti carb movement so beloved of our people just doesn’t wash here. It doesn’t need to! The carbs are good!

  22. Such a great article, Liv – I really enjoyed it (whilst secretly wishing I was a little skinnier myself. despite the sausage diet…) Personally I think the biggest difference between Germany and France, for example, and the US and the UK (where I live) is that eating is a conscious decision for us, something we sit down for, share and enjoy preparing; in the UK eating is something you have to do, ideally while hunched over a screen so that nobody notices. As a result you end up eating more, more often and more unhealthy stuff. I remember spending a holiday in France doing nothing but eating – from midday to 5 pm, actually, every day, as lunch came in 4 courses. At the end of the fortnight I had lost weight: thanks to the time spent eating with friends I had no appetite left for any snacking.
    Now I better get our sausages ready for dinner …

    1. Spot on. And I think that food culture is all across Europe. The enjoyment in preparing and sitting down to it. It is pervasive, how we treat food, and you see the results in our shapes and weight battles for sure!

  23. Hi Liv, I love your blog, my Irish partner just discovered it today and read bits out to me.
    As a German living in Ireland for over 12 years now, my theory would be that most Germans never got caught up in that fat-free but full of sugar craze that turns out to be the real cause of obesity after all. Saturated fats, dairy and butter are not as bad as they were made to be years ago and they are much more satisfying, therefore you can only eat so much or overindulge, feel sick and eat way less at the next meal. Overindulging on carbs and sugars is no problem for the body, on the contrary, you get addicted and crave more and more.

    None of my friends or family in Germany ever dieted, we ate what we felt like and after a period of eating more we simply ate less, no big deal. Body size, clothes sizes were never a big topic, preparing and sharing meals was just too enjoyable an activity to be spoiled with worries about calories.

    And, as several people said before me, the general quality of food is just so much better in Germany, the Wurst actually contains meat and not mostly weird stuff as here in Ireland, where it took me years to overcome my disgust of local sausages and still find most of them vile. The bread is mostly healthy and nourishing not squared candy-floss, even the sweet luxuries like cakes and pastries are so much better than the stuff here, where the list of ingredients reads like my son´s chemistry copybook. I still suffer from regular German cravings for Kuchen or Teilchen (small sweet pastries of all kind), but a look at the shelves of local supermarkets or even “bakeries” cures me from these notions instantly…if I want to eat something nice, tasty and reasonably (un-)healthy I have to cook or bake it myself!

  24. Hi, just discovered and enjoy your blog. In the UK, we can buy good quality food, but it is expensive for people on tight budgets. There is also a culture of working long hours, and long commutes very often, which is awful for health and fitness in general. Lots of people don’t cook much now. The Germans and Austrians I know seem to be able to get home from work in well under an hour by cycle or public transport.
    The diet culture here is full of over-processed junk, but that doesn’t seem to work . Observing my slender Austrian friends, one thing I’ve noticed is that they don’t vary what they eat that much. It’s always bread, butter and jam for breakfast, (where I stay) I missed fresh fruit, which they don’t really like that much (personal taste), so I started having that with plain yoghurt at breakfast. This was fine, but they then seemed surprised that I’d sometimes eat the bread and jam instead. There seemed to be an expectation of taking the same thing every day. The other meals are a cooked meal of some sort in the early afternoon (parents are teachers, so can eat at home) and a very light supper. If the family is eating dinner out in the evening, which they do once or twice a week, they will reverse this pattern, and have a bit of bread and cheese or ham at lunchtime. With their bread, that’s still quite substantial. They use pickles a lot, and a bit of salad at times. If eating the main meal at lunchtime, they’ll have pudding or cake, but not in the evenings. They were language assistants in Britain, and kept to the same eating pattern, but made a lot of effort to maintain their exercise levels, They found their bills quite a lot higher for groceries, but had no problems buying what they wanted, and that’s in a small town. We obviously don’t have the hundreds or wurst types, but they found some they liked. To me, this tendency to have a very simple and regular meal choice must discourage over-eating. I wouldn’t agree that they don’t have fatties, though, I seem to see at least as many in Germany and Austria as in Britain, but more often in the form of large and solid-looking people, rather than just obese and unfit looking ones. I drop a little weight when I’m there, but that’s because of being vegetarian, which automatically cuts out a lot of the heavier meal choices.

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