Friday, March 26, 2010

A trip to Europe: Some health-related routines and observations

Every year I travel to Europe on business, normally once or twice a year. These trips usually involve meetings with engineers, researchers, and project managers from various European countries; often 5 to 10 countries are represented.

Here are some of my notes on a recent trip to Europe. In this trip I spent time in two cities: Amsterdam, Netherlands and Antwerp, Belgium. Below is a set of the photos I took in Antwerp, of a statue depicting the roman soldier Silvius Brabo holding the severed hand of the giant Druon Antigoon.

According to legend Druon Antigoon had terrorized and extorted the people of Antwerp, cutting off the hands of several people and throwing them in the nearby Scheldt River, until the brave Silvius Brabo came into the scene and not only cut off the giant’s hand but also killed him.

This legend has probably been concocted toward the end of the Roman Empire, largely by the Romans, who first established Antwerp as a Roman outpost.

After this small digression, here are some health-related routines that I followed during this trip, and some of my main observations regarding diet and health issues.

On the plane:

    - The meals were a festival of hyperglycemic and pro-inflammatory refined carbohydrates, unhealthy vegetable oils, and sugars – white bread, pasta, various sweets, pretzels, chips loaded with supposedly healthy omega 6 fats, margarine etc. I skipped all of the snacks and one of the meals, the breakfast. At the main meal of each flight I ate only meat, veggies, and some of the fruits.

    - The flights over and back were very comfortable since I was water-fasting most of the time. Not a hint of indigestion or abdominal discomfort of any kind. These were 9 to 10 hour flights, from Houston to Amsterdam and back.

At business luncheons:

    - The idea of having a sandwich for lunch seems to be getting popular in Europe. At least I have been seeing that happening more and more often lately. At these sandwich luncheons, I ate only the content of some sandwiches (basically cold cuts, cheese and veggies), and left the bread slices untouched.

    - Some people noticed that I was not eating bread. I told them about insulin, lectins etc. A few looked at me as though I was insane; others with a disapproving look – dontchano, the lipid hypothesis!? A notable exception was a German gentleman who said that Germans were too pragmatic not to notice that they were getting fat on low fat diets, and are now reverting back to their staple diet of meats, fish, vegetable stews, and cheese.

At restaurants for dinner:

    - This was fairly easy. I ate basically fish or meat dishes with veggies, and enjoyed them a lot. I skipped the deserts; again much to the surprise of some of my European colleagues.

    - Skipping the desserts seems to have helped me cope with jetlag a lot better than I usually do. On my second day in Europe I slept quite well, and was unusually rested on the next day.

At the hotel:

    - The breakfast buffets were a mix of: (a) breads, pastries, sweetened cereals, sugary items, and fruits; and (b) meats (often cured), some fish, cheeses, eggs, nuts, and some veggies. There were also fruit juices. I had solid breakfasts with (b)-type items, with a few fruits added (cantaloupe and berries). I had regular coffee with cream and no sugar, and stayed away from fruit juices.

    - I did not use soap, shampoo etc. at the hotel; just plain water. Occasionally the soap used in hotels is very caustic, or rich in other chemicals, causing rashes. I stuck with showers and had no baths, as sometimes the bathtubs are not properly cleaned after their last use.

    - At the end of my trip I took a train from Antwerp to Amsterdam, and stayed at a hotel near the Schiphol Airport (which has its own train station) since my flight back to the U.S. was in the morning. I had dinner by myself at the hotel, which was easy. I stopped at a place called Food Village at the Airport (visible from the Airport’s main entrance) and bought a water bottle, a piece of Gouda cheese, a can of sardines, and a box of seaweed. That was a very good dinner, and cost me about 6 euros.

The outcomes for me:

    - I had no hint of indigestion at all throughout the trip, in spite of eating way more cheese than I normally do. The cheese that I ate was natural, aged cheese, not the processed kind.

    - I had no need for more or less use of the bathroom than I usually do, and remained “regular” throughout the trip. No sign of constipation at all.

    - I had no body odor (at least none that I could notice), even though I used no soap. My hair was fine too; I used no shampoo or conditioner.

    - Jet lag problems were less pronounced than they usually are when I travel to Europe. The time difference is about 7 hours from Texas. Usually, I tend to feel very sleepy in the afternoon and wide awake around 3 am. Not this time.

    - In spite of not exercising for about 7 days, except for walking, I was able to lift slightly heavier weights at a workout the day after my return than I did before my trip.

    - According to the scale, I lost 1 pound during this trip. I do not know whether this was body fat or just water. It is unlikely that there was any muscle loss.

From what I could see, Europeans are generally thinner than Americans (particularly Texans), and also seem to be healthier. None of the people I met, not one, was clearly obese. On the other hand, the majority seemed to be somewhat overweight.

My impression was that the Europeans consume lesser amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugars than Americans, on a weekly basis, even though they currently consume more of those items than they should, in my opinion.

Consumption of vegetable oils other than olive oil is also lower than in the U.S; consumption of butter and cheese seems to be a lot higher.

From my conversations with several people during this trip, it seemed that the health of Europeans, like that of their American counterparts, is strongly correlated with the extent to which they are overweight. The more body fat, the more common was to hear complaints about pain here or there, fatigue, degenerative diseases, or talk about surgeries.


Jim Sutton said...

Hi Ned,

Thanks for the interesting post about your trip to 'Europa'.

"In spite of not exercising for about 7 days, except for walking, I was able to lift slightly heavier weights at a workout the day after my return than I did before my trip."

I'm not surprised at that outcome. Have you checked out Dr Doug McGuff's "Body By Science"? If not, briefly, it's based on very slow reps to failure once per week. Great optimization of time, energy, results. I've been doing it for two months and am very satisfied with progress so far. BTW, it works for pretty much everyone; I'm 69YO and was concerned about possible injury, but all is well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting insights Ned. I think in general, New Zealanders (and perhaps Australians, and the English) are tracking Americans more closely than continental Europeans. We get many young European backpackers through the South Island of New Zealand, and whilst they generally look a bit healthier than the bulk of the resident NZ population (though that could be a preselection bias - the healthier ones tend to travel more), many invariably have a "wheat/alcohol belly". And increasingly, lots of smokers too.

There are a handful of my clients here that are heading to France later in the year to follow the Tour de France and many of them have expressed concerns about being able to eat Paleo/Primal whilst travelling through the French countryside... and particularly with being able to remain gluten-free as a minimum. What has been your experience with this? New Zealand now has a very wide selection of GF foods available. Is this the case in Europe too?

Ned Kock said...


Indeed, research on resistance training suggests that strength loss from de-training begins after 2 weeks. I've never tried the BBS approach but it sounds interesting and I've seen research supporting it. Thanks.


I am a proud graduate of the University of Waikato. I spent several years in New Zealand, mostly in Hamilton. Two of my 4 children were born in Aotearoa. It has always been my impression that Kiwis are among the fittest people in the world.

I am not sure your clients will easily find gluten-free products in France. But they will be able to find healthy animal protein products, veggies, and fruits very easily.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ned. Not sure how long it has been since you were last here, but unfortunately the vast majority of Kiwi's are in a sad state of repair.

Ned Kock said...


I was last in NZ about 10 years ago.

There were a lot of fitness enthusiasts back then in both NZ and Australia.

They seemed to be a lot more into cardio and aerobic routines than anaerobic ones.

Processed foods seemed to often have sugar added, and consumption of beer was high.

Fat phobia was not that bad, if I recall it properly. We ate plenty of lamb meat.

I did some work for MAF Quality Management back then (a branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries).

Anonymous said...

There are definitely plenty of people into fitness, but there are increasingly those who aren't. There was a headline here last year claiming that we are the third fattest nation. Not sure how true that holds, but we easily sit in the top 10, if not 5. And we are ranked second to the US for McDonalds outlets per capita and are number 1 on GDP. There are many letting down the few.

And yes, as a cyclist that trains predominantly anaerobically (though I'm told I'm not a real cyclist because of that), most fitness fanatics are into their chronic cardio. If you aren't out on the bike for 3-4 hours at a time, it isn't a real ride!

Gym memberships are static at around 10-12% on paper. What that means qualitatively, who knows!!??