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American mega grocery stores were a big surprise to me who was used to European small local grocery stores.

When I first arrived in America and visited one of the local grocery stores in Chicago, I was surprised, to say the least. More like shocked! I don’t even know from where to begin. First of all, the size of the store was shocking! It was a warehouse, with numerous isles of item after item, many varieties of the same foods, the size of the chip bags, milk carts, chocolate bars, and meat packages… it was so foreign to me. The vehicles in the parking lot seemed magnified too! Many SUVs and trucks dominated the lot and even the cars seemed bigger. And I was not wrong. The sizes of European cars are more compact and made for a market with old cities, narrow streets, and small shops.

Most European local grocery stores are small. This store, located a block from my apartment in Belgrade is smaller than my kitchen!

For dinner that night, my hosts ordered an extra large deep-dish Chicago style pizza. I was in disbelief at the diameter and thickness of that “pizza”. To me, it looked like someone poured several cans of tomatoes on a thick large round dough and called it pizza.

Chicago-style pizza.

It resembled absolutely nothing of the personal-sized, freshly baked, the thin-crusted pizza I was used to, topped with slow-cooked tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella burrata cheese, aged smoked prosciutto, and fresh basil.

The classic Italian stye pizza served in Europe are small.

The size of paper plates was also shocking. They were at least twice the size of the kind I was used to. Not to mention that I had never eaten from a paper plate before that. It was basically non-existent in my country at the time. And even if it was, it represented an insult. We serve food always from our best china.

After dinner, the hostess served ice cream. She brought out a bucket, yes a gallon deep bucket filled with ice-cream. The scoop was at least twice as big and she served four of them! I could not believe my eyes. I did not want to insult the hostess so I kept eating. Once I finished my “pizza” and ice-cream, I was so stuffed that I got sick. My stomach started hurting and I felt miserable.

Soon after I went to live on a college campus that had a cafeteria the size of a football field, at least that is what it looked like to me. It was one of the largest ones on the east coast. What was more shocking was the first time my roommate offered me a ride to dinner. We lived on a small hill right above it. We were literally the closest dorm to it. All I needed to do was roll down the hill and bump into its entrance door! Then I noticed as we drove into the town how few sidewalks there were. Where are all the pedestrians, I wondered? And all small towns resembled each other. They all had the same fast food restaurants, large stores, coffee shops, and malls. Very little uniqueness and differentiation among them.

The lack of natural exercising, like walking and eating less nutritional and large meals, quickly took a toll on my body. The first semester, I gained 20 pounds and developed severe skin rashes and frequent headaches and colds. My immune system weakened and I ended up taking prescribed antihistamine medication that kept me feeling sleepy the whole day and affected my focus and learning. I literally would fall asleep in my classes no matter what time they were. And of course, teachers found that disrespectful and offensive. When I stopped using them to improve my grades, I could not stop itching. I even developed warts all over my body! I have never had that happened to me before. With my extra weight and skin defects, my self-esteem took a dive. It was a difficult period of my life, to say the least. The new lifestyle was clearly not working for me. But, I didn't know how to change it.

Each time I go back to Europe to my hometown Belgrade, I am surprised to see my pedometer alerting me when I achieve my 10,000 steps by the mid-morning. By the end of the evening, I have over 25,000, which amounts to over 12 miles! It’s because we walk everywhere in the city. I am also surprised to see the small plates and small ice-cream scoops. I am still glad to see that there are not many fast food restaurants, but more and more have buffets with freshly prepared and cooked quality food served in small plates.

Fast food in Belgrade, Serbia is freshly cooked daily and served in small plates.

The famous 80 Percent Rule is practiced by most people living in Blue Zones, especially in Okinawa, Japan. The men and women stop eating after they are 80 percent full. They don’t stuff their faces until they can’t breathe. They simply know how to resist the urge to eat more. It also helps that they don’t have serving dishes sitting on the table. They serve food on small plates and take it to the table. When they are done, that’s it. There are no seconds, or snacking later after dinner. And the dinner is not the largest meal of the day.

My grandma would do exactly the same thing. Always eating from a small plate, usually, something cooked like goulash, bean or cabbage soup, with little or no meat at all and a slice of her homemade bread and a cup of chopped salad.


  1. Eat from smaller plates.

  2. Keep serving dishes on the stove or kitchen counter and not on the table. If it is in front of us, we are more likely to eat it, especially if we see others reach for it. There is this innate desire in us to compete and grab food. All I need to do is observe my dogs when I present them with one dish and see the fights.

  3. Take a moment to say grace or to appreciate the food that you do have on your plate.

  4. Be mindful of how you eat. Chew slowly and engage all of your senses.

  5. Get rid of TVs in the kitchen, or any electronics. Make it distraction-free, and family-friendly.

  6. Eat only until 80 percent full. Learn to listen to your body and stop before you are full. It takes 20 min for our bodies to feel full.

  7. Make dinners your smaller meal of the day.

  8. Don’t snack after dinner.

  9. Let at least 90 percent of your food be plant-based.

  10. Eat together with your family and friends and engage in conversation.

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