Saturday, July 31, 2010

Eating like the French

Meet my sister Paula.

Out of four children (3 girls, 1 boy), she is the one that we liked to speculate was "adopted." Now clearly she's not since she looks just like my mother and my niece, shares the same brown eyes as myself, and has a bit of the family temper we all experience. But there is a stark difference between her and the rest of us: Paula doesn't really struggle with her weight.

From L-R: Angela, Jacob, and Paula circa 1980-something
Best Part? Ang has no eye holes!
But I digress, the point of this pic is to notice how similar Paula and Jake look. 
Clearly no one is adopted.

While Angela and myself were "chunky" in middle school, slimmed down some in high school/college, and now continue to rely on weight watchers to keep us near to, but not quite at, our fantasy goal weight of 135, Paula was slim throughout her childhood and college. She gained a few pounds right after she got married, but nothing extraordinary. Then after having her baby girl, she slimmed down to 10 pounds below her pre-pregnancy weight with hardly any other effort exerted than breast feeding.

The three May girls! (Ang, Me, Paula)

Now Paula will probably disagree that she doesn't have a weight issue, because she's a woman and weight issues follow us all it seems- regardless of size. However, being healthy (and a size 4/6) for her has always seemed to come so easily, and I think I finally know why. Here are some other notable differences about Paula that probably contribute.

First of all, Paula is a picky and a (sometimes) territorial eater. Mom loves to tell the story of the time they were in Pizza Hut when Paula was a baby, and she refused to eat her baby food. Even though Paula had no teeth, Mom ended up having to cut the pizza up into very tiny pieces to get Paula to eat anything. We also love to tease Paula about the time she almost killed our brother-in-law because he ate one of her super-secret stashed lean cuisines out of the basement freezer. Paula was always adding to or picking around what we ate for dinner. Sometimes she'd just flat out eat something else, and clearly it worked for her.

Secondly, Paula is a careful eater. She loves to try new tastes and flavors, but she rarely goes overboard. Pumpkin Pie is one of her favorite things ever, but I've seen her leave a few bites on her plate many times saying "I'm stuffed." And I'm sure she rarely went back to the actual pie to scoop out bites that one by one added up to a second or third piece like I always did. She's darn good at stopping when she's satisfied, and it doesn't seem to take much to satisfy her.

Finally, Paula eats real foods (with the exception of the lean cuisines during her college years). Especially since having Paisley, Paula is very much for "quality over quantity," and this means very, very few processed foods for her family. She has suffered many occasional freak outs coming home to find Mom feeding Paisley canned fruit made with Splenda or fat-free cheese, but I know she's doing what's best for her daughter and herself.

After all these years of wondering what her secrets were and speculating that she simply had a higher metabolism (whatever that means), I think I finally understand. Paula eats like a French woman.

Now, Paula is no more French than I am, but she's instinctively mastered the art of the "French Paradox." If you are unfamiliar with what that is, it is simply the observation that people in France do not have the obesity issues that people in America do, yet they eat rich croissants, butters and oils, wines, and other "forbidden" foods on a daily basis. I'm learning all about it in a novel I picked up from McKays called French Women Don't Get Fat. It really has turned out to be a very interesting book, as the author is quite frank about the French view of food. They eat often. They LOVE to eat. And when they eat it almost always includes several courses. Now, how do they get away with it? The answer is really quite simple and it's something that we Americans have forgotten (or never learned) how to do.

First- Enjoy your Food
So many of the calories in this country are consumed out of a package, in the car, in front of the tv, in a rush, or at our work desk. How can you even taste the food when you've been watching Jersey Shore the whole 5 minutes it took you to eat? No wonder you're still hungry! I have always been aware of this problem, but I never realized how much it applied to me. And I especially didn't understand how to fix it until I read this book.  The challenge? Make every meal special. Eat a small portion of what I want, but savor it, chew each bite slowly and thoughtfully, really taste my food. Don't eat with distractions- focus on nothing but the feeling. Eat at a table with flatware and flowers or candles. Make it special. Now I must admit, eating breakfast alone in the quiet of my apartment the first time, trying to pretend I was people watching at a Parisienne cafe was... a little awkward. However, I soon noticed how much better my food tasted! The smooth saltiness of my fried egg paired with the chewy toasted english muffin. The sweet burst of the cherry in my mouth. The nutty chocolate accents in my coffee. It was wonderful! And to top it all of, I was perfectly full when I finished my meal! I even had to leave a few cherries for later. I found I was satisfied with much less than I am accustomed to eating.

See? Special!

I think that I'm discovering something else about myself in the meantime. I love the pleasure of eating, and I crave the feeling regularly. This is why I'm often snacking all day or grabbing a bite of cheese and a piece of fruit when I just finished lunch. However, if I can enjoy a meal, and really enjoy it- I don't need to eat as much or as often as I have been. I actually stayed within my points yesterday without any issue at all. I can eat just one bite of cake and stop at that, satisfied. This is not something that comes naturally to me, but now that I know the secret- I have something to work on. It's not hard at all, and actually it's really fun for me since I adore food so much! I get to plan exciting dinners that I can't wait to taste. I can leave a table without feeling stuffed or guilty. I can even have a bit of dessert to tame my sweet tooth guilt-free, because it's all about enjoying your food.

Second- Borrow from Peter to Pay Paul
Now that doesn't mean you don't have to think through what you put on your plate. It's also about give and take. For example- we went to O'Charley's the other day and I really, really, really wanted some french fries. So I got them, but I limited myself to only one of their rolls, only ate half of my salmon filet,  took the croutons off the salad, and had the dressing on the side. Finding something at each meal you can live without in order to have a bit of something indulgent is a trick of French women that I've tried and loved. Hopefully this will become habit soon so that I can enjoy both my love for food AND my love for clothes in small sizes. I have a hunch this is a big part of Paula's secret. And since we had the same upbringing and we share the same genes- I feel in my gut that I can be successful in this as well.

Third- Quality over Quantity
Since discovering food blogs, watching documentaries like Food, Inc., and reading every book by Michael Pollan, I've been trying hard to focus on eating whole foods 90% of the time. I would take eating a delicious crunchy apple over drinking a glass of sugary apple juice any day. Taking the time to bake my own cookies, rather than purchase stale ones from a package, means my chocolate chip treat tastes that much better. Sure it's a bit more work. Sure it can take a little extra time since you have to *gasp!* chop your own veggies. But in the end it's cheaper and just so much yummier. Case in point, last night we went to McDonalds for an ice cream cone. Normally their ice cream is thick and creamy- one of the few fast food items we still regularly eat. However last night it was incredibly icy, and I can't even tell you how disappointed I was. When you truly eat to enjoy, most pre-made foods just aren't going to cut it. Besides, unprocessed foods have more nutrients and less sugar than anything else you'd find in a grocery store. It's so easy to unwrap a frozen pizza and pop it in the microwave, but I imagine the French would shudder at that idea. Imagine a fresh baked pizza topped with the best ingredients and I think you'll see that the frozen pizza just isn't as good. It's the reason why Robert and I hate buffets- Quality ALWAYS trumps Quantity.

Real Salmon, Brown Rice, Salad, Mushrooms, and Sparkling Water- 
Best Lunch Ever! And I couldn't finish it all.

So here's to eating like a French Woman... and to the size six jeans I want to fit in this fall! Also, I obviously left out 99% of the wisdom that French Women Don't Get Fat has to offer. So please, do us both a favor and go check it out from the library if you can! Or if you ask nicely, I'll grab you a copy from McKays.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for putting a picture of me in my running shirt on this post!