To the rest of the world, it is still somewhat of a mystery how French women remain slim and chic on a steady diet of baguettes, cheese, meat, chocolate and red wine. To be honest, I was baffled by the concept too, that is until I moved to Paris to live with a French family.
When I first arrived in the land of baguettes and brie, I had been on and off diets for 15 years. I was stuck between my love of food and my desire to be effortlessly slim, yet I could never manage to stop at “enough”. This inner tug of war probably explained why I could never shift my extra ten kilos, no matter how many diets I tried.
You see, just as in physics, resistance creates force, so with each new diet, sweet biscuits seemed to gain more power over me until the uncontrollable urge to eat would send me dashing to Mrs Fields for a feast.
While living in Paris with a French family, I experienced a paradigm shift in thinking. It was my “aha” moment, when my war with food stopped and the peace making began. As I observed my French family eating, it quickly became clear that they don’t get involved in the carbs versus protein debate, nor do they label food groups like dairy or meat “bad”. Instead the emphasis is on eating small amounts of a variety of foods, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity and without overdoing any one thing.
Following their lead, I gave myself permission to eat and enjoy camembert, baguettes, dark chocolate and pastries – just enough to feel satisfied. It seems I had it all backwards, as I had the attitude that “more is better”. With this new approach, miraculously the desire to overeat my favourite foods naturally diminished. When guilt was no longer a factor in my eating, common sense prevailed.
In Paris I soon noticed that petite is not just a dress size. Serving sizes of foods such as yoghurts and croissants are much smaller than in Australia. Sometimes I felt cheated with my meagre slice of “tarte au citron” and my piece of cheese the size of two dice, but I soon realised that enough is as good as a feast, especially when what you’re eating is not tasteless diet food.
Probably the most challenging habit for me to break was the snacking habit. In France, snacking is a faux pas. Constant grazing is frowned upon, and if you are seen nibbling while walking down the street, people stare and wonder why you can’t sit down and take the time to enjoy your food. So I started guzzling large bottles of water as a replacement habit, which seemed to keep my mouth busy and my body hydrated.
To be honest I had been so used to chewing something every hour to stoke my metabolism that I had never let myself get authentically hungry. But once I stopped chewing long enough to get hungry, my tastebuds sharpened. It’s when I realised that hunger truly is the best seasoning. So I sat down to the table hungry and left pleasantly satisfied. Soon the kilos of flesh started to melt away – all 12 kilos of it. I found it hard to believe that this happened while eating and enjoying all the foods I loved.
Eleven years later and now living back in Australia, my weight hasn’t changed as I enjoy moderate amounts of the foods I love. Sure,
fad diets are still around, but I am no longer a victim to them, thanks to the slimming lessons I learnt in France.