I went to France for a month and lost six pounds. Here’s how I think it happened.
We spent 30 days in Europe this fall. I ate a chausson aux pommes or a croissant almost every morning. I indulged in my favorite chocolate-hazlenut cookies from college, Hello Kango, every afternoon. I enjoyed rich cheese and red wine at least once a day.
I also lost six pounds.
Say what? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, about three weeks into the vacation when my clothes hung loosely on my body.
Many folks have suggested that it was all the walking we did. Yes, we walked a lot, but I don’t think that was it. In fact, for over a year, I walked four miles a day on the treadmill and lost not even an ounce! While I’m sure activity played a part, I don’t think it was the thing.
I’ve read lots of books about the French style of eating, including the French Women books and the French Kids Eat Everything Book and have experienced the benefits, both in college and now. I have a few theories as to why I lost weight on vacation in France, despite my luxurious indulgences.
Here’s what I think was the thing.
I ate few processed foods.
While I didn’t bake the pastries or cookies myself, most of what I did eat was freshly prepared the day I ate it. The cookies were from a box, but overall, we didn’t eat fast food, junk food, or heavily fried foods. We ate real, whole foods.
I didn’t mindlessly snack.
There were very few food items that I bought that I could just MOW down. No popcorn, no chips and salsa, no Kettle BBQ chips, nothing that I could absentmindedly reach into a bag for until it was empty. If I had a snack, it was something with a distinct limit: an individual cup of creamy custard-style vanilla yogurt, an apple, or two cookies and an espresso.
I didn’t supersize it.
Now that we’re back home and have dined out a couple times, I’m stunned at the size of the portions! Stunned! I bought a wrap and fries yesterday and I really only need HALF of what they gave me. Filling a big coffee cup seems excessive and unnecessary, especially when a demitasse cup really meets my needs and satisfies me.
The portions of food we were served in France or that I served myself were much smaller than what the average American restaurant dishes up.
I ate at regular meal times.
The French are notoriously rigid about their meal times. Restaurants are open for lunch from 12 to 2 and again for dinner from 7 to 9. If you miss the boat, you miss it. We were almost turned away on at least one occasion for arriving late, and we skipped a meal or two because it wasn’t the right time to eat.
If we were hungry in the off hours, particularly when on the road, we just ate a piece of fruit and waited for the right time. When I did eat, I was truly hungry, which makes me question if Americans have a different definition of “hungry” than the French.
I’ve heard that grazing all day is healthy for you, but I’m starting to question that practice.
I ate a wide variety of foods within each meal.
We adopted many of the French dining habits, even when we weren’t eating with French friends. Instead of a bulky one-dish dinner, I served an appetizer with a fun drink (like wine, juice, or Orangina), a main dish, salad, cheese or yogurt, dessert, and espresso. That was the basic line up.
Even if we didn’t have every course with every meal, we had a variety of foods at each meal. It wasn’t just a sandwich. It was a sandwich followed by a cup of yogurt followed by a couple cookies. Not eaten at the same time, but enjoyed in succession.
My theory is that variety contributes to your sense of satiety. You feel like you’ve eaten enough having many different things, even if the portions were small. Including sturdier foods like bread and cheese seems to help, too.
I’ve tried to continue this pattern at home, even if we only have two courses, like a main dish and a dessert. Having a dessert and an espresso at the end of the meal seems to bring closure for me. The temptation to snack seems to be minimized, and I’m “done” eating until the next meal.
A side note: I had given up coffee and liquid dairy before our trip, thinking that was what had caused some major stomach upsets I’d had. I reintroduced those cautiously during our trip and was pleasantly surprised to suffer no ill effects. Since coming home, neither seems to bother me, though very fatty foods (like burgers and fries) do.
I didn’t avoid any ingredients.
Although I felt really good at the end of my Whole 30 elimination diet, I never lost weight. While it was a great experience and one I might do again as a “reset”, I concluded at the time that I didn’t want to exclude a whole host of foods from my regular diet. I love red wine, bread, and cheese too much!
This trip kind of proved the theory. I enjoyed everything, including the aforementioned diary and coffee that I had been wary of, and experienced a host of great results, including losing some weight.
I was on vacation.
This is an important thing to factor in. This was my first non-working vacation in five years. Even though we’ve taken trips since 2009, I have always brought a laptop with me and worked while we were gone. Not this time. I took only a tablet and had spotty wifi, so I truly unplugged from my work.
My only real responsibilities were to feed my children and keep them safe.
I imagine that being more relaxed contributed to a host of good things for my body, including some weight loss.
I wasn’t a recipe-developing fiend.
I’ve written four cookbooks in the last four years, totaling over 700 recipes. Yes, really. (Number Four is still in production.)
I also gained ten pounds in the process. The hormone crazy that comes with turning 40 probably didn’t help.
Cooking and recooking and eating and eating all the leftovers hasn’t helped my waist. By comparison, on vacation, I prepared simple meals with a limited pantry. Some recipes I created in France are those that are keepers and will be showing up on Good Cheap Eats soon.
While I still developed recipes on vacation, I wasn’t on a deadline. It was a much more relaxed experience; something I plan to incorporate into my real life now.
I ate more slowly.
I realized this last point the other night when we went to Stonefire Grill for FishBoy14’s birthday. It’s a favorite restaurant of mine. The menu (salad, bread sticks, steak, potatoes) totally fits my French course-style eating.
However, what I noticed was that the other diners were loud and crazy and in a really big hurry. The food also came very, very quickly. Amazingly quickly in comparison to European restaurants.
The atmosphere was one of being rushed. Part of it was the time of day (6 pm on a Sunday night), but part of it was that we Americans are just frenetic. We eat quickly. Probably too quickly than is good for us. We are always in a hurry.
On Sunday night I was picking up a very hurried vibe from the folks around me. It made me want to scarf my food instead of enjoy it. It detracted from the meal, and I suspect, wasn’t as healthful for my body.
I enjoyed discussions with my family around the table.
All of these things contributed to a much more peaceful meal time experience with my husband and children. If we were at a restaurant, we waited quite awhile for our food — because it was being prepared fresh! This gave us time to talk in ways that we don’t at home.
If I was serving courses in our vacation apartment, I waited until each person was done with a course before serving the next one. This made sure that we ate slowly (see previous point) and allowed us more time for discussions.
8 Things I’m Going to Do to Keep the Weight Off
So, what next?
Here are the things that I’m working toward so I can keep off the weight and our family can enjoy more pleasant meal times at home:
- Continue to prepare homemade meals.
- Reduce snacking or make it more contained. No more ginormous bowls of buttered popcorn for me!
- Serve a small appetizer while I’m finishing prep work on our main meal. Everyone likes this and it makes our kitchen a more social place to be.
- Keep portions reasonable and the meals varied. Last night I bought one Costco take-and-bake pizza (instead of three!) and served a large salad and crudites to add variety and keep us from just mowing down pizza.
- Make a conscious effort to eat slowly.
- Develop more consistent work hours and deadlines so that I truly have off-time from work and recipe development.
- Enjoy a variety of ingredients and preparations throughout the week. Nothing is forbidden as long as it’s not too much of any good thing.
- Continue to exercise: yoga twice a week as well as cardio and strength training another 2 to 3 days a week.
There’s my story and my theories on how I lost six pounds on vacation.