How I Lost 6 Pounds on Vacation

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I went to France for a month and lost six pounds. Here’s how I think it happened.

How I Lost 6 Pounds on Vacation - 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.

How I Lost 6 Pounds on Vacation - I went to France for a month and lost six pounds. Here's how I think it happened.

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.

How I Lost 6 Pounds on Vacation - I went to France for a month and lost six pounds. Here's how I think it happened.

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.

How I Lost 6 Pounds on Vacation - I went to France for a month and lost six pounds. Here's how I think it happened.

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.

How I Lost 6 Pounds on Vacation - I went to France for a month and lost six pounds. Here's how I think it happened.

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:

  1. Continue to prepare homemade meals.
  2. Reduce snacking or make it more contained. No more ginormous bowls of buttered popcorn for me!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Make a conscious effort to eat slowly.
  6. Develop more consistent work hours and deadlines so that I truly have off-time from work and recipe development.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

What do YOU think contributes to healthy eating and weight loss?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Connie says

    Great ideas on keeping the weight off! How wonderful a relaxing trip with your family allowed you some insight on life and bringing forth new habits. Being able to reassess your habits and lifestyle can definitely open your eyes to things you’ve been doing to get through your day, your week and so forth. Here’s enjoying food and life better!

  2. Pam says

    I found this article very interesting. I have four kids, and I have noticed that, while dinner is in process, there is a lot of snacking going on. A lot of times, this results in a lot of uneaten food at dinner. Do you have any suggestions for quick, kid friendly appetizers? I know fruit usually makes them happy. I would like to incorporate this into my meal plans.

    • I’ve been following my French friend Jen’s example. When we lunched with them, she had a bowl of cherry tomatoes, a bowl of nuts and a dish of hard sausage (like salami). They weren’t big bowls, mind you, but enough that folks could nibble, whet their appetite, and not fill up before the main meal. I’ve been laying out similar items, like baby carrots, cucumbers, a few crackers, pop chips that I found on clearance, etc.

  3. Jennie says

    The appetizers sounds really interesting. I think my kids get SO hungry that they eat really fast and don’t realize when they are full.

    I’d love to hear your ideas on what you’ll be serving as light appetizers.

    • I’m going to be posting about each course later this month. 🙂

    • MomofTwoPreciousGirls says

      I would love to see a play by play of the meals too! Recipes…since your 3000 miles away I can’t come to enjoy!!! That would be the next best thing!

      Regarding your stomach issues, you mentioned that it still bothers you when you eat fatty/greasy foods. Has your doctor checked on your gall bladder? After babies women sometimes have issues with it. I found out I was pregnant with my first because I was at the hospital in agony with a gall bladder attack. Contractions did not hurt as much as that did. The pregnancy combined with the fact I was a year out from gastric bypass made me very susceptible. I never had it taken out and it still flares up when I overdue it on fatty foods.

      • I knew people who had that probably when they were pregnant, not before. Interesting. I will keep an eye on it. Another reader mentioned the same.

  4. Lella says

    I love everything about this post! Thanks for sharing! I have wanted to implement a French style of eating for my family for a few years, but I can’t quite seem to figure it out. The guidelines you posted are very helpful. Now, all I need is someone to write a book about French-style meal planning. Perhaps, I am making it too difficult, but I am apparently so American that I can’t wrap my brain around appetizers and multi-course meals. 😉

  5. Laurie says

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said we live such a hurried and crazy life and scarf down our food. Hubs and I went out last night and enjoyed a leisurely 4 course meal. I took my time, ate smaller amounts (we split a dessert) and took home enough food for two ample sized lunches this week for work. Americans have such a mind set of more is better and our portions out of control.

    Just this morning I told hubs this year for the Thanksgiving meal we were going to take it at a slower pace and he isn’t allowed to clear the table and start clean up as everyone is taking their last bite (I cook, he cleans up). I told him we were going to sit around the table and leisurely visit with the family and have a cup of coffee. He frowned but I told him if he wants me to cook the Thanksgiving meal, those are the rules. It is good to be queen!

    • You go, girl.

    • MomofTwoPreciousGirls says

      Rushing doesn’t allow us to know when we are full too! The restaurant culture doesn’t help. They practically shove us out the door so they can keep turning the tables over to make the most money.

  6. Rebecca says

    This is so interesting. I am still trying to lose the weight from baby4 who just turned 5 and I don’t want to give up good bread or cheese.
    Living in London, I’ve worked with a few French and they all put on weight when they are here in the UK and then it falls off when they move back home.
    The rushing definitely plays it’s part – trying to get DH on board with that is tricky ;( just as he really doesn’t like the set meal time in France!
    And the food, different courses, lots of fresh veggies.
    Another thing I have noticed is the French love Good food. So when you talk to them about where they live they joyously talk about their favourite local bakery etc.
    So this is something else I am trying to do and I am so lucky to have a local (I have to drive!) new bakery that makes almost as good as France bread 🙂

    • England is different, although very delicious! My husband says he lost ten pounds in France but gained five back in those three final days in London. We found that restaurant portions were larger in London and that potatoes (and chips!) were a lot more prevalent than in France. We loved eating in pubs and absolutely adored Zizzi, but again huge portions. The food in London was fabulous, but I know that I would have to be careful not to gain weight there. 🙂

  7. Trish says

    What great observations! You are spot on – Americans eat so very fast! I used to work hard to prepare holiday dinners for my extended family, and was so disappointed when it was literally consumed in 10 minutes. And we are much more concerned with quantity rather than quality. Like the movie Food, INC pointed out (and actually the man doing the pointing out was my brother-in-law who was PR for the National Chicken Council at the time), we provide cheap food (in his case chicken) for the masses. But it doesn’t have the depth of flavor that properly raised meat does. and our junk food – I was mindlessly consuming a small bag of Doritos, and I thought about how strange it was that they are flavored to taste like something (barbecue, cheese,etc) but since they AREN”T those foods, they don’t provide satiety.

    As Frances Mayes points out in her books about Italy, no one talks about carbs, protein,etc, they just talk about food, and how to prepare it. We do a lot right in this country, but our attitude towards food is not one of them.

  8. Amanda Yoder says

    I have lost weight every time I’ve been to Europe! Every time! Some of those times have been rather busy for work, most relaxing vacation trips, but every time I lost weight. Every time I also decided to eat whatever I like, which resulted in more ice cream/gelato/pastries than I eat at home. I strongly believe most of it is 2 things–the walking incorporated into life in Europe (not a set time in a gym or treadmill, but consistently throughout the day everyday) and the lack of food additives/preservatives or processed food (maybe even traced back to lack of or kind of pesticides and GMOs). The pace of life and meals certainly may play a part as well, but many of the things you mentioned weren’t in any of my vacations, so I truly think the type of food and freshness is most of it! -just sharing so more deductive reasoning can be used perhaps 🙂

    • Amanda Yoder says

      Upon reading comments about London vs. France, I’ll clarify my “Europe” trips have been Italy, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, & Greece (multiples to all but France).

    • My understanding is that GMOs/pesticides are gaining a food hold there. We tried to buy “bio” when we could (organic) but conventional is still standard.

  9. Janette says

    7 years ago I traveled for 3 weeks to Europe and this exact thing happened to me. Many people said it must have been all of the walking. No way! Yes, we walked, but we also had a car and my 80 year old grandmother with us too. At home I was working out regularly, which didn’t happen on the vacation, so there really wasn’t a great increase in my physical activity. I also had a double scoop of gelato For 3 weeks! Plus cheese, pasta, bread, wine, etc. I ate it all!
    You hit the nail right on the head with many of your reasons. The rushing factor, not stopping to savor things (coffee always in to-go cups, kids in 100 different activities, miles long to do lists etc.) has a bigger impact on our health than we realize. I also really think the biggest reason for my weight loss was the fresh factor. I cook a lot at home, but there you’re buying bread, cheese, meats, etc. that only last a couple of days, and that is how it is supposed to be. Bread isn’t supposed to stay soft for 2 weeks in your pantry. Europe has different standards for their food (just the fact that the eggs you bought were orange and they were the cheapest ones at the market is SO telling to me. Here those would have been $7 at our farmers market!) and unfortunately until we demand better as a country, we aren’t going to get better.

    • Yep, those eggs were really good! And yes, I was cognizant about how expensive they’d have been at home. Ha!

  10. Vanessa says

    Great post!

    Definitely eating more slowly, and in smaller portions, is key. Our bodies need time to let us know they’re full. I try to quit eating just before I feel I’m really ready to stop. It’s really hard to wait 10 minutes, but often I find I don’t want anymore after that.

    I remember seeing a documentary where a group of overweight persons didn’t change eating habits except they put their fork down after each bite and took a swallow of water. All of them lost weight – I guess they ate less??

    I’ve experienced similiar results whenever we travel to East Africa. Food is savored, relationships are more important than a schedule.

    I do think processed food with additives and preservatives and too much sugar is everywhere – I’ve seen it widely available in Europe, Africa, and India. I think the difference is that whole food is more widely available and convenience foods are not as prized in those cultures. Here in the US, we shop primarily in markets that cater to immigrant populations, and definitely we see convenience noodles, frozen foods, processed candy, etc. BUT it’s also true that the produce sections are huge (almost half the store footprint), and bulk rice, beans, etc. are readily available in many varieties.

    ( PS: I know thoese are massive generalization to lump all of Europe, all of Africa, and all of India, etc. together, but this is what I’ve seen.)

    • That documentary sounds fascinating. I think the speed really does make a difference.

  11. Elise says

    I’m wondering what you (Jessica or anyone else here) have thought of Will Clower’s work? He began after a similar experience losing weight while living in France. He wrote a couple of books using his background as a neuro-researcher. I think I recall he noticed many of the same things, but then tied them to some research.

  12. Kristin Hetrick says

    Wow, this is eye opening for me! Thanks for sharing your experience and your insights, it really is food for thought. I am interested especially because you had been avoiding certain things since your whole30. Love the idea of having courses and really savoring food and time with your family. Definitely will be picking up the two books you recommended. Just a lot to think about.

    • I think we should still try to avoid soy and sugar. Those are being used way too much.

      • Kristin Hetrick says

        Yes, agreed. I was shocked to see how much soy was in simple things such as my herbal tea! Sugar is another ingredient that just blew me away with its frequency in multiple forms even in just one item. My eyes have been opened! There is a lot to think about and much talking going on in my house about what we can and cannot live with or without.

  13. Kate says

    I love the idea of having a small “appetizer” while I’m cooking on the main meal. My kids are always “I’m hungry, when will be dinner be done” about 15 minutes before the meal is ready for the table. This is perfect for having them in the kitchen but not underfoot while I’m juggling hot pots and pans.

  14. G’day! Great post that I’m glad I didn’t miss today!
    Stress factors also play a key as when on holidays, most people are stress free, but when they return to real life, the stress cortisol interferes with the proper balance of digesting foods; hence putting on weight.
    Cheers! Joanne

  15. Leslie says

    This post was great! I have lost 70 pounds in the last 4 years, but it wasn’t easy. Four years ago I finally realized that I was just eating too much. Even when it was “good” food I simply ate too much of it. So I had a LapBand put in to force me to eat less and it has totally worked. I now eat about 1/3 the amount of food that I used to. The first year I lost 30 lbs, then 10 lbs very slowly over the next 2 years, then another 30 this past year when I really started paying attention to my lap band, and I started exercising twice a week with a personal trainer. I should do it even more than that, really. But building some muscle and doing some cardio is super important. I also almost entirely quit eating bread and other bread-like things because it clogs up my lap band hole. Every person I’ve talked to who tells me they try to lose weight but can’t eventually confesses to their love of bread. It isn’t a natural human food, even good homemade whole wheat bread, so I’m convinced that some people should just avoid it. It is hard to eat in restaurants because the portions are sickeningly huge, so I mostly cook and eat at home. The smaller portions in restaurants tend to be very unhealthy appetizers. Soups and salads “go down easily” and help me get veggies into my diet. If I do need to pick up fast food, it will be something like 4 chicken nuggets and a milk from Wendy’s, or some soup or chili or a salad, or one taco. I don’t use artificial sweeteners and don’t drink soda. At age 50, I’ve now gone from a size 18 to a 12. As all my friends are putting on their menopause weight, I’m losing. Good luck to all those trying to drop pounds; I know it ain’t easy. PS to Jessica, my trainer said that if you’re running or whatever and not losing weight, then you should probably switch up your routine and try a new workout like biking or swimming, as your body has gotten used to what you do all the time.

    • vanessa says

      Just want to say, congrats on making those changes in eating, food and lifestyle…it’s a hard road!

  16. Dorothy K. says

    Such good suggestions. One observation which I totally agree with is the frenetic way Americans eat, myself included. My parents eat much more slowly and now that my mother lives with me, I notice myself eating like I’m on some kind of mission. Why do I do that? Because eating is not mainly for pleasure for me, like it is for Europeans. I also feel guilty when I enjoy food because my psyche tells me that anything I enjoy putting in my mouth is bad for me – that’s just plain crazy! So, thanks for the reminder and I’m so happy to hear that you really enjoyed your vacation all the way around!

    • Why are we in a hurry? I have no idea. But, I want to slow down. Now to figure that out.

    • vanessa says

      Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how little time is given at school for eating time. My little one is easily distracted during meals unless she’s ravenous. Some of the schools we considered have 20-minute lunch periods! (The 20 minutes includes the time to get everyone seated or through the lunch line, so probably more like 10-15 minutes to actually eat.) The school we eventually chose has an hour lunch and an hour of recess, but that was HARD to find. (Also hard to find a school with a really rigorous Catholic ed class and daily practices….but that’s another story…=)

  17. Jessica B says

    I’m wondering if you ate your largest meal at lunch like many of the French seem to do? I’m thinking that if I ate a dinner size meal at lunch, I probably wouldn’t want a snack.. I’m starting to think that eating more often is not a good thing and you really need to be in the habit of NOT EATING period.

  18. Walker says

    Are you writing about your trip, the planning, where you stayed, ate, etc? On another blog perhaps?? I’d love to read how you planned and executed such a long sabatical. Losing weight must have been the cherry on the top of such a great trip!

  19. Lisa M. says

    I’m so jealous of your trip! Wow, a month in Europe?? We went to Paris and Amsterdam 2 years ago, and Amsterdam again last summer. I love that place!! Anyway, congrats on the weight loss. One thing I noticed in our 2 trips was that not only are the food proportions smaller but you are only served one soda. The waiters/waitresses don’t keep refilling your glass. If you want another soda, you have to purchase it. I think that’s a great idea!

    • Yes. Soda is a treat not water. Hehe. We NEVER buy pop at home, but we let our kids have orangina or coke as an aperitif. It was a super fun treat for them.

  20. Helen says

    Love this post and looking forward to more! If you continue to have issues with fatty foods you might get your gall bladder checked.

    • Thanks. You’re not the first person to say that. I just had my physical and it didn’t come up. Bummer.

  21. Brandi says

    Dear Jessica,
    I really appreciate all the wisdom you share with is. You are a wealth of information and I have to say I have learned so much from you.
    All that to say, I absolutely agree with you! We can learn from other countries and how they make meal time more enjoyable. Americans are always in a hurry and we miss out on precious time with our families. Thank you for reminding us all to refocus!
    Great article!

  22. Kristin says

    I fell behind on your posts and have been catching up out of order. The other day I read your ramble (I think?) with the picture of you guys at the blogger event at Legoland (was that it? Geez, I’m clearly messing up the details!). ANYWAY, the point was you posted a picture of you and you look like a totally refreshed woman! you glowed! This post explains a lot of it!

    • (It’s probably hard to read them in order with them on two different blogs.) Thanks for your kind words. I don’t feel glowing, but I’ll take your word for it. I served courses tonight and dinner was SO much more pleasant. Maybe i need to keep up those habits.

  23. Melissa Nassraway says

    Great article!! I was just informed that I have prediabetes and need to eat better and lose some weight so I really enjoyed the tips in this article. I hate dieting but this doesn’t seem like dieting. It seems more real and tasty but still healthful.

  24. Heather says

    I lived in France for two years in my twenties. For some reason I adopted the no snacking during the day and it has carried forward to this day. Will grab a fruit or something small – even a small piece of chocolate – if hungry at 3 or 4 pm. I do have a weakness for potato chips in the evening but otherwise have managed to maintain my weight for years with regular exercise and a well rounded diet. Interesting article and a good reminder to me of why the French look so good.

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