I learned a long time ago, how to manage my weight while at the same time, being able to almost eat whatever I wanted, not feeling deprived or prevented from eating any certain food group.
My mother, when I was about 12, got me into my school’s track & field, solely for the purpose of learning how to effectively control my weight & shape via healthy exercise. In our American culture, where fast food is everywhere and so tempting, and processed food makes up the bulk of our grocery markets, I’m so glad she had the whereabouts to teach me something that is now seen as drastic in order to stay in shape for life: exercise and eating generally healthy.
She told me that when practice was especially hard, to picture someone’s body I adored (Catherine Zeta-Jones became it for me :) ), and know that shape was my prize. Nevermind that she and I have completely different body types, it was such a great motivator – picturing the body I wanted, but then love of the sport took over, and I found myself genuinely enjoying running and racing hurdles. That was basically the goal, for me to learn to appreciate and enjoy the feel of exercise and taking care of my body, as well as to understand the award and results for doing so.
Something I’ve seen rampant in our country is that exercise becomes some kind of idol, or center of our life. For women in particular, don’t take exercise or weight lifting so seriously that you cross over to a masculine extreme.
This is another beauty of the French woman… she still keeps her shape womanly and soft with a bit of lean muscle – she doesn’t lose her breast tissue in the pursuit of gaining strength that appears like a male torso.
The French typically have a laid back view on beauty, exercise and eating, they aren’t trying too hard with it – a view we Americans would do very well to integrate into our mindset. As far as beauty goes, it is a very relaxed approach almost sometimes a little unkempt, but always sexy in a very French way. Most French girls don’t even own a brush! When I was young, and even now, I didn’t and don’t actually brush my hair, and I have one hair brush that I never ever use packed away in the storage under our sink. I comb it when its detangled and wet, but never brush it out.
American women approach exercise out of fear and with great stress, leading most to give up because they’re already overweight and don’t see results fast enough to keep their motivation. We typically are found going after workouts with too great an ambition – after a New Year’s declaration or seeing ourselves in reality in our social media pictures. Instead of a steady, peaceful pursuit of health, it becomes a stressful chore to add to our to-do list – workout 3x per week… or else! You can’t lose weight when stressed and under such pressure, but you can easily lose your motivation and perspective on life and its pleasures.
Americans tend to be at both ends of the extreme – either never exercising or exercising being their life center where they literally run around all day in work out clothes (guilty to some degree, at least with the workout attire). The French only really wear their workout clothes when going to the gym or when actually working out.
Another thing I’ve realized is that Americans work out from the anxiety and pressure to be thin. The French exercise from the desire and pleasure to be thin… one is forced, the other is a natural, peaceful habit.
There are very few overweight women in France, I’m sure you’ve heard that cliche. Its true for the most part. When they start to feel their clothes getting tight, they up their daily exercise by simply taking the stairs, walking extra in their daily routine, and determinedly, eating less or avoiding dessert for awhile.
A word about dessert.
When the French eat something decadent, they try to avoid cheap imitations or processed and packaged sweets. It just isn’t worth it to them, they value dessert more than that. All those empty calories for something that doesn’t even taste that great compared to the real, homemade/handmade, exquisite little pastry or sweet, it just isn’t worth it. As a result, because the dessert is heavier or more rich in taste, they naturally eat a lot less or they begin to feel sick (as it should be when one overeats). Only one dessert a day is considered enough, and it is enough because it meets a very real need for the craving of deliciousness and pleasure, while at the same time, being satisfying enough that you don’t even think about eating more of it. The French don’t deprive themselves by sticking to strange and restrictive diets that produce temporary results at best. They don’t really do diets at all, but approach food as a pleasure to be enjoyed.
‘Je deprime donc je chocolate.’
“When I’m down, I chocolate.”
Refuse to buy packaged sweets if you can, we only do so extremely rarely, like if they are on an amazing deal and I get them for free. Last week, I actually did obtain a box of Hostess Cupcakes, the first I’ve bought probably ever, but it was only because they were part of a “meal deal” where my buying ham & cheese gave me the cupcakes for free. I already needed the deli meat and cheese, but the added free fattening desserts were a treat. My son was delighted, but he understands we only do that for rare occasions… packaged sweets like that are usually never in my pantry. Go figure in America they tempt you with buying the things you actually need (protein meats and cheese) and give you their packaged crap for free to try to get you addicted. If you never usually buy them, they’re never a real temptation.
I’ve never read the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano, but I’ve heard great things about it, and the few things I have read fit right in line with everything I’m telling you in this post. A quote from Mireille perfectly describes the difference in the American stressful mindset of food, versus the relaxed French perspective,
“French women think about good things to eat;
American women typically worry about bad things to eat.”
The French eat carbs… but don’t overeat or stress. I couldn’t find any studies in particular, however, I would guess that the cortisol levels in American women vs French women is much higher, as is the newly medical term, The Hurried Woman Syndrome. American women push themselves, constantly trying to be more competitive, to be perfectionists, to be the Super Mom… aggressive, successful, and in general, more masculine in nature. Compared to the laid back approach of the parenting style and life of the French woman, the American woman is far more stressed and more than likely at risk to use pharmaceutical drugs in order to achieve peace of mind about her life. This has even been noted as a reason why French women age better than American women, almost seeming to never appear old. Yes, they take care of their skin immaculately and admirably, but it stems from a no-nonsense view of stress, as well as valuing their sleep each night (getting 8.5 hours compared to the American 6.5) so that cortisol levels don’t build up over extended periods of time.
They also have a natural awareness of calorie intake – if they eat something full of carbs they eat something light later, if they eat a dessert that was a lot of calories or particularly heavy, they modify their diet the next day to balance it out.
A few things to remember in starting the Fall off right:
- Potion size difference… always remember that ours in America, is out of proportion. Never finish all a restaurant gives you to eat, eat 1/4 to 1/2 and save the rest.
- Eat an incredible breakfast.
- Eating slower… actually enjoy the eating experience as a pleasure – taste and love the food you eat
- Only eat really good food – avoid the empty carbs and sugars and processed crap of packaged foods as much as you can.
- Cook for yourself! Learn to LOVE to cook and bake your own treats… it will give you an appreciation of the process and art of food.
- Eat a little dark chocolate everyday, never deprive yourself of chocolate. As a woman, this is a sin.
- Don’t be afraid to drink a little wine – I usually do in the Fall and Winter, and then for some reason (maybe the extreme heat here in Texas) I abstain pretty well in the Spring and Summer.
- Joie de Vivre! Embrace the exuberant enjoyment of life!
- Have healthy snacks always available, especially fruit, plain greek yogurt (add your own sugar) and cheese.
- Stay away from diet foods, sugar free foods, sodas (at all costs). We drink sodas rarely, adding ice into a soda is a great trick to water it down, making it actually healthier in albeit, a small way.
“Here is what I have seen to be good: it is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. God has also given riches and wealth to every man, and He has allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart.“