Battling the Bulge in the City of Light and Lusciousness
So many people tell me that they lose weight when they’re here in Paris. It’s certainly not because they are enjoying all the cafés and restaurants Paris has to offer — not with such luscious delicacies as a warm French baguette, a frothy café crème, an overwhelming amount of butter in bistro fare, beautiful and sensuous pastries, 400 or more cheeses, foie gras, etc., etc., etc. The only explanation is the amount of exercise they’re getting compared to their usual routine of driving everywhere, parking as close as possible to their destination and taking elevators even when it’s just one flight up. Life in the City of Light takes a lot more energy and that, fortunately, burns fat.
Still, that’s fine for the occasional visitor, but what about us full-timers who are constantly tempted by such goodies and our metabolism is already up there thanks to our active lifestyles, but the fat cells just keep piling up, filling up and reminding us of our gluttony?
I had always been a “skinny Minnie.” In high school, my knees were the widest part of my body and my friends jokingly called me “Skita,” short for “mosquito.” It was pathetic. I stayed really skinny, too, until I stopped smoking three packs of cigarettes a day at which time I quickly gained 10 pounds — but even that didn’t make much of difference to my natural spiny self.
Little by little, as it does with age, it started to creep up and on and I became increasingly unhappy with the bulge. More than 10 years ago, I went on a “low carb” diet and virtually gave up baguettes and pasta. That was pretty tough to do, considering that there’s a bakery on every corner serving up what I think is the most delicious bread in the world, plus at one point pasta was served up at every meal as could whip out any one of hundreds of recipes at the drop of a hat. Those days were gone, gone, gone and I was watching-out for high-carb foods, including wine which as they say, goes directly from the lips to the hips (with no nutritional value). (I know you don’t really want to hear this!)
That worked for a while and I dropped a few pounds, but little by little the high-carb foods crept back into my diet, even on a limited basis. One day I realized that I could not button even one of the black blazers in my closet (or other colors for that matter). I pulled them all out, along with a host of other skinny clothing and set the skinny little things aside to give away to less bulging friends. That was a very sad day, indeed. It was the realization that all that walking in Paris, those 70 steps up to my apartment along with those in the Métro; all that so-called natural exercise I was getting (plus the power hula-hooping I’ve been doing every morning while watching the news), wasn’t doing a damned bit of good as long as I was dining out twice a day and “cheating” by having a piece of baguette every now and then or just having one more glass of wine or having one bowl of pasta because it looked so delicious in that authentic Italian restaurant we’d decided to try or digging into that box of chocolates someone gifted me.
Then, the switch clicked on. This past November, I had dinner with a visiting couple from New Orleans. He’s a tall thin gentleman who eats anything he wants whenever he wants without much thought, but his wife suddenly looked decidedly thinner than I’d ever seen her — having lost 30 pounds. She confessed that in empathy with a friend battling cancer, she was following the “Whole 30 Diet” — a “short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract and balance your immune system.”
The next morning I Googled it and started it, just like that. It was brave (or stupid) considering that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Eve, were just about to begin as the restrictions on the diet remove all sugar (and sugar substitutes), all alcohol, all grains, all dairy and all legumes from your regime. That means, no baguettes, no café crème, no pasta, no pastries, no chocolate, etc., etc., etc.
You ask, “What’s left?” Fish and meat, fruits and vegetables and nuts. Period. According to the founders, “The Whole30 is not a diet, a weight-loss plan or quick fix – it’s designed to “change your life,” by eliminating cravings, rebalancing hormones, curing digestive issues, improving medical conditions and boosting energy and immune function.
This is not a promo for the Whole 30 Diet, but a recount of what it’s like to live in a place like Paris where all things decadent and delicious are as seductive as Eve’s apple…and ultimately aren’t really very good for your health or your waistline and what it’s like to say “NO” to them. My friends have been in awe as I order Perrier in place of wine or champagne (just as expensive in any Paris café), give back that little “Spéculoos” cookie or square of chocolate to the waiter that comes with coffee (which I now order black), set the bread basket on the table next to me or hand it back, ask to trade “purée” for “haricots verts” and turn down so-and-so’s homemade “Tarte Tatin.”
Something clicked that day when I saw my friend had lost 30 pounds and the line-up of black blazers ready to give away to the “Emmaus” thrift stores. Sure, I could do it for 30 days. That’s not so hard, right? When Thanksgiving came along, I ate the turkey and turned down the stuffing. The pies came out, but I said no and opted for the fruit. They tried to get me to break the diet, but willpower got the worst of me and I said NO. Thirty days went by fast and I had dropped several pounds! That was the incentive to keep going, so I stuck with it another 30 days and dropped another several pounds!
The diet tells you not to get on the scale until the end of 30 days. When I finally stepped on, it was a shock. I hadn’t been this low a weight in 20 years. The blazers came out of their hiding and back into the closet when the buttons closed without a stretch or sucking in my gut. My pants now sag in the butt and a new skirt is falling down below my waist. My belts are on the their tightest notches. Yeah! And on top of it all, I have more energy, am more clearer-headed and feel a whole lot better…even if I’m missing a few luscious things normally on a typical Paris plate.
This week marks three months of no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, no dairy and no legumes. I’ve substituted almond milk in coffee, breakfast is just a banana and maybe a handful of nuts (no peanuts — they are legumes!) instead of the Greek yogurt with honey, fruits and nuts and eggs are delicious fried in coconut oil instead of butter. I pass the wine shops without buying, I vicariously sniff the “patisseries” and “boulangeries” when walking past, I try not to look at the gelati stands with all their pretty flavors and avoid the “chocolatiers”…wondering when I’ll be back (?), but not yet tempted. One day I will be.
What do I miss most? Chocolate: one square a day may make it back. Real milk in coffee: I’ll indulge only in restaurants. Wine: maybe one glass in the evening in a restaurant wouldn’t be so bad. But I don’t miss the “Dunlops Disease” — what “done lopped over my belt.” And Paris hasn’t changed, but my waistline has. Paris will still be here with all its luscious delicacies when I’m ready to indulge once again.
Tips to those who are dieting while visiting Paris and wanting to indulge on it all: Eat and drink the things you can’t get at home and leave the rest behind. Limit the quantities. Take the Métro or walk as much as possible. Rent an apartment up a few flight of stairs with no lift.
And if you’re lucky enough to lose weight while you’re here, then forget everything I just said and enjoy yourself to the max!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(Adrian Leeds – Denis … cutting Adrian’s hair at home!)
P.S. While I was getting a new figure, I got a new haircut! When Italian hair artist Denis Cinel is in Paris (from time to time), you could have his special touch, just like I have! He has a long list of formidable clients including a former Miss Italia, Italian socialites, artists and TV celebrities. Recently, legendary Italian actress Maria Ripa di Meana asked a client of his in Rome who her hairdresser was! It was Denis, of course. Or go see him at his shop address on via San Gaetano 173, in Montebelluna (45 minutes northwest of Venice, in the area where Prosecco comes from), reachable at +39 0423 609629 or email him at at [email protected] to cut your hair in Paris — you will never know how you lived without him.