How to Pig Out in Paris…and Stay a Shrimp
The question often asked of me is: “How do you eat out so often on such rich French food and stay so slim?”
In fact, it’s not unusual to be asked this question even more often than I dine out…In the year 2006, I officially recorded having dined out in 362 restaurants in Paris. That’s an average of seven per week or one per day. Amazingly, of which I am very proud, the average meal was only 20€, or about $25 including tax and tip.
Keep in mind, that at this low an average price, these are not meals at McDonald’s or sandwiches from a street stand. These are mostly two or three-course French meals in nice bistrots, even for lunch. Lord only knows how many calories that accounts for. But, who’s counting?
In 1981 I took up eating as a pastime instead of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day and immediately gained ten pounds. While five pounds up or down comes and goes with the seasons and situations, my weight has stayed pretty consistent all these years, in spite of Paris dining. Hence the ceaseless demands (from both women and men) on why I can do what I do without turning into a “cochon” (pig).
A pound of fat equals 3500 calories, so to lose one pound, one must expend 3500 more calories than eaten, whether through increased activity or decreased eating or both. Decreasing eating is tough for someone like me who lives to eat, rather than eats to live.
To answer this question, I first turned to my own daily habits. Then I turned to the Web. What I learned supported my own hunches. Please keep in mind that I am no doctor nor dietician. This is not necess
arily good advice but it’s the truth for me.
1. Start with good genetics. My mother who just turned 90 this past summer is still as slim and trim as she’s always been. ‘Course, she doesn’t eat quite like I eat except for her daily “hit” of chocolate which she absolutely MUST have.
(Did you know that a person in love produces a chemical called “phenylethylamine” and chocolate has lots of it, too?!…just ask ‘chemistry of love’ researcher Michael Libowitz, author of the 1983 book “The Chemistry of Love.”
Every scientist knows that what we inherit is passed on to us in the code in our genes. Genes control all aspects of our physical makeup, and as they have come to find out and debate, is also that genes control a whole set of chemicals in our brains which control much of our eating behavior. Ever notice how small and gaunt the French are? So, genetics are simply on their side.
2. Eat two meals a day, one light, one heavy. Breakfast is the one the French skip even though it’s the one you’re not supposed to skip. Have a big frothy café crème and then try to resist a “tartine” (fresh baguette with butter) or croissant. No, this is not good for the waistline, but if you can’t enjoy this simple pleasure every once and a while here in France, then when can you?
3. Don’t eat between meals. If you eat well at each meal, your body won’t need to be fed in between. Eating between meals is a bad American habit. Leave it behind you. Many nutritionists believe that once a regular meal is eaten, the stomach should be allowed to rest. “After the stomach has done its work for one meal, do not crowd more work upon it before it has had a chance to rest and to provide a sufficient supply of gastric juice for the next meal. Five hours at least should be given between each meal, and always bear in mind that if you would give it a trial, you would find that two meals would be better than three.” Read more about this at http://healthyliving.benabraham.com/html/organs_of_digestion.html
Snack food is becoming increasingly easier to find on Paris streets, much to our chagrin, and our growing thighs. But, don’t let that discourage you from #4:
4. Walk. Walk. Walk. Paris is the greatest city in the world to walk in. Walking from place to place instead of grabbing a taxi, hopping a bus or heading to the nearest Métro, will naturally burn off the extra calories you may have consumed along with that “millefeuille” from Gérard Mulot you couldn’t resist. You’re going to love this tip — http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc — a site to calculate how many calories you burn by doing your favorite activities. If I walk from my apartment to the Hôtel de Ville, which takes about 15 minutes at a pace of 4 miles an hour, I burn 67 calories. If I keep walking all the way to Saint-Germain-des-Prés (about 40 minutes), 179 calories will be burned. Every little bit helps.
5. Take the stairs. There are 70 steps up to my apartment and no elevator (it’s a 350 year-old “Hôtel Particulier” with a wide curving stairwell no one is willing to destroy with an elevator). It’s easy to have a love-hate relationship with the stairs. On one hand I am cursing them as I’m huffing and puffing up the last few, but on the other hand, I am thankful to them for giving my legs more shape than they’ve ever had, pumping up the biceps (carrying heavy loads), granting a natural daily cardiovascular workout with no other option. Three minutes of climbing three flights of stairs burns 21 calories.
6. Buy clothing that is always tight. You might think this is a joke, but it works, psychologically. When a pound or two has been gained, breathing in the tightest pants quickly remind me. Indigestion from squeezing the stomach sets in and then I know I’m on the road to losing that extra bulge. While surfing the Web to support this theory, I came across lots of sites that say that tight clothing is a sign of weight gain but none that use it as a method of weight loss! Could this start a new diet fad?
7. Skip or share dessert. It’s tough for me to resist a “tarte Tatin” with “crème fraiche,” so if I must have it, I’ll order one and share it with fellow diners. Face it — fat grams are what make fat cells. Once a fat cell, always a fat cell. At http://www.howstuffworks.com/fat-cell.htm you can learn that 65.2% of the adults in the United States are overweight or obese — 142 million people. “As your body stores more fat, the number of fat cells remains the same. Each fat cell simply gets bigger!” Depressing, huh?
8. Pretend you’re allergic to high-in-fat or high-carbohydrate foods. Way back when I was living in California and everyone was going daily to the gym and discussing diets during every guilt-ridden meal, I learned this from a friend who was devoted to Gold’s Gym and had the best body I had ever seen. Three years ago, I lost 15 pounds in three weeks just by imagining that I was allergic to certain foods and simply not part of my diet: all carbohydrates, such as potatoes, rice, bread, etc., all fatty foods such as avocado, creamy desserts, etc, but and all things which are high in fat. So, what’s left to eat in Paris? Lots! I find this one the easiest things to do. The restaurants don’t usually mind changing those potatoes for a salad or green beans!
9. Reduce your portions. Although I’ve noticed the portions in French restaurants lately starting to rival their American counterparts, most three-course meals in Paris will leave you satisfied without being stuffed and you didn’t have to share one bite with your dining partner. An “entrée” (appetizer) is exactly that, on a small plate and enough to take the edge off your hunger. The “plat” (main course) is usually about 100 grams of meat or fish accompanied by a vegetable or starch taking up about 25% of the plate, leaving you room for dessert. A slice of “tarte aux pommes” (apple pie) is one-eighth of the pie, not an American one-sixth.
In France, it is rude to leave food on your plate, so it’s best if the portions are reasonable. Portions U.S. restaurants are so large they can be repulsive, no
w that I am so accustomed to the French idea of reasonableness.
10. Eat without guilt. This is the most important way to stay slim and happy! Often, visitors worry that they’ll gain weight while they’re here. Don’t! Just change your habits to adapt to the French lifestyle and you’ll be able to eat all you want without gaining weight and without the guilt. It’s one thing I love most about living here.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. Now I bet you will want to know what are my favorite restaurants in Paris? More than 200 of them are described in the “Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants” which I’ve been writing since 1996! Enjoy fabulous three-course meals with wine for just 15€ to 35€, including tax and tip from these hand-picked great-value restaurants. Plus, the guide includes “Do’s” and “Don’ts” dining tips and a glossary of common food and dining terms found on French menus! Click here now to order your electronic copy: http://www.insiderparisguides.com
P.P.S. Reminder: A Special Invitation to Parler Paris Readers!: I will be speaking about “Seventeen Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Moved to Paris,” tomorrow, Tuesday, October 30th, 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. to students from the International Affairs and the Public Sphere program in the Grande Salle of Reid Hall, 4 rue de Chevreuse, 75006 Paris, http://www.reidhall.net/. They have generously opened the event to all Parler Paris readers as “observers” to allow the students to field their own questions but allow you to attend and learn from the session. It’s free of charge, compliments of Reid Hall.