When I came to France in my early twenties I was just out of college. I went to Northeastern University, and like lots of college students at that time, late night pizza, pasta, and beer were staples of my diet. Even if I did exercise (step aerobics and the Stairmaster were the two biggest trends at that time), there was a lot less information about nutrition, eating clean, eating well, and I didn’t pay much attention to my weight, around 135 pounds.
When I moved to France, the weight literally fell off. This came primarily from basic habits, ingrained in the French culture.
- Portion size. The portions in France are much smaller than that of the US. If you simply compare the “standard” yogurt sizes of 6 oz. in the US to 4 oz. in France, that’s 50% more in a portion. The restaurant portions are smaller, the size of a hamburger is smaller, the size of desserts is smaller, a glass of wine is smaller. Smaller means fewer calories and fewer calories means less weight.
- Regular meal times and limited snacking. I found that eating three meals a day stabilized my blood sugar levels and I didn’t feel the need to snack. No snacking cuts out a ton of calories. Food is a lot less available and you are not tempted on every corner by a vending machine, when you buy your newspaper they are not selling candy bars, when you get a cup of coffee there are not muffins and cakes and cookies.
- Quantity & variety of fruit & veggies. There is a ton of choice at the farmer’s market as compared to what you can get in a supermarket, and farmer’s markets are everywhere. I discovered vegetables I never knew existed and the choice is amazing : endives, Brussel sprouts, apples (granny smith, golden, pink lady, gala, red delicious, tentation…), strawberries (garigette, fraise des bois, mara des bois, rouge passion…), mushrooms (champignons de Paris, morilles, pleurotte…), artichokes, eggplant… In addition, in restaurants you don’t get a choice of your vegetable so you quickly get used to trying new things. Even after 20 years I am discovering new vegetables ! My favorites are all kinds of peppers, broccoli, sweet potato, mushrooms, asparagus (white and green), tomatoes, all kinds of squash, red onions…. pretty much anything you can roast.
- City living = walking. Once you stop taking your car everywhere and replace it by walking, calories are burned. We walk to do all our errands, walk to take the subway, walk to the doctor’s office, walk to the library, walk to the gym.
Within the first couple months I shed 15 pounds without even thinking about it. Small changes really do add up.
What small changes have you made that has had an impact on your health ? What veggies have you discovered that you love ?