Small changes add up

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.


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  • 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.


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  • 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 ?

Comments: 4

  1. Stephanie @ Whole Health Dork February 2, 2014 at 7:03 pm Reply

    J’adore France! We find ourselves eating more the French/European way. Three meals and one snack, usually all 3-4 hours apart. If I go more than four hours I’ll often get “hangry.” 😉

    I do miss being able to walk practically everywhere. Even though we work out hard 5-6 days a week, my husband and I each lost five pounds during our 2 week Europe trip last July (five pounds we actually needed to regain because we’re already slim). We were too busy exploring to eat and when we did eat, we still ate healthfully. I can imagine you lost 15 pounds!

    Portion size is the hardest for me. I eat way too fast, so I’m not satiated right away and then go for a second helping. It’s something I’m working on: eating more mindfully and waiting a good 20 minutes before reaching for more to make sure I’m truly hungry. The French are good about eating slowly. I was impressed how many people took time during their work day to take an hour for their lunch with others. In Boston I would see people running to grab lunch before bringing it back to their desk to wolf down while still working.

    • Karen - French Inspiration February 2, 2014 at 7:52 pm Reply

      Definitely agree with you about the importance of eating mindfully. Have you read the Foodist by Darya Pino Rose ? There are many great tips for eating mindfully. Simply putting your fork down between bites helps.

      Yes, everyone always takes time for lunch. I only take 30 minutes or so, but my husband still takes at least an hour everyday, like lots of people. Its not just eating but the break that is good for the mind & body.

      Glad you enjoyed your European trip. There are so many wonderful places to see and things to do ! Happy Sunday to you, hope Boston weather is warmer than it has been…

  2. Cara February 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm Reply

    After reading this post this morning, today at the grocery store, I decided I would reach outside my usual vegetables and pick out some new things. Sadly, there’s no farmer’s market here in January, so my choices were limited. I came home with spaghetti squash, parsnips, and green pea shoots, along with my usual tried and true salad greens, carrots, broccoli, etc. Thank you for making me to think about making some new choices. Hopefully these things won’t end up just rotting in the bottom of refrigerator. 😉

    • Karen - French Inspiration February 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm Reply

      Hi Cara, let me know if you like the spaghetti squash. It goes great with cheese mixed in (like herb & garlic) or even with regular spaghetti squash. Be careful when you take it out of the oven, its very hot ! I haven’t tried parsnips. Let me know how they turn out !

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