December 15, 2010 at 11:09 am , by Julie Bain
I just spent a lovely week in Lyon, France, eating the famously rich and decadent foods this city is famous for, including sausages, duck, foie gras, pike quenelles in cream sauce, creamy cheeses, potatoes cooked in butter and cream, crème brûlée (notice the word “cream” appears frequently) and more.
And I lost three pounds.
I know, just hate me now. I was surprised, too. At first I thought it was a fluke; maybe I was dehydrated and the weight would come back quickly. But three days after my return, the pounds have stayed off.
When I really thought about it, I understood why. I pretty much follow the philosophy of Mireille Guiliano in her best-selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat. It’s not about “dieting.” It’s all about savoring and celebrating great food, rather than denying yourself—but also about balance and portion control. Guiliano’s recent blog on wowowow.com titled “Eat, Drink and Be Merry—Without the Guilt!” summarizes it beautifully. Here’s what I believe worked for me.
Eat mindfully—and don’t eat it all. Because I was in France with business colleagues as well as French hosts, I was very sociable during meals, which forced me to slow down. That, of course, allows your brain to catch up with your stomach and tell you when you’re comfortably full. Also, when in France, you pay attention to the food and wine, and discuss it more than we do at home. I savored every bite but probably never ate more than half of any dish. Guiliano says portion control is an art. In France, I seemed to nail it. At home in the U.S., I have more of a tendency to wolf it down without thinking.
Find your balance. Guiliano advises not to agonize over what you eat (like this beef with morel sauce, left; yes, I snap photos of my food when I travel), or feel guilty about it. “When you’re dining in France,” she says, “the chefs help by offering much more modest food portions than we find in American restaurants, and the ingredients are also downsized when it comes to things like sugar.” If you still overdo it, compensate over the next few days. It’s pretty simple. One night during my visit, we had a wine and cheese tasting around 6 p.m. The cheeses were so amazing, I had to indulge my way through the whole spectrum. Then we walked around the city during its famous Fête des Lumières (“festival of lights”) until our dinner at 9 p.m., which was also fabulous. That night I ordered scallops and fish, and only had a bite or two of the fruit tart for dessert.
Don’t skip breakfast. I always try to focus on protein rather than carbs in the morning, to avoid blood sugar spikes and cravings. In France I had a small piece of cheese or a spoonful of eggs or yogurt and maybe just a small piece of fabulous bread with my café au lait. Then, even though snacks were offered during meetings, I didn’t feel the need to eat anything at all between meals.
Drink lots of water—and watch the wine intake. I kept myself well hydrated, which helps keep you from feeling tired and hungry. And while I love French wines, I sipped rather than swilled the fabulous wines from Burgundy, the Rhône and the local Beaujolais region.
Keep moving. French women may not go to the gym but they’re always on the move. It adds up. We walked a lot on this visit, and I swear maneuvering on the ancient cobblestones burns twice as many calories.
Sleep! Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep revs up your hunger hormones and makes you eat more. Jet lag can make it worse. But something about my dark, quiet room in the 15th century hotel where I stayed made me sleep like a baby. No doubt that helped me find the balance I needed on this trip to feel perfectly satisfied without gaining an ounce.
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