Growing up, I was the tall skinny kid. I was picky, but I could eat whatever I wanted (pizza, doughnuts, you name it). My Mom always told me it would catch up to me eventually and she was right. After college came stress with jobs and then getting laid off. I worked out here and there but I didn't have a routine.
In my mid to late 20's someone in my family started calling me fat... I was self employed, trying to start a business and it wasn't what I wanted to hear. I was encouraged to hire a trainer. He was the Uncle of one of the kids I used to nanny and I made a three month commitment. He gave me a strict diet and we worked out with weights twice a week. The diet was mostly lean proteins, and low carbs. I was miserable and so hungry all the time. I told him I had a goal of fitting into a pair of pants that was size X. He kindly told me I would never be a size X. I slimmed down and stuck to the diet and finally squeezed into size X. But then I left for Paris...
I was surrounded by cheese, bread, and pastries on a daily basis. I spent a lot of time in the grocery store looking for foods that still fit my "diet" I didn't want to loose what I worked so hard for. At this time in 2013, it was hard to find skim or low fat milk and greek yogurt wasn't in my grocery stores. So I started eating full fat yogurt (best thing ever), bordier butter and the French drink whole milk in their cafè crémes so I thought, why not? All in moderation of course.
I observed so much during my time in Paris and I wanted to learn the ways of the French. I did my best to fit in as much as possible and that meant adapting to the culture. I tried aligot, magret de canard, and even rabbit. Smoking was not an option ;)
I spent most of my days exploring and learning the city of Paris by foot. I had morning walks for my baguette and evening walks to watch the sunset. These were my favorite times of the day. I still say my favorite time in Paris was when I didn't know anyone. I lived on the top floor of my apartment building which meant 5 flights of stairs. There was an elevator but I chose not to use it unless absolutely necessary. I walked an average of 10 miles a day without really even trying.
One of my favorite things to in Paris is visit the markets. There was one by my house where I would go to get my fruits. I became friends with the vendor and he would then fill my bag extras and I would give him a few euros. I would make the walk from Montmartre down to the Bastille market at least once a week. I had my regular vendors there and I still do today, 5 years later.
At the end of three months, I was SO happy. Taking the leap to move to Paris was one of the scariest things I have ever done but also one of the best decisions. The weather finally started to turn at the end of April and I had a ticket home. I had no idea how hard leaving Paris was going to be but I knew early on in my three months that I had to find a way to come back.
Once I got home, there were so many things I missed about Paris. I wanted to find as much of Paris in Chicago. I had changed so much as a person more than I thought I would and adjusting wasn't so easy. I made regular trips to the market in my neighborhood and continued to eat seasonally. I buy whole milk for my coffee now and I learned to make my own yogurt because I never found the same French yogurt I loved back in the States. Have you ever looked at the amount of sugar in one container of yogurt? I have my favorite spots for baguettes and croissants where they greet me with a friendly "bonjour".
Over the last 5 years, it has been a lifestyle change. The only thing I still keep from my trainer is always having a protein at each meal chicken, fish, meat, or eggs. I have slowly been inviting a few vegetables into my diet and dark chocolate is eaten daily. My trainer always told me I would never be a size X and I actually believed him. Now I am Size X minus 2!! I don't weigh myself. If I fit into my clothes than we are good. If things start to become tight than I know I need to cut back on something. It is as simple as that. (croissant research comes at a price!)
I do stay pretty active even in the Winter. I attend a dance/yoga class daily. In the Summer, I will walk a few miles a day but rarely 10 miles like in Paris.
5 Things that I Changed in the last 5 Years:
1. Full Fat Milk instead of Skim. I only use a little in my coffee in the morning. The health benefits are better and I buy Organic or straight from the Farmer at Green City Market in The Summer.
2. I make my own yogurt. I typically do this on a Sunday and I have an entire weeks worth. You can do this with skim or full fat milk. There is a lot less sugar content and it tastes so much better than the ones in the store. I will add a little seasonal fresh fruit to the bowl for flavor.
3. I buy Seasonally. During the Summer, I am a regular at the market picking up my fruits, kale, eggs, and milk. During the Winter months, I will buy at my local grocery store. I stick to what is in season and I am getting better at buying the organic option for fruits even if it is more expensive.
4. I shop often and only for what I need that night/next day. I am a frequent shopper at the grocery and they know me by name. I prefer to buy fresh fish, meats, and produce. My fridge isn't too full and I try to waste less. My schedule can change from day to day so I can't plan too much in advance. For those of you with families, this is much harder. My sister does a few big shops because it works better with her schedule.
5. I don't eat cakes/cookies often. I do enjoy a small square of dark chocolate on a daily basis. (my favorite is Vosges) I am not tempted by the pastry cases in Paris. I can easily walk in and out of a Patisserie or Boulangerie with nothing. I actually feel guilty I don't want to take anything home.
What are your thoughts on The French approach to food?