Thursday, May 13, 2010

Greetings from France! There’s so much I’d like to share about food and eating here and what it means for those of you struggling to eat well and maintain some balance in your lives. At the moment, I am staying in a very small town in southern France, population approximately 5000 people. And guess how many bakeries? Four! Yes, four bakeries that serve the most spectacular pastries and freshly baked breads. And I might add that this is not a tourist town. 

So who is buying all these amazing baked goods (besides me)? The locals. For those of you who have not been to France, I’d like to also enlighten you about these baked goods. They are all white flour (although I did see one multi grain bread), and the pastries are to die for. Full cream and butter, nothing low fat about them. And the locals, you are wondering, what do they look like? Let’s just say that high BMIs just don’t seem to exist here. They appear normal weight and healthy as a whole. In my entire first week of traveling in France, I could say that there was only one overweight individual that I encountered—and he was a bus driver, for whatever that’s worth.

So why tell you all this? Because when I am talking with patients back home I constantly hear of phobias about carbs and and fats and the risk of eating these and gaining weight. It seems to me that in past years a fear of carbs has taken over. Perhaps this is a carry over of misinformation from diets such as the Atkins and Zone, but more about that later. The point is, people that live here eat plenty of carbs—refined, white flour, low fiber carbs, and enjoy every bite. And yet, they remain slim and fit. 

Hmmmm. So what to make of this paradox? Several things come to mind. First, the French really know how to eat mindfully and to eat foods they enjoy. Meals last forever (stores close for 2-4 hours, depending on location, for lunchtime). And how many of you take such time for lunch? And actually choose foods you enjoy? And take the time to taste them?

And then there’s the fat content. Just like the pastries, most foods here are not low fat. The French take pride in their cheeses (full fat and delectable) and their olive and walnut oils. But the French don’t appear to be closet eating their pastries or baguettes, those white flour breads. No, they are eating them, savoring them even, in full view. And truly enjoying them, it seems.

Now there is one detail I might add about the French way of eating—the portions. Everything tends to be smaller. I ordered a “grande” coffee this morning and I got about 4 ounces. Imagine that! Five of those would fit in a Starbucks vente. And similarly, they tend to be satisfied with small quantities of foods which taste great. Perhaps we could learn a few things from the French. I do promise to post a few photos of the pastries around France because it is truly other worldly! And I must admit, I’ve enjoyed every croissant, baguette, Napolean and macaron I’ve had (check out the La Duree website to see what I mean).

So this week, try to act French—choose some foods that you’d never consider eating, something truly delectable that meets no nutritional “need”. And savor it, truly taste it with all of your senses. And maybe you’ll find that it takes a lot less to satisfy then you ever imagined.

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