Paris, the city of love, light and glamour is heaving with sylph-like and immaculately turned out Parisian women. Parisians tend to be slimmer and sleeker than in other areas of France, making stronger-framed and more “robust” women like yours truly, the No-Nonsense Nutritionist in Paris, stand out like Vikings.
You often hear expats openly wondering how, in the land of croissants, cheese and red wine Parisian, women manage to stay slim.
The answer, my friends, is inflexible, rigid and iron control. You’d never see a Parisian in leggings and a loose top letting it all hang out. Impossible. It’s a city of chic and impeccably-fitted clothing. This has its good and bad points. On the positive side, an environment of “slimness” does make people far more conscious about what they eat. On the negative side, there’s still a mistaken belief that being overweight shows a weak character, a manque de controle de soi (a lack of self-control) and “fat shaming” is relatively common.
Parisians, LBDs and the art of looking immaculate
Ah, but you’re thinking, surely Christmas is different. Don’t the Parisian goddesses relax, giggle, drink, let their makeup run down their cheeks, hoover up the cocktails and do naked tangos on the Champs Elysées?! Sadly, no. If you see women doing this, they are unlikely to be Parisians. Parisians value fitting into their LBDs (little black dresses) and looking gorgeous far more than a good old drunken “l love the world” kind of knees up. There are even workshops in Paris where you can learn how to avoid weight gain over the festive period! Lots of “pain” means no absolutely no weight gain!
It’s all about balance
The nutritionist in me is the first to high five the Parisians for their successful weight control strategy. But, the fun loving Anglo-Saxon part of me wonders if all that constant control is necessary. Doesn’t it make life just slightly “dull”? Some of the most wonderful times in my life have involved good food, copious amounts of alcohol, dancing on tables and cackling louder than the Wicked Witch of the West. Isn’t Christmas the one time where we should be able to relax around food? Isn’t it the one time of the year when the rude word, which begins with “D” and ends in “-iet”, is not mentioned?
Food control depends on how much you socialize!
So, here’s the million-dollar question: Is it possible to enjoy Christmas and let one’s hair down without gaining a ton of weight? The good news my friends is that yes, I do think this is completely possible and the amount of “control” you need to exert really depends on your social calendar. It goes without saying that if your Christmas is limited to three social events (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve), you probably don’t need to exercise as much (if any) restraint compared to if you are out every night from the beginning of December.
Busy, busy versus hygge hygge
Are you a “Norma no mates” or a social butterfly? Wondering what hygge is? Pronounced hue-gah, it’s the latest Danish trend based on enjoying the good moments in life even if they are spectacularly ordinary. For example, a night at home – think dim lights, furs, candles and pink fluffy unicorns. My hygge moment went badly wrong when my husband came home from work, swerved to avoid the forest of candles, and tripped over child number 3, who was curled up on the floor with an ipad. I then had to spend all evening listening to child number 3 wailing about their cracked screen while my husband recovered on the sofa muttering darkly about how he really doesn’t enjoy coming home after a hard day’s work to be burnt alive and have his limbs broken…
Back to nutrition. If you do have a full and active Christmas season, these are some tips and ideas to help you balance and manage your food intake in a user-friendly way!
Avoid unnecessary calories
Be very aware when eating out/dining/at a party that you possibly have four or more delicious courses coming your way and that you truly, really do not need to stick your head in the bowl of crisps. A large meal with nibbles, 3+ courses and lashings of wine can easily “cost” you 3000 calories. This is 150% more than your daily requirement of 2000 calories and if you are solidly eating like this for 2 weeks, you could easily find yourself 4kg heavier. There is nothing more miserable than starting January with your clothes uncomfortably tight and feeling forced into doing a “detox” of kale and broccoli smoothies (dramatic shudder). It is infinitely wiser to exercise just a little restraint and head into January feeling fighting fit!
Navigating the apéro or pre-meal nibbles
It’s often easier to accept a glass of wine/champagne than having to go through the performance of asking for water and spend 30 minutes justifying why you are not drinking. (The exception to this of course is if you are driving).
Once you have your drink in front of you, you need to nurse it and make it last all night. While people are quick to comment if you are not drinking (in Anglo-Saxon cultures at least), no one will ever tell you to drink up (unless you are in the company of Brits, South Africans or Aussies!)
Be very aware that one small glass of wine = 125 calories. 1 bottle of wine contains roughly 750 calories and during a long evening, it is very easy to consume a lot of liquid calories. Be, very, very careful! You then need to become best friends with the cherry tomatoes and crudités and zapper, or avoid, the charcuterie, quiches and crisps.
During the meal
Happily, portion sizes during a meal tend to be on the small side in France unless you are being entertained by Vikings or expats! Keep your water glass topped up (but not your wine glass) and avoid the bread basket and any another of the delicious “nice to haves” such as butter and additional sauces. And no, don’t even think about asking for second helpings!
In a similar way to alcohol, people often enjoy pressing food on you and can get upset if you refuse. I’ve realized with my family that food is their way of expressing their love, so be gentle with people, don’t ever be rude. The easiest strategy is to accept a small amount of everything you are given and tell yourself you can simply leave it on your plate. You can accept a miniscule serving of dessert or even avoid it completely provided this is done with elegance and politeness.
My standard line is, “Oh that looks delicious, but I have already eaten so much of your incredible food. Could I have the recipe?”
Allow yourself recovery time
Even social butterflies might not be out every night. Allow yourself a nourishing recovery day and keep it light and healthy. In need of ideas? My standard “light” day goes something like this:
Breakfast: Natural Greek Yoghurt with a warm fruit compote
Lunch: Grilled fish with stir fried vegetables
Supper: Large bowl of soup with a green salad
Followed by bed, a book and lights out at 10:30pm!
This menu is roughly 1000 calories, which allows me to “balance the books” after a heavy day.
Strategize when staying with family/friends
Don’t panic, and follow the same tips that I’ve outlined above. I always offer to get involved with getting the meal together and tend to cook or prepare additional vegetables, which allows me to add more volume to my meals without too many additional calories.
If I start to feel a bit bloated, I often skip a meal. The easiest meal to skip when I am staying at other people’s houses is breakfast as this is usually the only meal which is unplanned and self-serve. I’ll knock back my double expresso and then suggest everyone gets out for a long walk. “Skip breakfast,” you gasp, “isn’t it bad to do this?!” No, its fine to do this, as long as you don’t compensate later by eating huge meals. It also helps to give the digestive system a bit of a break.
Voila! Easy peasy. I’d like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year. Bring on 2017 and let’s make it a fantastic one!