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French paradox

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The French Paradox Encore (Or, How to Eat Foie Gras and Still Lose Weight)

This was one of my very first posts…and since I happen to be in France right now on a family vacay I thought it a good time to re-run this favorite of mine:

Wouldn’t it be fabulous to indulge in buttery croissants and triple crème brie, all while maintaining a size four silhouette and the blood pressure of a 25-year old?

The French enjoy a famously rich diet. They shun exercise as gauche. Yet, on the streets of Paris, everyone appears thin and gorgeous. More importantly, France’s low rates of obesity and heart disease put North Americans to shame. It’s been called The French Paradox. And really, could anything be more unfair?

Eager to have your gâteau and eat it too? Yeah, me too.

Okay. So how do you make this a reality?

Well…I visit Europe as often as I can, and have witnessed this phenomenon first hand quite a bit. So here’s my decidedly unscientific, shamelessly anecdotal take on how they do it. And how you can too.

Savoring Food. French women enjoy every bite that passes their lips. There is no rushing. Meals are events, celebrations of food. Often lingered over, with family and friends. We know this sort of mindful eating is a cornerstone to a healthy diet.

Portion Control. This is key. In restaurants there are no heaped-up plates that would suitably serve a family of four. There are no giant slurpees or super size anything, for that matter. Meals and snacks are small, beautifully presented, high quality, and delicious.

Food Snobbery. Okay, let’s be honest: food is not the only thing the French could be accused of being snooty about. But here’s the mantra: if it’s not fabulous, don’t eat it. Don’t waste calories on mediocre food that provides fodder and little else.

Wine with Meals. Enjoy the beautiful antioxidants in a glass of wine…a major boon to health. Plus, this one helps with the savoring food thing. See above.

Exercise a la mode. No sweaty, tacky gyms or silly exercise fads. Instead, the French walk everywhere. Or better yet–bicycle. French cities are teeming with people on the streets. Moving, staying active, is simply a daily way of life.

Fresh First. Think local, think seasonal, think fresh. Whole foods whenever possible. The French enjoy a bounty of fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies, and regional cuisine. Minimize or eliminate the processed stuff, the frozen/dehydrated/rehydrated items that kinda pass as food.

Fashion Motivation. In France fashion is religion. And the best accessory a woman can wear? A slimmer shape under her clothes. The plain truth is that nothing makes clothes look better. Why not embrace your inner fashionista, and let this provide an extra reason to say no to that dessert.

No Movie Popcorn. When my husband and I were in France last year, we went to see the latest Bond movie in a theatre. We were the only ones to order popcorn. Small was the only size available. And…we were scolded (in angry French, from a woman who got right up from her seat and walked back several rows to us) for munching too loudly during the film. I know. Crazy, right? Works for them, though.

Voila.

Bon appetit!

Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World

North Americans may be many things, but one thing we’re not? Svelte. Not on average, anyway. And certainly not compared to the rest of the world. Are there things we could learn from our friends in other countries around the globe? Why, yes. Yes there are. Join me on a little tour.

Japan

In Okinawa, Japan, they eat using this principle: hara hachi bu. Roughly translated, it’s an instruction to eat until you’re 80% full. And it’s an excellent practice to live by. There’s no reason to eat until you’re stuffed. Also, there’s a delay in the message from your stomach to your brain that signals “full”. By the time you register that you’ve had enough…you’ve already overdone it.

India

This is the birthplace of yoga, of course. I’m a big fan of yoga; there are a multitude of health benefits for taking up the practice. And a slimmer physique happens to be one of them. A recent study showed that long-term yoga participants have lower BMIs than other exercisers. Perhaps it’s the mindfulness training that does the trick. Because here’s what happens when you engage in Mindless Eating.

France

Well, you know what they say: French women don’t get fat. I’m not sure anyone has fully figured out this (highly irritating) mystery…but I have some thoughts. I imagine it has to do with portion control, taking pleasure in food, and long leisurely meals together with friends & family. Oh, and chocolate for breakfast.  

Greece

It’s not entirely unique to the sun-soaked people of Greece, but the Mediterranean Diet is one we can all embrace, to improve our heart health, our waistlines, and our pleasure in food. Olives? Wine? Garlic? Yes please.

Brazil

To understand why it makes sense to eat like a Brazilian, think Gisele. Think thong bikinis on the beaches of Rio. A staple on the Brazilian table is rice-and-beans. It’s a low-fat, high-protein, high-fiber choice, which helps stabilize blood sugar. A study in Obesity Research examined the Brazilian diet in detail and found that a traditional diet mainly consisting of rice and beans lowers the risk of being overweight by about 14%.

Italy

All over Italy, in cities and small villages alike, la passegiata is an enduring tradition. It’s an informal stroll around town each evening before, or after, the family dinner. Italians promenade the streets, socializing, getting fresh air and a little exercise before settling in for an evening. To my mind, it certainly beats plopping on the couch to break open a bag of chips and stare at another episode of The Bachelor.

Thailand

All that spicy stuff in Thai curries and noodle dishes means there’s plenty of capsaicin in the Thai diet. That’s the substance that makes food hot…and it not only boosts metabolism, but also: you simply can’t gobble down spicy food at the same rate you can a cheeseburger. Fiery food means slower eating. And that’s a good thing for weight loss.

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Get Healthy With Olive Oil, Tomatoes, and Wine

I’ll admit it: I’m a little obsessed with Europe. In the past I’ve written about the French Paradox , and there’s a big part of me that would like to be reborn in this life as a French woman (and not only because spa treatments are considered part of the French healthcare system). Also, I could very easily live the rest of my life in London, drinking tea and taking weekend trips to Paris and Tuscany.

But lately I’ve been researching and reading about the Mediterranean diet, and I’m growing convinced that it’s the way to go. Not as a short-term weight loss plan, per se (although it does appear to help with that), but more as a long-term way of life. And that’s because the evidence is overwhelming that it can lead to a longer, healthier life.

And who doesn’t want that?

The research in favor of the Mediterranean diet is huge-ola. Much of it surrounds the impressive benefit to our hearts. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine this month analyzed the results of several studies that pitted the Mediterranean diet and low-fat diets head-to-head. They found that the Mediterranean diet was more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet, and brought greater improvements to blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to protect against the “big C”: many studies have shown the Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer risk.

The British Medical Journal published a big study a couple of years ago, concluding that the Mediterranean diet is associated with “a significant improvement in health status”, specifically: a reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13%).

Convinced yet?

So what, exactly, do you eat if you’re trying to go Mediterranean?

  • real food, for starters
  • an emphasis on plant-based food: vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes
  • limited red meat, but plenty of poultry and fish
  • olive oil (pretty much replacing all your other fats, like butter)
  • nuts
  • fresh, seasonal food
  • wine in moderation
  • no eliminated food groups (except twinkies)

There’s much more detail out there, of course, if you’re interested. A wonderful resource for all things Mediterranean diet is Oldways. This is an organization on a mission to raise awareness about the health benefits (and joy) of this ancient way of eating.

When my husband and I were in Italy a few years ago, we made bruschetta in our little kitchen pretty much every day: fresh bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil and salt…and if there’s a better taste combination out there, I’d like to find it. Sometimes, the simpler the food, the better.

Besides all the research, I am personally convinced that eating a Mediterranean diet is an effective way to adopt a healthy lifestyle for one other important reason: it is pure pleasure. And, therefore, something you’d be not only willing to do long-term, but happy to do. 

Sure, there may be other ways you could improve your health and live longer. I happen to not believe there is one perfect diet for everyone. Some people may be able to stick to Dr. Esseltsyn’s ultra-low-fat/vegan diet , as an example. In fact, I have little doubt that if you really could stick to this kind of nutrition plan, your heart would be healthier. But for most of us, it would involve just too much sacrifice. And if you’ve been reading this blog for anything longer than five minutes, you’ll know that I’m all about enjoying life, enjoying food, and indulging whenever possible .

The mediterranean diet fits this bill perfectly.

7 Secrets of Portion Control

One of the best ways to lose or maintain weight is to become a portion-control pro. It’s one of the secrets of the French Paradox, and one of the reasons why a lot of women throughout the world (Europe in particular) are able to enjoy the wonderful food they do, yet stay slim.

This is definitely something you can do, too. It will take some effort and intention at first, but will soon become second nature. Here are some of the tricks you can use to help downsize those portions:

1. Before eating, divide your plate

“Cut” your plate in half. One-half gets filled with vegetables and/or fruit. The other half is for equal parts carbs and protein (eg. only half a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, the other half is a salad!)

2. Beware large containers

The bigger the package of food, the more you’ll eat. In a study, two groups were given half- or 1-pound bags of M&Ms to eat while watching TV. Those given the 1-pound bag ate nearly twice as much. Lesson? Nevaah eat straight out of the bag or the box. If you buy in bulk, pre-divide those snacks and goodies into little ziploc bags as soon as you get home.

3. Practice the 80% rule

The Japanese have a practice known as hara hachi bu, which means eating until you feel about 80 percent full. At that point, your stomach is probably 100 percent full. Your brain just doesn’t realize it yet. And the Japanese? Way healthier than us.

4. Shrink your dishes

54 percent of Americans eat until their plates are clean. So an easy way to eat less? Use smaller plates. Filling up a smaller plate (10-inches instead of 12- or 14-inch plate) will do a little jedi-mind trick on your brain. You think you’re eating a full meal, rather than feeling like you’re depriving yourself with a pathetic little portion in the center of a big plate. Studies back this up: when researchers gave study participants 34- or 17-ounce bowls and told them to help themselves to ice cream, those with the bigger bowls doled out 31 percent more ice cream.

5. Turn off the TV

The distraction of TV stops you from being aware how much you’re eating. While watching American Idol or the Bachelorette, it’s a piece of cake to happily plow through…well, a big piece of cake. And the more you watch, the more you’ll gobble. In a study comparing the popcorn-eating behavior of TV viewers, those who watched an hour-long show, versus a half-hour show, ate 28 percent more popcorn.

6. Be extra careful when eating with friends

The unfortunate fact is, when you’re eating with others you’re likely to wolf down more food. You’ll eat about 35 percent more when you dine with one friend versus alone. With a group of seven? You’ll eat 96 percent more. But just to be clear: there’s no way I’m going to discourage an evening out with friends. Too important for a healthy, happy life. Instead, what I’m recommending here is that you be aware of this tendency. Pay close attention to what you’re ordering, what you’re sharing, and how many servings you’re taking.

7. Keep serving dishes off the table

Leave the lasagna in the kitchen. If you bring dishes filled with food to the table, you’re more likely to help yourself to seconds (and thirds, and fourths…) Unless those dishes contain only grilled veggies…leave them out of reach.

It must be said, a lot of this advice has to do with “mindful eating”–paying attention to what we’re eating instead of just thoughtlessly plowing through a whole bag of Cheetos. Very important to healthy eating, and healthy living in general.

Bon appetit!

If you liked this article, check out:

Happy Bastille Day!

In honor of the French National Day today, I thought I’d share some links about the French lifestyle and the French way of eating (um, and also because I’m a little obsessed with this topic):

Health Lessons from the French (on Blisstree)

Mireille Giuliano on Summer and Rituals (on Treat Yourself Well)

Kate Middleton and the Dukan Diet

Mireille Giuliano’s Musings (of French Women Don’t Get Fat fame)

The Latest French-style Exercise (on Blisstree)

How to Eat Foie Gras and Still Lose Weight (by yours truly)

Joyeux Quatorze Juillet!

How to Eat Foie Gras and Still Lose Weight

Wouldn’t it be fabulous to indulge in buttery croissants and triple crème brie, all while maintaining a size four silhouette and the blood pressure of a 25-year old? 

The French enjoy a famously rich diet.  They shun exercise as gauche.  Yet, on the streets of Paris, everyone appears thin and gorgeous.  More importantly, France’s low rates of obesity and heart disease put North Americans to shame.  It’s been called The French Paradox.  And really, could anything be more unfair? 

Eager to have your gâteau and eat it too? Yeah, me too.

Okay. So how do you make this a reality?

Well…I visit Europe quite frequently, and have witnessed this phenomenon first hand quite a bit. So here’s my decidedly unscientific, shamelessly anecdotal take on how they do it. And how you can too.

Savoring Food. French women enjoy every bite that passes their lips. There is no rushing. Meals are events, celebrations of food. Often lingered over, with family and friends. We know this sort of mindful eating is a cornerstone to a healthy diet.

Portion Control. This is key. In restaurants there are no heaped-up plates that would suitably serve a family of four. There are no giant slurpees or super size anything, for that matter. Meals and snacks are small, beautifully presented, high quality, and delicious.

Food Snobbery. Okay, let’s be honest: food is not the only thing the French could be accused of being snooty about. But here’s the mantra: if it’s not fabulous, don’t eat it. Don’t waste calories on mediocre food that provides fodder and little else.

Wine with Meals. Enjoy the beautiful antioxidants in a glass of wine…a major boon to health. Plus, this one helps with the savoring food thing. See above.

Exercise a la mode. No sweaty, tacky gyms or silly exercise fads. Instead, the French walk everywhere. Or better yet–bicycle. French cities are teeming with people on the streets. Moving, staying active, is simply a daily way of life. 

Fresh First. Think local, think seasonal, think fresh. Whole foods whenever possible. The French enjoy a bounty of fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies, and regional cuisine. Minimize or eliminate the processed stuff, the frozen/dehydrated/rehydrated items that kinda pass as food.

Fashion Motivation. In France fashion is religion. And the best accessory a woman can wear? A slimmer shape under her clothes. The plain truth is that nothing makes clothes look better. Why not embrace your inner fashionista, and let this provide an extra reason to say no to that dessert.

No Movie Popcorn. When my husband and I were in France last year, we went to see the latest Bond movie in a theatre. We were the only ones to order popcorn. Small was the only size available. And…we were scolded (in angry French, from a woman who got right up from her seat and walked back several rows to us) for munching too loudly during the film. I know. Crazy, right? Works for them, though.

Voila.

Bon appetit!

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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