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French women don’t get fat

A Nutella Panini. Crepes with ice cream and chocolate sauce. A Cornish pasty. A custard filled donut with chocolate icing and white chocolate flakes. A Kit Kat McFlurry. A McCrispy. Pain au chocolat. Fish and chips. A whole pizza. A praline tart.

Those are the things I ate on vacation.

When I stepped on the scale Wednesday morning, I held my breath, stared at the nail hole in the closet wall in front of me, and dreaded looking down when the scale beeped. Then I exhaled and smiled because I had lost four pounds. I suppose all that nonsense about French women not getting fat was true.

Even though I ate all those scrumptious, delectable foods listed above, I also walked so far that my feet hurt at the end of every day. I walked and walked and walked because I knew something old and/or magnificent was hiding just around the corner, like a Metro stop leading back to the hotel. I probably walked 6 or 7 miles every day. I got blisters. I walked and walked and didn’t gain a single pound, even though I ate total crap.

Now that I’ve been back in the states for a week, I have been missing this alternate reality I lived in for 8 days. I very much enjoyed this universe where I was able to eat a chocolate sandwich for lunch and make more room in my jeans on the same day. It has made me wonder on the couch how I could make this reality a part of my daily life, but it occurred to me I’d have to get off the couch to do it. Walking 6 or 7 miles a day would start to get old pretty fast, especially when I wasn’t seeing new and fascinating things every day.

So, I’ll go back to my normal life instead, where I walk 2 miles during my lunch break and my feet don’t always hurt and sadly, there are no chocolate sandwiches for lunch.

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45 Comments

debby • May 26, 2009 at 8:43 am

That is too cool, PQ! To explore London and Paris, eat all that great stuff, and LOSE 4 pounds!! Your travel journals were totally wonderful. You have really inspired me (again!)

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Cathleen • May 26, 2009 at 8:43 am

French women, I’ve noticed, don’t snack, and snacking between meals has always been my downfall. My meals are a model of oatmeal, salads and lean meat but come 3 p.m….or 11 a.m…..or 8 p.m….and that’s when I go for the chips or chocolate or whatever else solves a craving fast. That’s my theory as to why they’re so thin!

Anyway, congratulations, and thanks for sharing all your European adventures!

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emma • May 26, 2009 at 9:29 am

I’ve been following your blog–especially your European adventure–with interest. As an American who expatriated herself to Paris 25 years ago, I’ve had time to observe the effects of the French diet on the natives as well as on visitors. No one gains weight during a visit to Paris…there is just so much daily movement required here, between the metro stairs and walking its long corridors, to regular urban-living walks. I oversee a Study Abroad program and have watched my American students eat all the full-fat cheese, croissants, nutella, wonderful 100 gram chocolate bars, baguettes they like and never gain a kilo during their stay. I’ve seen the chubby students slim down. All because they are without their cars and walking everywhere.

There’s no secret to why French Women Never Get Fat. It’s not diet-based at all, really. It’s all about the massive amount of normal, non-sedentary daily livestyles we live here…

And you NEVER saw a gym once, did you? Because in Paris, the city IS the gym.

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Connie • May 26, 2009 at 9:36 am

I always lose weight without trying when I’m in Europe, even with the addition of a daily gelato when in Italy and increased wine consumption–for the exact reasons you mentioned.

I haven’t managed to recreate those conditions here yet. Pretty much impossible, even when I vary my route, it’s just not as interesting and never will be.

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fd • May 26, 2009 at 9:44 am

your post and the comments are making me feel bad… ;-D

i live in Europe, have always lived in Europe and i am fat. what am i doing wrong???

and i promise i don’t eat any of the above mentioned sweet delicious things on a daily basis.

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Amy Greenan • May 26, 2009 at 9:54 am

You have totally found the secret!

I have been trying really hard to get this sort of balance in my life as far as eating and physical exercise go. Summer is great because I actually really enjoy working in the garden and yard, and let me tell you! I usually do a few hours of hardcore sweating as a result. Then, I can totally enjoy an awesome grilled dinner or whatever.

I really enjoyed reading about your European vacation, welcome back!

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psychsarah • May 26, 2009 at 10:08 am

I had the same thing happen when I went to London and walked a bajillion miles a day (I bet you walked more than 6 or 7 by the way-I wore my pedometer and there were days we were pushing 20 miles!) I also noticed that I wasn’t as hungry when I was there (more proof that I eat when I’m bored!) So, I ate what I wanted (fish and chips, lamb curry, chocolate galore), but didn’t eat a bunch of stuff just because I was sitting at my desk writing a boring report. If only this were replicable infinitely… sigh…

On a different note, I hope you travel again soon, because your entries were such fun to read!

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Lydia • May 26, 2009 at 10:18 am

I was wondering about this but wasn’t going to ask. I am glad to read about your outcome on the scale but not surprised. I’ve lived in Hungary, Bulgaria, England — and the walking lifestyle is one I truly enjoy. It’s hard to replicate that here in the States, but that’s not entirely our fault. We live in a huge country with spread-out landscapes. We have to go far distances to get most places we need to be. I have been happy to see these little communities being built these days where the shops, etc., are within walking distance, where the sidewalks are coming back into fashion, and where an active lifestyle is encouraged rather than discouraged. I hate the suburban lifestyle. I really, really do. While I appreciate the great blessings life in the US has to offer, and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for them, some of our development has led us in the wrong direction — perhaps in this very way, of not getting enough daily exercise as just part of the routine.

I was talking with a friend who had read the book about French women not getting fat, and she pointed out that French women only work out if it pleases them, if it’s something special that really makes them happy. What a nice framework for “extra” exercise in one’s life.

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Jess • May 26, 2009 at 10:23 am

I just returned from Germany where I encountered the same thing. I had bavarian pretzels, beer and sausages all day long while strolling around Munich, Bamberg, Cologne and Frankfurt. I didn’t gain a single pound while I was there which amazed me. I think we need a European vacation diet!

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Lee • May 26, 2009 at 10:33 am

I’m leaving for London today and this is just what I needed to read. Although I officially reached my lowest weight this morning when I stepped on the scale, I’m going to let loose in London! Not looking forward to sore feet but that’s what the bottle of advil is for.

Thanks for all the effort you put into your posts about your trip.

cherio

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Cheryl • May 26, 2009 at 10:44 am

There was an article in Glamour (I think) magazine in the past year or 18 months where there was a study performed on Amish women to find out how they could eat like fieldhands and stay slim. They equipped several women with pedometers and found out they walk 7-10 miles every single day. The reporter on the story tried it herself. She at tons of food and walked an average of 7 miles per day and lost weight. Sheesh, I need to get on the treadmill.

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dg • May 26, 2009 at 10:45 am

Phwoar… now that is one tasty looking list!

I found the same when I moved to Edinburgh – going carless with all those hills more than compensated for the deep fried everything!

What did you think of the Nutella panini? Do you still think it’s nasty stuff? Hehehe :) Definitely better in small doses on bread than by the jarful, that’s for sure!

Hope life is going okay back at the ranch!

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Lucy • May 26, 2009 at 10:53 am

Oooh, the travel diet! I like the sound of that. Whenever I visit my brother in London I have the same experience – all that walking is a great calorie burner.

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enya • May 26, 2009 at 11:03 am

How healthy is this for you? It’s all about weight..

You should eat healthier, you love your body, doesn’t you? =)

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Shannon (The Daily Balance) • May 26, 2009 at 11:10 am

so interesting and totally expected! I wish that America wasn’t so relient on cars, etc. I was just reading an article on how Norway had avoided the obesity epidemic because people walk or bike EVERYWHERE. Maybe I should start a colony (how does one do that, anyway?) here in the states where cars are outlawed….any takers? ;)

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K • May 26, 2009 at 11:17 am

@fd – Ehm… me too… and I don’t have a car, so I get to most places under my own steam. I think your body gets used to whatever you do habitually, though, so over the long term, the same amount of exercise – or at least the same kind of exercise – doesn’t have the same effects. Which is a pain.

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Monster Soprano • May 26, 2009 at 11:24 am

Hi,

You inspired me so much, I started my own blog a few days ago and I have now lost 91 lbs. I need to catch up on your blog. I read your book and I did laugh a lot.

Congrats on the weight loss !

P.S. I have four cats!

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Lori • May 26, 2009 at 11:44 am

Welcome back – and you lost that weight through karma from taking the time to update us all on your travels!

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Karen • May 26, 2009 at 11:46 am

When I was in Italy for 5 months, I ate anything and everything that I wanted to eat — hot Nutella crepes, unbelievable pannini, gelato, whatever… and I came home 20 lbs lighter than when I left. Since then, I visited Italy twice more, for two weeks and then for a month, and each time I came back weighing less than when I left. I’ve been racking my brain to try to find a way to live the same lifestyle here that I live when there and I haven’t found a way yet. Like Paris, Florence and Rome are EXTREMELY old and interesting cities where walking is totally requisite and the food is fresh and amazing. I live in NYC, which to some ppl may be as interesting and exciting as any European city, but as someone who was born and raised here…the thrill is gone… so I sit on my ass at work all day and then go run four miles at night instead of walking the 10+ interesting, amazing miles a day I would in Italy. Also, yes, no more chocolate sandwiches…

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Lyn • May 26, 2009 at 11:55 am

Wow. See, I would *gladly* walk 7 miles a day if I could eat crap all the time and not be fat. But my knees wouldn’t take it. Maybe if I biked 50 miles a day?? Hmmm.

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Aline • May 26, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I think there is another reason than just walking more. I have been moving a lot since moving to the US 6 month ago, I go to the gym and explore Chicago walking and cycling. I try to eat mostly organic, I try to watch what I eat and I still gained a lot of weight!

Maybe it’s the big portions? I also find that eating out is so much more common (and easy) here and the restaurants all load their dishes with grease and sugar and all kinds of nasty stuff because they think that tastes better. But it doesn’t necessarily taste better.

Now I am starting to cook at home more, hoping that will help because I am really getting frustrated.

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logtar • May 26, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Don’t forget about the quality of the ingredients and the reduced amount of preservatives and just overall process foods :) that also helps not pack the pounds.

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Sarah Fowler • May 26, 2009 at 2:39 pm

One way you might could duplicate that in the States would be to get a Tread Desk. I don’t know how your office would feel about that, but hey… it’s an option. ;-)

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Quix • May 26, 2009 at 2:53 pm

I’ve spent time in the last year eating the “diet range” of 1200-1500 with just enough activity (30-45 mins 3-4 days a week) and to contrast that, I’ve been training for a half marathon (so running 20+ miles a week, weights, yoga, crosstraining) and am pretty much able to eat whatever I want and maintain. Usually healthy stuff, but I’m not limiting my quantities. I much prefer to stay on the side of super active so I don’t have to worry about my portions so much. However, I can only really lose weight when I cut calories, no matter HOW active I am.

And now I want a chocolate sandwich. Nummy….

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Tanya • May 26, 2009 at 3:48 pm

@logtar – I wonder about that, as well. I had a gigantic Crunch bar that I bought at the airport in Germany on the way home, and it was made in Italy. It is the exact same Crunch (chocolate with rice crisps) bar that you can buy here in Canada (not sure if it’s available in the States), but it tasted SOOO much better! The difference was truly amazing. And it wasn’t like I was starving and anything tasted good, either.

I also noticed the milk that was provided on our cruise ship (which came from Germany) didn’t upset my stomach to the degree that the milk here does.

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Lirpa • May 26, 2009 at 3:54 pm

O.k., i was already slightly jealous of your vacation, but now i’m REALLY jealous! LOVED your travel blogging. Can’t wait till your next vacation! Or mine…here’s hoping one of us wins the lottery so it’ll be soon.

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Mom Taxi Julie • May 26, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Did you give up jogging? I always liked reading about the interesting people you met on the trail.

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Jennifer • May 26, 2009 at 4:42 pm

@Lydia –

I really appreciated your comment. I lived in China for a few years, and came to love a lifestyle that involved daily strolls to the market, walking to work (I was an English teacher and, like all other teachers, lived on the university campus), and after dinner walks with friends.

The American suburban lifestyle just doesn’t work this way. As you say, this isn’t to minimize the blessings we have here, but I do think we’re missing out on something other countries find enjoyable and helpful.

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boots • May 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm

@fd – Don’t feel bad–I lived in New York without a car in walk-up apartments for 8 years and managed to gain like 75 pounds during that time. I agree with K, above, that your body just gets used to it.

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Lydia • May 26, 2009 at 6:39 pm

@Jennifer – Thanks, Jennifer! I worked as an English teacher abroad, too. LOVED doing that.

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Deb • May 26, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Wow, 4 pounds in 10 days. That’s it. I am booking a trip to Europe. Let me do that math….OK, I am going on a 440 day trip to Europe! ;-)

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kathy • May 27, 2009 at 4:12 am

I have really enjoyed reading about your travels. I sense it’s been a bit of a wrench to come back to the humdrum of every day existence. I know what that feels like. Maybe there is a way you could somehow build travel into your career?

I’ll bet the kitties were very pleased to see you.

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Lesley • May 27, 2009 at 5:50 am

Loved reading about your travels and was very impressed that you got so much out of your trip and travelled alone. I smiled when I read that you had lost weight as I had noticed all the nice things being eaten along the way – brilliant news.

The walking is great – it’s what we’re designed to do after all. Whenever I go down there, I always think London women are skinnier than their provincial counterparts as they walk to and from the underground or bus stop rather than straight into their cars. But I wouldn’t swap my beautiful countryside for London!!

Keep it up now!!

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Tyler • May 27, 2009 at 9:47 am

Walking is def a very under utilized exercise method. If you would ask how or why Europeans stay so thin most would tell you because they walk everywhere. In America most of us are used to getting into our cars to drive down the street!

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maggieapril • May 27, 2009 at 11:37 am

@Jess – The European Vacation Diet – that is genius!! Run with it!

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maggieapril • May 27, 2009 at 11:44 am

I spent a semester of college at school in Switzerland and lost 15 pounds eating fondue and chocolate, so I agree that it is all about the walking.

Your travel blogging is excellent. Perhaps there is some freelance travel writing in your future! (I hope so!)

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SusieH • May 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Just a lurker, but I have loved reading your adventures. I live in the UK (American over here for a time) but and just last week made my first trip to France (Normandy D-Day sites). I am so proud of you, though I don’t know you, for your adventurous spirit!

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Lynn • May 27, 2009 at 2:37 pm

You really planned well and did an incredible amount of sight-seeing! Pat yourself on the back. How is your jet lag? It always takes me about a week to feel normal.

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Laura N • May 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Bonus weight loss! So glad you were adventurous & went on this trip. I can’t wait to catch up on your vacation blog posts.

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Catherine • May 27, 2009 at 6:52 pm

So true. I ate my way through Europe. I denied myself nothing, since I figured I would not be back anytime soon. Ice cream, chocolate, CHEESE, breads, wine, fancy sauces…*drool*…and we walked everywhere as well. Unless we were on rented bicycles. We ate like crazy, but we moved like crazy as well, and lost a bit of weight in the bargain. It’s win-win! :)

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jenny • May 27, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Thanks J.

Your honesty about your trip and what your ‘real’ life is like was refreshing to read.

lv ur blog

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Jackie • May 28, 2009 at 7:33 am

You are making me so homesick for Europe. I was born in England and then moved to Switzerland when I was 20. For the first 25 years of my life I was skinny no matter what I ate for precisely the reasons you gave. And now that I live in the US I cannot lose weight no matter how hard I try. Congratulations on losing 4 pounds while on vacation.

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Shelley • May 28, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Hmmm, maybe I’m the only one who lived in Europe and GAINED weight. I lived with my Spanish host mother for 5 months and had to eat whatever she fixed ( lots of pork, homemade french fries and copious amounts of olive oil). I walked everywhere, and still managed to gain 15 pounds ( I swear I wasn’t drinking all that much, either!).

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Kristina • May 29, 2009 at 4:11 am

French women don’t eat. They just don’t, they smoke and they drink red wine. They’re the most unsatisfied women in all of Europe when it comes to body image, and at the same time they’re the thinnest ones. They’re obsessed with being thin, it’s just a way of living there… I know more girls who lived there for a year and developed eating disorders, but got well when they came back home to Norway. Strange… I admire them at the same time as I think that it’s sick!!!

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Ellen • June 1, 2009 at 10:22 am

PQ, thanks for sharing so much of your vacation with us! I was hanging on every word, having made a similar trip a couple of years ago.

As far as the not getting fat issue, I have three theories about that…

1. You are on vacation! You are relaxing, your time is your own, and that reduces stress and helps your body function better.

2. You are walking everywhere, and that burns the calories too.

3. One person hit on this one – you’re eating real foods, not processed crap. The Europeans have never heard of high fructose corn syrup and the rest of the junk we put in our foods. Their cows don’t get knocked up with BGH. They use real sugar, and real dairy products. They eat fresh fruit and veggies, and their meats are less tampered with. You cannot underestimate how reducing the amount of this stuff that we consume affects our systems.

Glad to have you home!

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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The Making of CHOCOLATE & VICODIN
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European Vacation

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