The France Diet

From June 13 to July 21, I lived in France. This was the longest I had been out of the country, ever. And, while I loved just about everything about being there, what I’m liking best at the moment is what I failed to take back with me: about ten pounds of fat.

I still wiegh too much. My Withings scale, which produced the graph above, says I’m still carrying around about fifty pounds of fat, with a body mass index of 28.3.

I weighed about 140 when I got out of high school, and about 150 when I got out of college. I gained slowly after that. Except for a couple of diets (McDougal and Atkins), each of which knocked off about 25 pounds, my weight went steadily up. So, on the advice of tweets from @bobmetcalfe, I got the Withings, and started just paying attention. I began on March 26 at 196.2 pounds. I didn’t do much to change my eating habits, though, and I pretty much stayed even. Then, before heading to France, I started purposely eating a bit less. Going without. That’s where you see the decline to 192.1 before we left.

What was different about France? Here ya go:

  1. No breakfast. Usually one of us went to the corner bakery for a baguette, and I’d have a hunk of that, and not always with butter.
  2. Not much lunch either. We’d eat one sometimes, but we were usually too busy.
  3. Great dinners, late at night, by U.S. standards. Peak dinner time in France is 9pm. For the most part we were on what we called “Icelandic Time.” We’d dine late, catch up with the East and West Coasts on our computers after we got back, turn in about 1-2am, and sleep late. The dinners, of course, were full of fat and carbs, but on the whole were just good food. And without the default American obligation to engorge one’s self.
  4. Experimentation. The best tasting anything I had there was rongnon* d’agneau: lamb testicles. My wife talked me into them, at a restaurant that specialized in offal.
  5. Wine. My body doesn’t like alcohol much, though I do enjoy drinking it. But in France I had wine with most of my meals. Not sure what difference that made, but it was a difference in behavior.
  6. No crap food. We ate no chips, no soft drinks (except for the occasional Orangina), no dips. No burgers from McDonalds. No milk shakes. Not much that’s “processed,” as they say, far as I know.
  7. Lots of cheese. France is fromage as much as it is vin.
  8. Walking. Even though we took public transportation to most of the places we went, we also walked a lot — probably several miles per day.
  9. Sweating. Air conditioning isn’t valued or practiced much, at least in the older parts of Paris. And certainly not in the Metro or the RER, the two main underground trains there. Our apartment there also didn’t have it, though it stayed relatively cool with its thick stone walls (the structure dates from the 1600s) and shade. And it was quite hot most of the time I was there.

After we got back, we went shopping. On the list went lots of fruit and off of it went breakfast sausage and other former staples, mostly of the crap food variety. My appetite for them is gone, at least for now. Meanwhile, I like getting into pants I outgrew last year. Next steps: getting into the pants from two years ago, then five years ago…

* This is how I remember it, though I’m told that rognons are kidneys. Maybe somebody can correct me. I know the menu did not say testicules, which is the literal translation. By whatever name, they were lamb nuts.

9 comments

  1. Eric T. MacKnight’s avatar

    Good on you, Doc! I’m on a similar trajectory. Might I recommend this site:

    http://hundredpushups.com/

    I’m doing pushups, situps, and squats using their system, plus swimming 3x a week, and I’m really happy with it. Plus the sort of diet adjustments you write about. After 50 the metabolism slows to a near halt. Change is required!

    Eric

  2. Arthur’s avatar

    I believe “rognons” are kidneys, not testicles.

  3. fresh’s avatar

    Animal testicles (ram, duck, and lamb seem to be the most popular) are often listed as ‘rognon blanc’ or ‘white kidneys.’ It’s been a while since I’ve visited France, so take this for whatever it’s worth, but I don’t think I ever saw them on a menu as the literal ‘testicules.’

  4. Roland Tanglao’s avatar

    north american lifestyle considered harmful :-)
    change your life ride a bike!
    and/or walk a lot like you did in France !

  5. KD’s avatar

    Of the items you listed, the ones most likely to be mostly responsible for your weight loss are walking and no crap food.

    Skipping meals usually is not recommended, but I think that’s mainly because it often encourages snacking on unhealthy food. You apparently didn’t have time for snacking, so the missed meals didn’t bring that on.

    More and more, the truth is coming out that the food pyramid is a marketing tool, not a health maintenance tool.

    For most people, the healthiest diet is one that contains very few carbs. Specifically, try to avoid all grains and products made from them, and all sugars, especially fructose in all its forms. You should get around 50-70 grams of protein per day (enough for regular tissue repair, more if healing from a major injury), get most of your calories from healthy fats (just which fats are healthy has also been obscured by Big Ag — everyone gets way too much omega-6 fats), and as much non-starchy vegetables as you want.

    Totally eliminating grains is hard, since we are so used to making them the main part of our diet. It *is* possible to live without any carbs. They are not essential to health.

    I don’t remember where I saw it, but an amusing rule of thumb is: “If it couldn’t have been on the dinner table 20,000 years ago, it probably is better to avoid it.” I’m sure there are exceptions to that, but as a rule of thumb, it probably is pretty good.

  6. Massimo’s avatar

    IMHO the problem is not the fatty stuff you eat (cheese, milk, yogurt)
    but the sugary stuff you drink (soda, starbucks coffee, milkshakes).

    p.s.
    Paris is at its best in October/November, and no need for AirCon :)

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    KD, I’m in general agreement, but I’m wondering about stuff like yogurt (or yoghurt), which has been a small-ag staple for five or more millennia, if not for twenty of them. It has some fat and some carbs, but plenty of other good stuff. Anyway, I love the stuff and make my own. (Though I didn’t on the trip.)

  8. KD’s avatar

    Much of the yogurt available in stores has some form of sweetener added, and those sweeteners are not good for you.

    Yogurt you make yourself is quite healthy. You might be able to find a nearly-equivalent commercial yogurt, probably in a health food store, if you look hard enough. I don’t care for plain yogurt, so I haven’t gone looking for a source.

    About the only drawback to plain yogurt that I can think of at the moment is that if the milk used to make the yogurt came from cows fed a grain-based diet rather than from cows that graze naturally on grass, that alters the balance of the kinds of fats in the cow in ways that are unhealthy. That is not such a great drawback, and it certainly is beneficial to eat such yogurt, but if you have a choice, prefer yogurt made from milk that came from grass-fed cows.

  9. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    Why do so few people realize that we have been manipulated by the grains into husbanding them, eating them, protecting them from their enemies, and planting them again next season.

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