How Living in Paris Changed my Relationship with Food

Photo by Iheart Paris 

Photo by Iheart Paris 

Growing up, I was the tall skinny kid. I was picky, but I could eat whatever I wanted (pizza, doughnuts, you name it). My Mom always told me it would catch up to me eventually and she was right. After college came stress with jobs and then getting laid off. I worked out here and there but I didn’t have a routine.

In my mid to late 20’s someone in my family started calling me fat… I was self employed, trying to start a business and it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I was encouraged to hire a trainer. He was the Uncle of one of the kids I used to nanny and I made a three month commitment. He gave me a strict diet and we worked out with weights twice a week. The diet was mostly lean proteins, and low carbs. I was miserable and so hungry all the time. I told him I had a goal of fitting into a pair of pants that was size X. He kindly told me I would never be a size X. I slimmed down and stuck to the diet and finally squeezed into size X. But then I left for Paris…

I was surrounded by cheese, bread, and pastries on a daily basis. I spent a lot of time in the grocery store looking for foods that still fit my “diet” I didn’t want to loose what I worked so hard for. At this time in 2013, it was hard to find skim or low fat milk and greek yogurt wasn’t in my grocery stores. So I started eating full fat yogurt (best thing ever), bordier butter and the French drink whole milk in their cafè crémes so I thought, why not? All in moderation of course. 

I observed so much during my time in Paris and I wanted to learn the ways of the French. I did my best to fit in as much as possible and that meant adapting to the culture. I tried aligot, magret de canard, and even rabbit. Smoking was not an option 😉 

I spent most of my days exploring and learning the city of Paris by foot. I had morning walks for my baguette and evening walks to watch the sunset. These were my favorite times of the day. I still say my favorite time in Paris was when I didn’t know anyone. I lived on the top floor of my apartment building which meant 5 flights of stairs. There was an elevator but I chose not to use it unless absolutely necessary. I walked an average of 10 miles a day without really even trying. 

One of my favorite things to in Paris is visit the markets. There was one by my house where I would go to get my fruits. I became friends with the vendor and he would then fill my bag extras and I would give him a few euros. I would make the walk from Montmartre down to the Bastille market at least once a week. I had my regular vendors there and I still do today, 5 years later. 

At the end of three months, I was SO happy. Taking the leap to move to Paris was one of the scariest things I have ever done but also one of the best decisions. The weather finally started to turn at the end of April and I had a ticket home. I had no idea how hard leaving Paris was going to be but I knew early on in my three months that I had to find a way to come back.

Once I got home, there were so many things I missed about Paris. I wanted to find as much of Paris in Chicago. I had changed so much as a person more than I thought I would and adjusting wasn’t so easy. I made regular trips to the market in my neighborhood and continued to eat seasonally. I buy whole milk for my coffee now and I learned to make my own yogurt because I never found the same French yogurt I loved back in the States. Have you ever looked at the amount of sugar in one container of yogurt? I have my favorite spots for baguettes and croissants where they greet me with a friendly “bonjour”.

Over the last 5 years, it has been a lifestyle change. The only thing I still keep from my trainer is always having a protein at each meal chicken, fish, meat, or eggs. I have slowly been inviting a few vegetables into my diet and dark chocolate is eaten daily. My trainer always told me I would never be a size X and I actually believed him. Now I am Size X minus 2!! I don’t weigh myself. If I fit into my clothes than we are good. If things start to become tight than I know I need to cut back on something. It is as simple as that. (croissant research comes at a price!) 

I do stay pretty active even in the Winter. I attend a dance/yoga class daily. In the Summer, I will walk a few miles a day but rarely 10 miles like in Paris. 

5 Things that I Changed in the last 5 Years:

1. Full Fat Milk instead of Skim. I only use a little in my coffee in the morning. The health benefits are better and I buy Organic or straight from the Farmer at Green City Market in The Summer.

2. I make my own yogurt. I typically do this on a Sunday and I have an entire weeks worth. You can do this with skim or full fat milk. There is a lot less sugar content and it tastes so much better than the ones in the store. I will add a little seasonal fresh fruit to the bowl for flavor. 

3. I buy Seasonally. During the Summer, I am a regular at the market picking up my fruits, kale, eggs, and milk. During the Winter months, I will buy at my local grocery store. I stick to what is in season and I am getting better at buying the organic option for fruits even if it is more expensive. 

4. I shop often and only for what I need that night/next day. I am a frequent shopper at the grocery and they know me by name. I prefer to buy fresh fish, meats, and produce. My fridge isn’t too full and I try to waste less. My schedule can change from day to day so I can’t plan too much in advance. For those of you with families, this is much harder. My sister does a few big shops because it works better with her schedule. 

5. I don’t eat cakes/cookies often. I do enjoy a small square of dark chocolate on a daily basis. (my favorite is Vosges)  I am not tempted by the pastry cases in Paris. I can easily walk in and out of a Patisserie or Boulangerie with nothing. I actually feel guilty I don’t want to take anything home. 

What are your thoughts on The French approach to food? 

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  1. First, being Parisian, I agree with you, I could not find any good yogurt here. However, I discovered that La fermière yaourts are hère (fresh market), I grew up eating their glass pots. As for a reason, we eat cheese, baguette, dark chocolate, confît des canard… and our patisserie: two things, we eat in moderation, also we eat smaller portions of the real thing (real butter…), and walk everywhere. While I am 35 and still a 00, I will and refuse to starve myself however I am picky. I eat baguette that taste like a baguette, I eat cake or sweets made from scratch (none of your cake mix which taste funky and made with vegetable oil). If I bake, I cut the sugar portion. Like you mentioned, we eat according to seasons (you will not find a French person buying a strawberry in the middle of winter as we all know it is not in season). I walk as much as I can, it helps that I have dogs (Jack Russell which are popular in France and seen in Paris), they are hyper and as such need lot of exercise (walks). I admit, I was shocked when I first moved here (so many products claim to be fat free, I realized people would eat 2 bags of fat free something, while I might eat 1/5 of its equivalent), I also learned that you use high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar, something I immediately reacted to, I avoid it. One of my tips is think about flavor, we eat less because our sauces are rich in flavor so we feel full faster. I make my own basil sugar which is great to bake with strawberries in the summer…. also, we don’t eat meat like the Americans do. France is about food, flavors, eating fresh according to seasons. I love croissant (can bake my own which is about the butter), however, if I want to eat a croissant, I don’t eat an imitation one, I will go to a bakery that knows the process (it takes 2-3 days to make croissants). I recommend Gerhard’s élégant European desserts (Lake Forest) though only for croissants (go on Saturday morning), they have more viennoiseries.

  2. I’ll say this: I spent a week in Paris. I ate what I wanted. I walked. I drank water, coffee, and drank red wine. Crepes for breakfast. I lost 5 pounds.

  3. I love baking high quality good tasting desserts. Some of the French recipes are great because one can make the batter ahead and bake as needed during the week or freeze. Soon, I’m going to take lessons on macarons again until I master. Today I would love to make a perfect plum tart or cake. Since adopting a French sense of eating high quality and good tasting food, simplify my life, I’ve lost weight and been more relaxed.

  4. Great post! The 1st time I went to Paris I did not deprive myself. I ate anything I wanted (read: too many raspberry tarts ;)) and walked everywhere. I lost 5 lbs!

    • Raspberry tarts are the best!! I am so glad you let your self eat what you wanted and most of all, you enjoyed yourself!

  5. Beautiful picture. I found walking in Paris was the best way to keep the weight down (and lose it). I didn’t censor myself. I found a wonderful white chocolate dipped ice cream bar while there and pretty much had it every day!!! I wish I had your will power about skipping pastries; I’m a little addicted to sugar and baked goods!!
    In the past 5 years, I made a commitment to working out, being more active and healthier. That has worked well. I try to limit my big calorie splurges to once a week. I never deny myself the things I love to eat but I now do it in moderation!!