Weighing in on the Issue
The airlines haven’t yet started to charge passengers per pound of body weight, but the way things are headed, you never know! In any case, for many passionate travelers, globe-trotting often leads to gluttony. Let’s face it—part of the allure of traveling is experiencing new cuisines. I like (okay love) food, especially exotic and exquisite foods from foreign lands. Which might explain why, when I lived abroad (in Spain and in Slovakia) I managed to gain more weight during each six-month stay than I gained during my pregnancies.
Maybe I was a bit of a glutton—er, gourmet—while living overseas, but my philosophy is, “You only live once … and who knows when you’ll see fried cheese on a menu again!”
Some travelers share my carpe diem eating, leading them to overindulge. Others may find that unfamiliar food derails their diet, or hotel stays eviscerate their exercise regimen; yet others may have food constantly thrust upon them as a sign of hospitality they simply can’t refuse. Whatever the reason for potential weight gain, there are ways to mitigate it, and to return home without excess baggage in tow.
With this goal in mind, I turned to Mireille Guiliano’s bestselling book French Women Don’t Get Fat, hoping to learn how to diminish dining damage. This anti-diet book is based on Guiliano’s observations about the relationship French women have with food: French women enjoy their food and “see no contradiction in eating bread and chocolate, having a bit of wine, and so on …” French women also understand that “each of us is the keeper of her own balance” and will correct her overindulgences by gently cutting back over the course of a few days.
Americans meanwhile subject themselves to “extremes of eating and dieting.” We tend to see food as the enemy, and wage battle every time we sit down at the table for a meal. Inevitably, we lose, feel guilty and embark on another restrictive diet.
Guiliano, who was born in France but has lived in the United States for decades, uses these views to explain the French paradox: why French women seem to be able to eat all sorts of decadent food (brie, croissants, pâté, dessert, etc.) while maintaining their ideal weight. Her book espouses an eating philosophy for life, but many of her guidelines and “tricks” can be applied to voyages, both short and long.
“On vacation temptations are greater and it’s easier to stray,” Guiliano tells travelgirl.com. “On the other hand, vacation means indulgences, so it’s more a matter of looking at the length of the trip and having your personal plan for indulging without going overboard. Obviously, if the trip is short, the ‘damage’ is (or should be) minimum.”
Her advice? “Try to keep to your three meals a day. Have your meals at a table and take your time,” she says. “Avoid snacking, and be aware of local street food poisoning … Watch the hotel buffets to avoid feeling stuffed.” Guiliano adds that if you have a big meal with wine, cheese, dessert, etc., on one day, try to compensate the next day by eating light.
Compensation, not deprivation, is a major theme that runs through the book, and is especially appropriate for travel eating. “If you are on vacation there is a tendency to splurge—so one should adjust for a ‘before’ and ‘after’ compensation period,” she says.
Guiliano recommends drinking lots of water (choose bottled over tap in certain countries) and avoiding hard liquor and “colored” cocktails. She is a strong proponent of the less caloric and less palate-dulling choices of wine and Champagne, bien sur. Finally, she advises travelers to walk and take the stairs whenever possible.
Practice in Paris
I had the opportunity to test out Guiliano’s principles in her native country, an epicurean’s nirvana where bistros and patisseries litter every block and tempting morsels lie in wait around every corner, yet the women still manage to look like they just stepped out of a fashion magazine. During my whirlwind trip to Paris, my comrades and I were scheduled to eat, and then eat some more, for four straight days. Could I return weighing the same as when I left, and be just as satiated, without a Herculean effort in restraint? In other words, could I have my cake and literally eat it too? I’d soon find out.
My eating like a French woman got off to an inauspicious start: Guiliano recommends skipping the airline meal in favor of a lot of water and a snack brought from home. But I have never been one to turn down food, even (I am ashamed to say) airline food. Fortunately for my taste buds (if not my waist line), I was on a flight from Newark to Orly on L’Avion, a relatively new airline that is all Business Class. Among the perks: big plush seats throughout the plane, attentive flight attendants and surprisingly decent food.
Shortly after take-off, we were offered a glass of Champagne (or orange juice), which gets two thumbs up from Guiliano. It would be an understatement to say that Guiliano, who was for twenty years the spokesperson for Champagne Veuve Clicquot and later CEO of Clicquot Inc. in the US, is an enthusiastic proponent of Champagne. Her love of the bubbly elixir comes through in her books where she describes it as a nearly perfect beverage. As an aperitif, it is an excellent choice, she writes, because “it whets the appetite and awakens the palate.” I whole-heartedly concur: Bottom’s up!
For the in-flight, second—ahem—dinner (in my defense, the flight left at 10 p.m., and I had long ago scarfed down an airport sandwich) I indulged in nothing too heavy: a penne pasta and vegetable dish served in a light cream sauce, fresh orange and grapefruit slices, and a petit cheese plate (no sickeningly sweet dessert here), all accompanied by a Bordeaux. Then I put on my L’Avion—provided soft fuzzy socks, eye shades, and ear plugs, reclined my comfy seat 140 degrees and hunkered down for the night.
Either due to the seat’s comfort or sheer exhaustion, I managed to slumber through breakfast (Guiliano would be proud of my “compensation”), and arrived in Paris at 11a.m., bright-eyed and bushy tailed (sort-of) and ready for lunch!
But before food, it was time for a quick stop at our hotel to freshen up. We made our way to Hôtel Lutetia, in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Pres in the 7th arrondissement. Situated on the left bank (Rive Gauche), Lutetia is luxurious and elegant in a way that only 100-year-old hotels can be. It still retains more than a touch of the Bohème character that gave the neighborhood its flavor at the turn of the nineteenth century. It is not so big as to be overwhelming, but with 230 rooms (including sixty Art Deco style suites), it is hardly small either. Old World service and attention to detail add to its Belle Epoch charm.
My room, on the seventh (top) floor, was irregularly shaped, quirky and perfect, with French doors leading to a tiny balcony overlooking the busy rues below and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. I longingly eyed the pure white down comforter on the queen-size bed and daydreamed of falling … falling into its waiting embrace. But (to misquote Robert Frost) there were eateries to visit and food to eat, and kilometers to go before I sleep.
Part 1 | (Part 2) | (Part 3)