Whilst it is unlikely that my digestive system will ever be able to tolerate a diet of croissants and cheese, I've left France determined to take on board some lessons on their approach to food and eating.
Why? Well firstly you only have to spend an afternoon in Paris to notice the notable absence of obese people. Most Parisians from all ages and sexes are a healthy weight and often noticeably slim (but not in a scary American over-exercised way).
Secondly, despite their slimness they can be seen enjoying food that most of us would avoid in an effort to lose weight, without gaining a pound.
Whilst I was taking a week off from working, I did still pay attention to the French diet and approach to food, exercise and life from which I'll try and form into some useful lessons to share with you all.
Lesson One: Keep things interesting
Whilst trying to finish a dessert at the end of a four course lunch (my stomach was ready to burst) at my Uncles house I commented that whilst I was enjoying the food immensely, if I were to eat like that all the time I would be overweight. He firmly rebuffed me (in embarrassingly good English, given my French) "No! You would not get fat - the French are not fat. What is important is that they don't eat the same food every day".
This is very true ... the French don't eat the same food every day, they don't serve the same meat or fish two days in a row, they vary their breakfasts and lunches and they don't eat cream cakes every day - only as a treat. This isn't just the view of my Uncle, the renowned Doctor Mouton (the Hercule Poirot of thyroid medicine) also made a very similar statement to me in relation to food allergies and intolerances - if you eat the same food every day you are much more likely to develop an intolerance to it, leading to digestive and immune symptoms which can infact suppress thyroid function, slowing your metabolism.
However food intolerances are not the main reason I believe this approach works, I think there are two factors to this:
1) Eating a varied diet keeps your food interesting - when food doesn't taste good, or is repetitive we lose enjoyment and that's when we generally switch to mindless eating, usually mindless over-eating. The French only eat food that tastes good, and they change what they eat each day, so their food is always enjoyable, making them feel psychologically more satisfied and negating comfort eating (a pretty foreign concept to the French).
2) Eating a varied diet makes you less likely to develop nutrient deficiencies - A French person is unlikely to see the point of a nutritionist or nutritional therapist, or know what they do. They are equally unlikely to know the calories, fibre, fat or vitamin content of any of the food they eat. But infact by rotating their food and not eating the same meals over and over again they will automatically be consuming a broader range of nutrients than someone who eats the same meals each day, so it's not something they really need to worry about. They also eat food that is much fresher (often shopping for fresh produce on a daily rather than weekly basis) and usually grown or produced locally, this means the food will have a higher nutrient content. Altogether this means the French diet is likely to be richer in vitamins and minerals and consequently more satisfying to the body - if the body is missing a nutrient it will upregulate appetite in the hope you will eat a food rich in that nutrient.
Taking on board this lesson I'm going to try and not have the same breakfast, lunch or dinner any day this week. This isn't that easy if you're already on a fairly restrictive diet, but definitely something worth trying. For any readers wanting to give it a go start by writing down all the meals you ate last week, see what gets repeated and start switching in alternatives. In particular try not to eat the same grain (corn, rice, wheat, oats, spelt, barley etc.), type or meat or fish or fruit or veg two days in a row - a bit of head scratching may occur, but you also might start eating foods or trying alternatives that you wouldn't have considered before.
A menu that would meet this criteria would be:
Breakfast: Oat based muesli with nuts and fresh berries
Lunch: Omelette and babyleaf salad
Snack: Carrot sticks with hummous
Dinner: Salmon with steamed greens and brown rice
B: Wholegrain (or gluten free) toast with nut butter and a banana
L: Sushi with edamame beans
S: Pear with a few almonds
D: Baked sweet potato with vegetarian chilli
B: Porridge with grated apple and milled flax seeds
L: Wholegrain or gluten free pasta salad with tuna and mediterranean veg
S: Berry smoothie
D: Prawn stir fry with Quinoa
B: Soft boiled eggs with rye bread soldiers and a plum
L: Leon Chicken hot dish with brown rice and coleslaw
S: Small bowl of strawberries
D: Grilled beef (or tofu) kebabs with fresh corn on the cob and babyleaf salad
B: Mixed fruit salad with natural (or soya) yoghurt
L: Wholegrain sandwich with chicken and avocado
S: Oatcakes topped with goats cheese
D: Grilled mackerel or trout seasoned with lemon and pepper, served with tomato and rocket salad and crushed new potatoes