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Secret Life of a Nerd Girl: Weight, how do I do this again?

dscn11621Besides the whole language thing, the biggest challenge I’ve come across living in France is managing diet and exercise. In my first six weeks here, I gained 5 pounds, then in the following 3 weeks in Maine I gained another 2, eating the things I couldn’t find here (primarily pad thai, caesar salad, and tacos).

I take no personal responsibility for my current predicament, and I blame France. Here are my reasons:

First, it’s France!

Second, it’s not the United States, where we put a nutritional value label on anything that can be swallowed. It may be overkill, like on vitamins and bottled water, but if those to-die-for Bonne Maman raspberry tartlettes declared exactly how many grams of fat they contained, maybe I would think twice before downing half a box. They do label most of their food, just, it seems, not the sweets. I suppose the idea is, if you’re eating the sweets, you don’t care that much about nutrition anyway. (But it’s France!)

(OK I’ve just been informed that there are very strict nutritional labeling laws here in France, but I stand by my memory of not seeing them on the Bonne Maman cookies. Definitely not on the bag of caramels I bought at the same time…)

Third, even if my relationship isn’t entirely new, living with M is, and eating habits change when two parties merge. Dinners out, desserts, cooking favorite meals, take out and pizza delivery so we can spend less time cooking and more time gazing into each other’s eyes, are all things that seem to happen when love is fresh. On top of that, it’s France. When my beloved offers to run to his favorite boulangerie to pick up a fresh baguette for breakfast, do I say no? And if he comes back with pastries, all decked out in strawberries and chantilly because he remembered me saying a few days before: “berries and cream are the food of the gods,” do I throw them in his face? Of course not, I scarf them down before noon.

And finally, I haven’t quite mastered this independent exercising thing. The last three cities I lived in had more yoga centers than convenience stores, and here they are few and far between. I came with the intention and gear to set up a home practice, but as someone who would complain about the brevity of a one hour class, I find it amazingly difficult to do more than 25 minutes of home-yoga more than once a week. I also miss the Y. There are gyms here, in fact there’s one very near me, but financially I prefer to jog laps around the duck pond across the street, and save my euros for French classes… if I could only get my butt out there.

So, after 6 weeks of pastries, cream sauce, bacon-laden brick oven pizza, M’s amazing pâte à la carbonara, camembert, and Belgian beer, the scale is not being kind. When I frown in dismay, M shrugs and says, “don’t worry, it’s only a few kilos.”

If it were only a few pounds, I wouldn’t worry. But for someone who is 5’2”, or rather, 158 cm, a few kilos (4.4 pounds) is enough to squeeze me out of the designer jeans I bought in LA and into the comfort jeans from the Gap outlet in Freeport, Maine. Within reason, it’s not too big a deal, but with no behavior modifications planned for the future, a few kilos could turn to 5 or 10 (11-22 pounds), and then it would seriously be something to worry about because I’d have to buy a new wardrobe, and the dollar is just so damn weak ($1.40 = €1.00).

So, I started noting the nutritional value of the breakfast and snack foods we have laying around the house. Brioche, the cereal I like that passes for granola, nutella, camembert, bread… After some math, I was amazed that I didn’t gain 10 kilos: most of my favorite snacks contain at least 350 calories a serving and I won’t even mention the fat content lest I break into tears.

I need new favorite foods. No more whole wheat pasta, Morning Star Farms buffalo fake chicken nuggets, or Ezekiel Genesis 1:29 sprouted grain and seed bread. No more Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods selling my time tested healthy meals.

I think the biggest thing I need to do is let my guard down (while maintaining my priorities). Try new approaches, taste new recipes, experiment and learn. For example, I’ve been resisting my yoga DVDs, because they’re not exactly in the style that I like, but I need the structure to get me going, so I will have to accept and modify.

I knew life in France would be different, but I am still surprised by the challenges that pop up. I didn’t expect to start over this way. It’s all part of the big adventure. I’ll jog with the ducks, decipher the supermarché, find new healthy meals, and accept that this, like everything else, will take time and effort to figure out.