The English term for a form of government is the French term for “diet.” Which is fitting when you consider the military precision parisienne women apply to their daily consumption.
In elementary school French kids are taught the dictum “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” But what about the holidays? What happens when the candied chestnuts hit the shelves, the champagne begins to flow and formal meals abound? How does a French girl govern herself to avoid a sugar-and-fat-induced coup d’état? I decided to ask my panel of experts at last night’s dîner des filles (girls’ night out).
My friend E. M. has given up carbs for the holidays: no desserts, no champagne and no fancy canapés. She can, however, indulge in caviar and foie gras to her heart’s content. And she runs a lap around Luxembourg Gardens three times a week.
C.’s family owns a vineyard, so giving up wine is not an option. Her secret is starting each day with a “decadent” breakfast (one third of a toasted baguette with butter) and watching the quantity of what she consumes. She’ll eat anything and everything, but in very small amounts, and she weighs herself every morning. If she has gained so much as 100 grams (3.5 ounces) in an evening of excess, she is ready for immediate combat.
This is great advice for those who were born and raised in this system, but what about the rest of us? My expat friend fasts the day after a decadent meal. After our Thanksgiving dinner she announced, “Well, tomorrow it’s coffee and Diet Coke for the day.” Another pal gets up at 6 a.m. for her daily round of Mysore yoga and has soup for dinner, even if the rest of the family is enjoying her home-baked lasagna. I tend to walk it off: taking the stairs instead of the elevator to my seventh-floor apartment and getting off the metro one stop before my destination.
Sometimes even the French girls stray, adding an unwanted kilo or three. (They already have a huge advantage by using the metric system—“I’m two kilos overweight” sounds less discouraging than five pounds, and seeing an additional 100 grams on your scale motivates you to diet more quickly than does 3.5 ounces.) When it is time to confront an ugly reality, the locals bring in the heavy artillery and put themselves on the famous leek soup diet. That’s it, folks—one week of nothing but leek soup. Well, leek soup, coffee and, of course, the mandatory square of chocolate.
Oh, did I forget to mention the square of chocolate? All of the women cited above indulge in a square of dark chocolate before ending their evening. Even the parisienne gets her secret weapon.