Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The last post I wanted to do is about the side effects of lose all that weight.  Or maybe side effects isn't the right word, but I can't quite thing of how to say it.  Maybe all the changes it has caused?

I know most people would expect a huge boost in self-esteem, etc, but that wasn't really my case.  Despite my past food issues, I have a fairly healthy self-esteem that is not really linked to my weight (more so to my hair lol), so I haven't really noticed any change that.  I have noticed a change in how people react to me though.  I'm getting harassed more in the streets again.  The French women in my masters program (most of whom are all very thin and who pride themselves on not eating) are somewhat jealous.  Among my friends, I've had people who have noticed, and others who have said absolutely nothing.  My co-workers are exercise nuts, so they have all been very supportive.  My clients have either said nothing or asked how I've done it while traveling.  My mother-in-law responded by buying us loads of pre-packaged sweets and then getting upset when I asked her to take them back home with her.   My father-in-law took my aside and asked if I was suffering from too much stress. And then he told me I shouldn't be eating a banana because they make you fat.  Talk about mixed messages!

The other annoying thing is that I had to buy an entirely new wardrobe. I know some of you are wondering "What??  Why would that be annoying?" but 1) I don't really have a few grand to spend on clothes right now since we just bought and renovated an apartment, and 2) I really liked my clothes and most of it is still in good condition.  I mean, just imagine if you had to get rid of everything you owned - shirts, sweaters, jackets, suits, pyjamas, work-out clothes, etc. Even all of my bras and underwear had to go!  I was floating in my winter coat, and I needed to get links taken out of all of my watches, and none of my rings fit anymore.  I also had to get my two wedding rings (the real one and the work one) resized because they keep falling off my fingers, and I was concerned about losing them. This is a weird one though, because I've had the exact same ring size since high school, so I don't really understand why it would change now...  There are however a few dresses that I might try to get altered by the seamstress across the street, but I don't think it's really worth it for anything else, so I have to start from scratch.  

As a side note, I was lucky enough to go back to the US every few months during the weight loss period, and I took advantage of that to shop at a few consignment shops.  I'm really not a fan of buying cheap clothes, but I am a big fan of recycling, so it was a good fit.  And anyways, who wants to spend a bunch of money on things they will only wear for a month or two at most?  So I bought some higher quality jeans, pants and blazers second-hand, and then just traded them back in for smaller sizes next time I went back.  It ended up being pretty convenient.  I'm also hoping to sell them a lot of items from my old wardrobe in order to fund my shopping spree.  I still get sad though when thinking about selling all of my old stuff....I mean, just think about having to give up your favorite sweater or jacket!  But as C reminded me, I'll soon have new favorites to replace them....

Anyways, I guess this about wraps up my "Frenchwomen do get fat" series.   I want to thank everyone who shared their experiences and tips, either in the comments section or via email.  No matter how focused I am on the destination, it's good to be reminded that it's also about the journey!


Thursday, April 17, 2014

That last post got kind of long, so on to this one, with tips for eating healthy while on the road in France.

Now let me start out by saying that I love to eat.  I love trying new food and enjoying what I am putting in my mouth (C would insert a "That's what she said" here).  So given that my focus was enjoying what I was eating, I wasn't necessarily paying attention to calories when traveling.  It was more so "Gee, that's something I'd never make at home, so I better take advantage of it here".  But that obviously wasn't possible during my weight-loss phase, so while traveling for work, I tried to limit my hotel breakfasts to high-protein foods and fruit.  I would usually have tea, plus a hard-boiled egg, a yogurt or a slice of cheese, and then a fruit or a compote.

I then substituted either lunch or dinner (depending on whether or not I ate with a customer or not) with two protein bars and two clementines, and then for the other meal, I tried to chose the lightest restaurant options possible - salad for an entrée, fish for the main and fruit for dessert, avoiding the sauce and the bread and the wine.  It wasn't always easy, especially when my customers were pressuring me to drink with them (and who wants to say no to free booze??), but I always tried to remain focused on my end goal.

As it was mentioned in the comments section, protein bars aren't really that great or common yet in France, so I have pretty much made the rounds of them all, and the best ones I have found were in the diet aisle at the grocery store:
I usually keep the chocolate ones in the fridge, as I find it heightens the chocolate flavor.   The protein bars may appear small, but two of them plus a fruit and a big glass of water will definitely fill you up.  And they only have 118 calories per bar, so they can also make a great snack.  They are fairly high in sugar though, so if I am eating them, I usually try to limit my sugar at other meals in order to stay balanced.  The chocolate-mint bouchées make a great snack or dessert too, especially since they only have 68 calories.  Just make sure to eat them slowly and drink a big glass of water, ie don't shovel the whole thing in your mouth at once.

I also tried to get some kind of work-out in at the hotel, usually via YouTube videos since it is still pretty rare for small-town hotels to have gyms here.  C & I spent many a night doing Ten Minute Six Pack Abs via Skype, and then I usually would try to do at least 20 more minutes of either cardio or strength-training videos.  There are a million of them out there, but I really like the Pop Pilates videos on Youtube - there is a TON of variety and the instructor is perky but not overtly so.  Plus you can choose from cardio videos, yoga, pilates, strength-training or target zones, so you're not just stuck doing the same routine over and over again.

And voila - that is how I managed to lose 60lbs while working full-time, traveling half the month and completing a masters degree.  The funny thing is - I'd say out of everything, losing the weight was the hardest of the three because it just took up so much mental energy and discipline.  I was often tired and hungry from the low-calorie consumption, so there were days (and nights) were I literally dreamed about food.  American TV just about killed me at times because so many of the ads are food-related.  And don't even get me started on how murderous the Red Lobster "All you can eat shrimp" commercials made me feel.  Seriously though, like a lot of ladies out there, I can get pretty cranky when I am hungry, so I also have to give major props to my husband for putting up with me on those days, for always encouraging me and reminding me that he loved me as-is, no-matter what.  He was very respectful of my food choices and made a conscious effort to not be eating ice cream every night or having an apéro. Or making his famous garlic croutons, which I could eat like popcorn...


Saturday, April 12, 2014

We are lucky enough to live in an age where information is literally at the tip of our fingers.  I took full advantage of this, and used quite a bit of different tools to monitor my weight loss.

First off all, the most important was a website and application called My Fitness Pal.  This is an amazing and free website that lets you keep a very accurate food diary thanks to their large database (full of French & American foods).  This site was basically always open as a tab on my computer, and I added in any food consumed as the day went on, again always making sure to weigh what I was consuming.

The site also has the advantage of allowing yourself to easily track and graph your progress, which I did in two ways. First of all, the most obvious way by weighing myself and secondly by taking certain corporal measurements.  I did this every Monday morning, and seeing the actual results allowed me to start off the week on a good note.

Part of the reason I found myself in this whole situation is because I did not have a scale, so I went out and purchased a biometric scale, ie one that measures your percentage of fat, muscle, water weight, etc.  I wasn't sure how accurate it would be or if I would really use it, so I bought a used one off of Le Bon Coin for 20€.  I ended up really liking it and also found it motivating to see the numbers going down each week.

I also used My Fitness Pal to estimate how many calories I was burning during my workouts, but there were days I doubted the numbers provided (since a website can't measure your muscle mass, workout intensity, etc), so about half-way through, I purchased a heart rate monitor.  This was also very motivating, even during the workout because I could see how close I was to hitting my exercise goal for the day, especially towards the end where it became harder and harder to reach that goal since I weighed less.  I still wear it now, as it's a great way to monitor whether I am in fat-burning mode during my workouts or weight-loss mode, as well as my maximum heart rate.  I bought the Polar FT7 also off of Le Bon Coin for 35€, but I think they cost around 90€ new.

There are also a lot of great websites out there that will help you calculate your BMI (body mass index) and BMR (basal metabolic rate, or the bare minimum of calories your body needs at rest each day).  Once you know your BMR, you can use other sites to factor in your activity to determine your total calorie needs for the day to maintain your current weight.

There are also other sites out there where you can put in your current weight, your goal weight, and the date you want to reach that goal, and it will tell you how many calories you should consume per day in order to make that happen.

Nowadays, I am in maintenance mode, and I still track everything on the MFP app. I still try to work out every day since it is something I really enjoy doing, and I usually try to consume around 1800 calories most days, or around 1500 calories on the days I can't get a workout in.  My travel diet however has remained the same since that was what got me in trouble in the first place - high-protein breakfasts, one low-cal meal of protein bars+ fruit and one restaurant meal.  

It's funny because I was talking to my doctor the other day, and she was like "In what kind of upside  down world does an American get fat in France?  Your country is the one with weight issues, not ours!"  And in many ways, even though the US does have such an obesity problem, it was easier for me to eat healthier there because pretty much everything has the calorie and portion size listed on it now.  Whereas in France, food labels are really not user friendly at all.  Most of them list the calories for 100g of whatever you are eating, be it chips or pasta.  Who the heck knows how much 100g of anything is??  The French however are slowly getting fatter too, so it is changing with time, and there are certain foods now that give the calorie breakdown per serving size - like cereal boxes will say that one portion size is 30g. But you still gotta keep that scale handy to know how much that 30g is!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What's for dinner?

So how did I go about losing 60+ lbs?  Here's what worked for me:

My goal for breakfast was to stay under 300 calories, so I usually had 2 cups of tea between 8 and 10am, and then around 10:30am, I would have one of the following:
  • 1 pack of Lu Déjeuner cookies
  • Oatmeal made with H20 and then topped with a little bit of brown sugar, cinnamon + 1/4 c milk
  • 45g of a high-fiber cereal + 1/2 c milk
C likes to make brunch on the weekends, so on Sundays, we swapped our pancakes, eggs and bacon, for 2 or 3 light crepes sprinkled with a bit of sugar and lemon.  Another weekend option was sort of a veggie scramble - cook a whole lot of mixed veggies (onions, peppers, julienned legumes) in a pan, and then add a couple of eggs, a couple of egg whites, garlic, salt, pepper and a handful of shredded Mexican cheddar.

As a side note, I also purchased brand-new non-stick pans so I was able to cook all of our meals with absolutely zero oil or butter, removing precious calories from many of the recipes below.

Because I often work out over my lunch break, I usually end up eating lunch around 2pm.  I varied between 300-350 calories, often choosing one of the following plus a fat-free yogurt w/a tsp of honey or a clementine:

Most days I had a snack or two in the afternoon, usually between 150-250 calories depending on what I planned for lunch and dinner:
  • 1 apple or other fruit
  • a fat-free yogurt and 1 tsp honey
  • High fiber or high protein bar
  • 2 clementines
  • and if I was really craving something sweet, a s'mores pop tart!

For dinner, I also shot for 300-350 calories.  But considering C was usually eating with me, I spent a lot of time searching for recipes that were very similar to what we would normally eat, just with modified ingredients.  Because he didn't need to lose any weight, I often times would also make zucchini noodles or faux rice for me, and real pasta or rice for him. As a side note - if you are skeptical like I was of the faux rice, don't be - if you cook it right, it's actually kind of hard to tell that it's not rice!  I used frozen cauliflower to make it, and just ran the cauliflower under hot water for a few minutes before chopping it with our food processor and then cooking it in a pan for maybe 5 minutes.  The zucchini noodles were a little more time consuming, but also delicious, and can be used as a spaghetti substitute in any dish.
I really tried to avoid having dessert, but if I had to have something sweet or if I was still hungry, a clementine would usually satisfy my craving.  If I had leftover calories, I would also sometimes make banana "ice cream", topped with cinnamon (great for blood sugar control).

I think my biggest takeaway from this though was portion control.  If you are going to embark on a weight loss program, go out and buy yourself a digital scale asap.  Because of my education, I had a fairly good idea of portion control for meats, carbs, etc, but realized that I was grossly underestimating portion sizes for things like cereal and fruit.

For example, what I thought was considered a "small" apple actually turned out to be a large apple with double the calories, and when you only have 1200 for the day, a lot of small errors like that can really add up and sabotage your weight loss.   So I really paid attention to portion sizes and weighed almost everything I ate, right down to every last oatmeal flake or drop of milk that went into my tea.

The other thing that helped out a lot was planning out my meals for the week, or at least for a few days at a time.  I think a lot of times people run into trouble when they don't know what to eat, so they just grab whatever is on hand.  Planning out my breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner for the week allowed me to take that option off the table, and it also ensured that I had everything on hand for my meals.  I also almost always had frozen portions of the Cabbage soup or the Quinoa and Spinach patties on hand, so I could quickly reheat them if necessary on nights when we didn't have much time.

In the next post, I will cover some of the different tools out there that can also be helpful in monitoring your health, as well as how I watched my diet while on the road.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

I'm going to start off by putting the standard disclaimer out there of "Don't start any new medical regimens without first consulting your doctor".

Even though I have a degree in nutrition, I have not worked in the field for over ten years, and things have changed a lot since then, so I do not consider myself any sort of specialist.  I do however still have the basic knowledge that came with my degree, and that served me well over the past months.

The way I see things, barring any major medical issues, losing weight is a matter of simple arithmetic, ie you need to burn off more calories than you take in.  My thoughts on all of the various diets out there are this - there is no magical diet out there, they all work by forcing you to remove a major food group that you would normally eat, be it carbs, dairy, etc, thus decreasing your calorie consumption.  So for example, it's not that high protein diets = fast weight loss, it's just that you have cut out an enormous number of your normal daily calories and you can only eat so much protein.

With that in mind, I didn't want to do any crazy fad diet, I just decided to set certain goals for myself.  And be warned, they were very strict goals, but then again, I'm not one to do things half-way.  I decided to limit my calorie consumption to 1200 calories per day and a minimum of one hour of exercise per day, seven days a week, with the goal of burning at least 500 calories.

Regarding the exercise, I was already working out on average 5 days per week, but maybe only for 30-45 minutes, and given how much weight I gained, it was obviously not enough to counteract everything I was eating and drinking while on the road!   So when switching to working out daily, I also decided to mix-up my exercise program in order to not get bored. It's also a good idea to alternate exercises in order to keep your muscles guessing.

We have a membership at Club Med Gym, and I usually rotated between various dance classes (Zumba, Body Jam, Sh'Bam) and higher cardio things like Body Attack, running on the treadmill or the elliptical trainer.  If you're looking for an extreme cardio workout, Body Attack is your class.  I swear, I was in fairly good cardio shape even in the beginning, and that class made me want to puke afterwards for the about the first month.  But the exercise high you get afterwards is amazing...  I also lifted weights 2-3 times a week in order to continue building muscle.

As a side note, there are a lot of arguments on there back and forth on whether or not you should be adding your exercise calories back in in order to avoid your body going into starvation mode (ie consuming 1700 calories, so that your daily net calorie intake is 1200), but I decided not to. If you're trying to lose weight, I say everyone's body reacts differently to weight loss, so only you can know what's best for you individually.

On the other hand, 1200 calories is not very much, so my goal was to maximize nutrients and fiber as much as possible.  I did this by limiting my consumption of most processed foods, sugars, etc - basically anything that was high in calories - and went back to the basics of consuming mainly fruits and vegetables.  I also took a daily multivitamin and shot for high-fiber grains, like oats and quinoa - anything that would help me stay fuller longer was welcome!

I also drank lots of water during meals and through out the day in order to stay hydrated and stave off hunger.  One thing I did not drink though was alcohol.  Those of you who know me, know that I love my drinky-drink, so this was probably one of the hardest things for me to cut out.  I also have friends and family who love to drink, so it made social events difficult (I got a lot of "Are you pregnant" questions).  But minus a few very special occasions, I held strong and can count on one hand the number of drinks I had during that 6 month period.  There just really wasn't any room for calories to be wasted on alcohol, and when I had to decide between reaching my goal of -1kg (-2.2lbs) per week or having a drink, the weight loss always won out.

It did however get a bit frustrating eating the same thing over and over, so I had to get creative with time.  In the next post, I'll provide links to a lot of the recipes that helped make eating fun (or as fun as eating 1200 calories/day can be lol).


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The big reveal

For the new readers out there, I should probably explain that most years, I do an annual April Fool's Day post.   So the big question is - was yesterday's post an April Fool's joke or not??

Drum roll please......

Unfortunately it is all true, every mortifying second of it.  I debated long and hard about putting all of that out there because quite frankly it is embarrassing, and it's also such a personal battle, but I figured it was worth if 1) it holds me accountable and 2) it could maybe even help someone else out there along with their own journey.

Things are pretty busy around here with our big move, but in typical Ksam style, I will likely do a few posts on how I went about losing the weight and what all worked for me along the way.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

(Half) Frenchwomen do get fat

Or at least this one does.

There has been a lot of talk the past year or two about the "French secret" or the "French Paradox" and how French women stay so slim.  I'm not going to go into that - though I will say that most of the French women I know here are average-sized, and the ones who are very slim follow the cigarette and coffee diet.

But this post is unfortunately about me, and how one day late last summer, I had a wake-up call and realized I'd gotten to be quite fat.  You see, C and I had recently gotten back to the US and we were heading over to 10th to take advantage of the last summer days in Paris and to catch up with a few friends.  As we exited the metro, a guy (who was obviously homeless and drugged out of his mind) did not appreciate us following him up the stairs.  He turned around and started spewing insults, mostly at me, telling me I was fat as a truck and ugly and that I should be ashamed of myself.  This went on for a few minutes. C was preparing to punch the guy, but I convinced him it wasn't worth it (and as an ex-policeman, he knew the paperwork that would lie ahead), so we slowly backed away and just let him continue up the stairs ranting and shouting more insults.

As we finally exited the metro, I looked at myself in the store window across the street and realized what even a coked-out homeless man could see - I was fat.  And I immediately felt utterly and severely ashamed 1) that my husband had to witness that exchange, and 2) that I had sort of let myself go without realizing it.  I remained semi-distracted for the rest of the day, clouded in shame.  Seriously, la honte. Even thinking about it today stresses me out.

The next morning, I went out and immediately bought a scale, and my heart dropped after stepping on.  How did I let things get so out of control?  Sure, I work from home, which makes snacking a lot more tempting, and sure I travel a lot, which means I spend about half of each month eating in hotels and restaurants. But how could I not have noticed?  And my poor husband - he was so handsome and fit, and here he was with a fat wife.  Maybe I was just in denial the whole time, refusing to see what everyone else saw?

A lot of you might not know, but I practically lived on ice skates from the time I was 4 until I graduated from high school.  I've never been a naturally skinny girl, and being in the spotlight in an itty bitty skating costume made me very self-conscious, so I spent the majority of my high school years living off an apple and a bag of skittles per day.  How I ever had the energy to skate several hours a day is beyond me.

That continued on into college, where I studied nutrition.  As a side note, in my experience, 90% of people who study nutrition do it because they are control freaks and manic about food.  Only a minor 10% have a normal, healthy relationship with food, and are in it because they are actually interested in helping people.  The rest all have food issues and/or just want to know how to stay skinny.

When I moved to France and realized that 1) my town did not have a gym and 2) low-fat foods didn't exist (remember, this was 10+  years ago - things have changed a lot since then), I decided to give myself a break.  I ate what my ex and his family ate, and I drank what they drank (which in Bretagne, was quite a bit lol).  And thus began the start of a very slow weight gain.  We didn't have a scale, so I didn't monitor my weight at all, but looking back now, I probably gained 2-3 kgs a year.  Those darn kilos can really get you - when you grew up in pounds, one little kilo just seems to be so much less to worry about.

However I was oh-so-wrong, and it all added up to an almost 25kg weight gain.  There, I said it.  And yes, it still pains me to put it out there.  But if I'm writing this today, it's because I didn't want to make any more excuses. It was time, I wasn't getting any younger, and it was just going to get more and more difficult to do as time went on. So starting at la Rentrée, I put myself on a very strict diet, and combined with a whole lot of exercise, I lost every single one of those kilos plus a few more.  It took me 25 weeks, or a little over 6 months, with an average loss of 1kg (2.2lbs) per week.

So voila another reason posting has been light the past six months - it wasn't just school, or work, or our apartment purchase, it was also the very little free time/energy I had after all the calorie counting, meal planning and working out.  I flat-out simply didn't have any brain power left to think up interesting blog posts!

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