Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Losing Weight in France

Losing weight in France
Come on, admit it.  How many of us spend much of our time either thinking of losing weight, talking about losing weight, dieting or thinking we should be dieting or saying “Oh I really shouldn’t”, but then eat it anyway. Well, I recently lost over 2 stone and as many people have been asking me how I did, I thought I'd share my secrets with you

I haven’t been slim since I had my first child over 21 years ago.  I’ve sort of hovered around size 14 – 16. In England I felt about average and even positively slim sometimes, but here I felt fat.  The first time I went into a women’s clothes shop in France, I was horrified to find that my size (which was 44 – 46 European) was put with the ‘Grande taille Femme’ (big ladies section).  Quelle horreur!

In France, generally the women are much slimmer and yet they seem to eat a lot.  In the restaurants or when you visit French households, there are endless courses and they never seem to deny themselves anything.  So how do they keep so slim?  Do they just have a thin gene?  What’s the secret?  Well, I read the book “French Women don’t get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano and I would recommend it.  It does explain many things and makes a lot of sense.  However I read it a couple of years ago and just 8 months ago I was creeping (or was it speeding) towards a size 18, so I had obviously not taken it all in.

Last summer, I was fed up with being unhappy with my weight and I came to the conclusion that I was never going to be thin again.  I threw out the size 12 jeans I’d been lovingly keeping for years in the hope I might get into them ‘one day’ and decided I was just going to be happy the way I am.  Great, except accepting my weight (for me), meant not bothering to watch what I eat and so I ended up putting on even more weight.  I didn’t really notice it though as I’d resorted to wearing lots of baggy clothes and not looking in mirrors or weighing myself.  What does it matter, as long as I’m happy?  I used to tell myself.  

Earlier this year we spent a few days in Spain – we were sourcing plants for the Garden Centre and took the opportunity to have a couple of days away (sans enfants) for Gary’s birthday.  The first night we checked into the hotel I found, to my horror, right next to the bed was a wardrobe with huge mirrored doors.  I’d been avoiding full length mirrors for some time, but there was no way I was able to get into or out of bed without seeing myself and what a shock I had.  Who the hell was that?  I really didn’t recognise myself.  I had a picture in my head of what I looked like (about 20 years ago) and it was nothing like the woman looking back at me.  How did that happen?  What made it worse was when I went to get into the clothes I’d brought with me to wear the next day, they didn’t fit.  I noticed that I was starting to get a thick tyre of fat above my middle – oh no, I thought.  It’s happening – middle-aged spread!  I decided I’d had enough.  I wasn’t going to let myself get any bigger.  I didn’t want to be fat, I didn’t want to be skinny, but I wanted to be comfortable and I wanted to be healthy (and wanted my bl***y clothes to fit!).

I was determined to do something about it and once I decide on something there’s no stopping me.  Over the next few months I lost over 2 stone.  How did I do it?  Well, I used a combination of ideas I’d picked up from the various dieting, healthy eating, detoxing books I’d read over the years.
Here’s what worked for me:

I really wanted to do it.
Firstly I think the key here was that I really wanted to do it.  Like giving up smoking, if you’re not committed, it’s not going to happen.  A catalyst was needed – for me it was the realisation that if I didn’t do something about it soon, I was going to succumb to middle-aged spread – aaaahhhh!  But it could be a holiday or a party or any goal you set yourself.  It doesn’t matter what, it just needs to be something you really want to do.

I’m not on a diet, I’m eating healthily
Secondly, I wasn’t on a diet.   Sounds a bit weird I know, but I kept telling myself, I’m not on a diet, I’m changing my eating habits for good.  I wanted to be healthier and therefore would lose weight as a by product of eating more healthy foods.  I told myself I would never go hungry and would never deny myself anything.

I cut out some things and increased others
I decided to virtually cut out:
Bread and replaced it with rye bread, ryvitas or rice cakes
White Rice and replaced it with brown rice
Potatoes (would just have a few occasionally)
Pasta and replaced it with couscous
Red meat and ate more white meat and fish
Cakes, biscuits, sweets and replaced it with fresh and dried fruit
I cut down on:
                        Cheese (just a small piece occasionally with a salad)
                        Nuts (good for you I know, but not in the quantity I was eating them!)
                        Alcohol  (just an occasional glass of wine when socialising, honest!)
                        Tea and coffee (no more than 2 cups a day)
I increased my intake of:
Pulses and grains

For breakfast I’d have some yoghurt or some porridge oats with fruit juice or fruit.  I’d try not to have cereals and if I did I’d only have a tiny bit of milk.

For Lunch I would have either a homemade vegetable soup with a slice of Rye bread followed by some fruit or I’d have a salad.  Much of the time I was working and didn’t have lots of time to make up things in advance, so I would buy a ready prepared lettuce (I know it’s better to wash your own but I didn’t have the facilities at  work) with a vinaigrette dressing, maybe some coleslaw, half an avocado and a tin of tuna or some smoked salmon, bean salad  The thing is to make it as interesting as possible by mixing different types of salads and accompaniments.  I used to have a huge plateful so I never felt hungry.  Followed by some fruit.

For dinner I’d have lots of vegetable stews with maybe a piece of fish or chicken, brown rice or couscous or another salad.  The difficulty for me is that I’m always having to cook for  5 or 6 other people and they all don’t want to cut out the things I do.  To avoid this I would usually make a big vegetable stew at the beginning of the week to which I’d cook up some meat for the rest of the family and we’d have this with either brown rice or couscous.  Then I’d make other things for the family on other nights and use what was left of the vegetable stew for me and add different things to, maybe make it more spicy, add sweetcorn and kidney beans, add lentils, eat it with couscous or rye bread etc.  I’d finish off with a yoghurt or fruit for dessert.

I didn’t stop Eating Out and I didn’t feel Guilty
If I went out for a meal or was invited out to someone’s for dinner, I never said “No, I’m on a diet”.  I never even mentioned that I was changing my eating habits.  I would eat what was on my plate, but eat less of the things I was avoiding (like red meat) and more of the vegetables.   Don’t forget you don’t have to eat everything on your plate.   I wouldn’t have the bread, would maybe only have 1 glass of wine instead of 3 and have a small piece of dessert or choose something less fattening if there was a choice.  The important thing I kept in my mind is this is not a diet, it’s a healthy eating choice for life.  I didn’t want to feel I was denying myself and I never did.  And even more importantly, if I did end up having a few more glasses of wine than I meant to or eating all of that cream dessert, I DIDN’T FEEL GUILTYThere’s no need.  I’d just cut back on something the next day.

I didn’t take any notice of what people say
Try to ignore your well meaning family who say things like “I thought you were on a diet”, or “I didn’t think you could eat that” or even “how’s the diet going” or “you still on that diet”.  To that I would answer “Look, I’m not on a diet I’m just changing my eating habits and if I feel like having something, I will.  I know what I’m doing!”  Stick to this way of thinking and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for eating anything.  We should enjoy our food, we just need to learn how to limit ourselves.  

I didn’t deny myself anything I really wanted
If there is something you really really love and don’t think you can live without it, then give yourself a treat once a week.  I used to have a few squares of dark chocolate.  If you think you are denying yourself all the time then you’ll give up and just slip back into your old eating habits.

I took time to enjoy eating my food
Take time to eat your food and concentrate on what you are eating.  Too many times I’ve found myself munching away on something and then haven’t even realised I’ve eaten it all.  If you are aware of what you are eating you enjoy it more and find it more satisfying.  

I try not to eat between meals
Try not to eat between meals – we all know that, but often it’s difficult to do.  I never denied myself food if I was hungry, but instead of eating a packet of crisps or a few biscuits I’d have some fruit and some water.

I cut down on alcohol, tea and coffee
I stopped drinking alcohol, well not completely, but cut down a lot.  Apart from when I organised the Gardening Club Quiz night (but we won’t mention that, will we).
I also cut down on tea and coffee.  I love coffee and usually have about 5 or 6 cups a day, but now I try to limit myself to 2 cups of coffee and 1 cup of tea.  After which I’ll drink water – you could drink herbal tea , but I don’t like them.  Luckily I’m not a lover of fizzy drinks, squash or even fruit juice, so I didn’t need to give up these things.  I do try and drink a lot of water as it’s really good for you and is supposed to help with weight control.

So, following these simple rules I managed to lose about 1 stone in the first month and then another stone over the following 2 months.  After the first 3 months of being really strict with myself, I did slacken a bit and have started eating red meat again, although I still limit myself.  I gained about ½ stone when I went to England in August, but am now eating sensibly again.  I think the key for me is not to deny myself and if I do stray I don’t beat myself up and just know that if I cut back for a day or two after my indulgence then I’ll be back on track again.  Life is for living, so enjoy and don’t waste time feeling bad about something you think you “shouldn’t have” eaten.  There’s no harm in indulging occasionally, just don’t make a habit of it!
And just to prove the weight I lost here’s some photos of me:

I’m not really proud of this one – it’s of me last summer in my baggy clothes and wearing black to hide the fact that I’m a bit more than tubby! (It didn't work did it.) I don’t actually have any pictures of me just before I changed my eating habits (luckily), but I was about ½ stone heavier than I am in this picture.  So imagine me with an extra chin and bigger thighs (scary).


And here’s me now. (yes that is me taking a picture of myself in the mirror because I haven't got any recent ones).  OK, I’m not exactly slim, but I’m happy with my weight and I’m feeling so much better about myself.  All I need to do now is exercise and tone up and I’ll be ready for when “Hello” Magazine comes knocking on my door :)


  1. Wow! This post really resonated with me on so many levels!

    Congratulations - you look fantastic!

    I have always been around the size you were and I also did the whole giving up and deciding just to be happy only to gain more weight. The first time I also noticed how out of shape I had become was in a hotel room in Spain with the horrible full length mirror!

    Since my son was born 17 months ago I have become even worse and am currently in the worst shape of my life :(

    I am really glad you wrote this post - thank you

    There is a book written by an Australian Author called Losing it in France and how she managed to lose weight whilst living there. I have been waiting for it to come into the library and only received a text message this morning saying it's ready for me to collect.

    I have just logged into the library now after reading your post and ordered the book you recommend - hopefully I can find the success you obviously have

  2. Thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you find it useful. Some uncanny coincidences going on there. I'll have to order that book too, sounds interesting.
    I'm sure if you're determined enough (which you seem to be), you'll loose the weight you want to. Just don't be too hard on yourself and enjoy your food. You don't have to starve to get fit and healthy :)
    Good luck with you're move to Bangkok. I look forward to reading how you get on there (and with the diet) xx

  3. Wow, from your description of how you came to make the change, you could have been living inside my head. I was also avoiding mirrors and was basically kidding myself that it wasn't that bad. But it was. I made a few fairly drastic changes earlier this year and dropped 10kg (about one third of my goal), but then found myself pregnant so have stopped the program I was using. Now I'm trying to stay balanced, and at half way through my pregnancy I'm really scrutinising myself, but not noticing any non baby related weight gain.

    I love your attitude - especially not taking notice of what others say. It's amazing how unsupportive friends can be when you're trying to change your eating habits!

    You look fabulous.

  4. Isn't funny how so many of us are thinking and feeling the same. I suppose the first step is to admit it to ourselves.
    It's very difficult to cut down when you're pregnant I know, I've been there several time. You don't get the pleasure of your clothes fitting better when you start eating more healthily, but you do get a lovely baby at the end of it :) It sounds like you're doing the right thing though with keeping a balanced diet.
    Good luck with the pregnancy - concentrate on eating healthily for you and the baby and you can't go wrong!

  5. Way to go Nikki - looking good! Inspirational stuff. Della and I had the same epiphany back in the late 90s when we were considerably larger than we are today. We could not agree more with your sentiments. Of course, when we decided to become vegetarians we found that we were eating so much more fruit and veg and obviously no meat and this has undoubtedly helped us keep off the pounds. You'll be surprised to hear that we're down to one glass of wine a day too!!!! Take care xx

  6. Thanks Tracy and Della - I can't imagine you two being larger. I could easily be vegetarian and it would make a big difference, but I'm sure the boys would have something to say about that. Down to one glass of wine a day! Are you sure? Must meet up when you're back down this way xx

  7. Nikki, I just found your blog and so glad I did. I would love for my family to move to UK or France (we are currently in US). I am learning French now and feel like I am at a crossroads on big decisions for our family (maybe prompted because I just turned 40 but probably prompted cause i feel a BIG change is needed!). please stop by and say hello if you get a chance, and I thought you looked beautiful in both photos!

  8. OK I know this is sort of a woman's blog, but I could not resist a little comment.
    It really is about will power, I had to lose weight a few year ago and I wasn't even fat, but I was diabetic and managed to lose a stone and a half and not have to take pills.
    You are an inspiration to many and I know that you know there is no such word as 'cant'

  9. Thanks for taking the time to comment Steve. I wouldn't say weight control is of interest exclusively for women, although it's true that women talk about it more than men. Well done you for losing the weight you had to. You're absolutely right, there is no such word as can't, we just have to believe it. One of my favourite sayings is "Where there's a will, there's a way."

  10. Well done, you look fantastic. Eating healthy works for many things. I am really impressed at what you have managed to do. Keep up the good work. Diane

  11. Thanks for popping by Diane. Yes it's true you get so many other benefits from eating healthily - not just weight loss. It's a win win situation :)

  12. Nikki! ca va? J'ai tres bien. J'adore tu blog!I'm glad you found me yesterday, even if you werent able to read my said that i though you looked beautiful in both pictures! would love to e-meet your homeschooling neighbor. wishing you a beautiful week :-) katie at brighton park Bonsoir!

  13. Bravo! Thanks for sharing in this post. It encourages me to try to eat better too!!

  14. You look fantastic! As you may know, I followed the Clean cleanse, which was a great education as to how to eat dairy and wheat free. I felt great afterwards.

    Such a great addition to Post Of The Month Club - bravo! XOL

  15. I'm glad Keith linked to this post-- I'm currently on a 'lifestyle change' (diet is such an ugly word), and have lost 10 kilos so far. It's hard being in Paris and walking by so many beautiful windows filled with pastries, but you are so right about not depriving yourself of things you love... it's the only way to continue eating in a healthy way for a lifetime.

  16. Wow congrats! And, thanks for the advice! I started buying 'pain complet' and by rice that is either complet or semi complet. Still need to be more disciplined though. If we control ourselves during the week, we can indulge un petit peu during the weekends, and especially during those French-style holidays/special events.

    You look fab!


  17. Gosh Nikki, I don't remember seeing you in your bigger days, but congrats. Just shows what determination can do. I found cutting out dairy as well as being veggie helped. I'm now down to a steady 68kg (10.75 stone approx) which isn't bad for my height - 5'10". Trouble is when you get to my age (67), not much is going to get rid of that wretched tummy, short of a girdle, yuck! However, I'm happy and that always helps and, I can eat what I like as long as it doesn't come from anything that has eyes!! I do make eggs an exception though.

  18. Inspiring - I love Mireille Guilliano and FWDGF is my bible. I still have to actually lose the weight though :)

  19. Hello Niki... Very nice and informative post, Thank you! I also believe that food is the main culprit behind most major health issues in life.

    I have also read and researched so many books and new ideas that have come out for weight loss and vitality - but my problem seems to go around in circles. I am always starting something and never ever do I finish anything. I can't stay motivated enough to keep on track and continue towards my goal, eventually at some point down the line I just say to myself "st**f it" and I get back to my old "binge eating" habits. I really don't understand it because every time I truly feel that I've had enough and things need to change, but my will power seems completely lacking. It's so frustrating, that I'm beginning to think I have some sort of eating disorder or addiction lol.

    From time to time I have also purchased gym cards for 1 month or more, thinking that this way I would force myself to go, as I have paid for it in advance, but still I would end up going 4 to 5 times and stop, making all sorts of excuses for myself, when it was just pure laziness.

    My weight gain started when I moved back to Bulgaria 5 years ago, we had lived in South Africa for over 15 years with my parents and now I am living in Bulgaria - working and studying. (No need to mention that I hate it here! :) ) I have gained over 20 kg, and I just feel heavy. I don't know if you know that feeling, when you feel heavy on yourself, on your feet. No matter what I put on, where I am or who you communicate with I just feel like a whale. Horrible feeling! I don't even need to look in the mirror, I just feel it.

    I'm desperate and I have no idea how to get myself out of this slump, it seems endless and impossible! Any advice would be soooooooo appreciated.

    Thanks again for your post! :)

    1. Hi really sorry it's taken me so long to reply, I've only just come across your comment as I wrote this post a while ago. I hope things have got better for you now. I know it's really hard to lose weight, especially when you're unhappy. It's always when I'm at my most miserable that I put on weight as I'm a terrible comfort eater. However, I can say that I have managed to keep the weight off this time, although I have lapsed a little at times, but at least I know now that I'm in control and I can do it if I really want to.
      I do know what you mean about feeling heavy. When I was at my heaviest I felt like I had a fat suit on and kept bumping into doors because I didn't realise how big my arms were - it was horrible!
      I know how difficult it is to diet when you're down. You're down so you eat to try to make yourself feel better, then you get bigger which makes you even more down so you eat more. It's a spiral that so many people get into. I think it stems from rewarding ourselves with food - eating chocolate or cakes or nuts, whatever it is that we like and probably originates from being rewarded with sweets or food for good behaviour as a child. I'm sure this has a bearing and I'm trying hard not to do it with my own children. What we have to do is find other ways of treating ourselves to try and make ourselves feel better. How about treating yourself to nice soak in the bath or a trip to spa or time to yourself to do something you really enjoy. Believe in yourself, believe you can truly loose that weight, it really isn't as hard as we make it for ourselves. We all have the power inside to make changes, we just have to believe it. Good luck and feel free to pop by and let me know how you're getting on.

  20. GREAT post lovely, thanks for mentioning it to us. This is exactly what I've been trying to get across to Mums with my posts about 'healthy eating for rubbish cooks' - that you don't need a diet or a bootcamp to get to a healthy, fit, slim weight. I've managed to maintain the weightless for 1.5yrs now since doing that - so I'm really sure it works. I'm at that stage where it's time to tone up the wobbly bits so that they may still be there, but maybe less wiggly ;o)

    1. Thanks, I'll have to take a look at your posts when I get chance. It's crazy really how something so easy to do is so difficult to accept. It's so much a state of mind really and believing in yourself and the fact that you can loose weight and get healthier. Everyone seems to think they need to be told what to do rather than taking it into their own hands and making a plan that works for them. We're all different, there is no one diet fits all. You might loose weight on one diet or from a bootcamp, but unless you change your eating habits for good, it's all going to come back on again. Most of us know nowadays whats good for us and what's not, it's common sense really. Eat cake - get fat, eat fruit - get fit!
      I need to work on my flabby bit too now. I'm still looking for the formula for exercise as I'm not keen on gyms and exercising for the sake of it as I always loose interest in it. I think we should all try and keep fit by just being more active in our daily lives and maybe taking up some sort of sporting activity we enjoy like tennis or dancing or something. That way we keep fit without noticing.

  21. I love your story, thank you for sharing and you look fantastic. I have been living in France for the last 1.5 years with my husband and 2 year old daughter. I dont work and i seem to just eat and have gained a few extra kilos. I find in france when you go to friends or families you eat so much, with the aperos, entre, main, cheese and dessert, and i always wonder how the others keep so slim. We are heading back home to Australia in 4 months and i really want to loose 10 kilos, i have found your post very inspirational. Thank you. So here goes.

    1. Thanks Nathalie, glad you found the post useful. Good luck, you can do it!