I’m going to write about food and the effect it had on my body on a recent trip back to the United States for a little over a month after living in France.
What I want to say first and very clearly is that we need to stop associating being thin with being beautiful. What I have to say about weight gain or loss is not tied to one way being more visually appealing than another. I find women, including myself, beautiful at all different sizes. What I want is to have a real discussion about our bodies and the impact our environment, culture, and food have on it after I experienced a noticeable transformation in a relativity short amount of time with my own.
Any time your body goes through a transformation you have to ask yourself, “what caused this?” My health is something I must pay attention to because of my genetics. My grandfather died at 63 from a heart attack, my father had bypass surgery in his mid 40’s and my mother has had stints. It’s not for vanity but for a deep desire to live a long healthy life.
In France, I have been eating seasonally, for the most part locally sourced, non-packaged foods, rarely anything fried (because I make almost all my meals I hate cleaning up frying oil), and I drink the local wines. The cheese I buy is mostly unpasteurized, I have a fresh baked baguette almost every day and most of the food related stores in town are more representative of farm stands than supermarkets.
There is a strong connection in France between the seasons and what we eat. At my little grocer I arrived one day and noticed my favorite goat cheese was gone. I asked monsieur about it and he told me there would be no more cheese production from their specific producer until spring as they respect the annual cycle of the goats. I have learned the frustrations and joys of eating seasonally. What I wouldn’t give right now to bite into a juicy peach or make pesto sauce but by living without is not only is it better for our environment because things are not being shipped halfway around the world, but I have found it’s also better on my mental health.
The joy of the arrival of apricots to the market, picking warm cherries off the tree in the summer sun, the beautiful pumpkins in the autumn and the comfort of duck confit and potatoes in the winter ooooooo or onion soup. There is always something to look forward to, something to miss, and a respect for nature.
When I recently walked into a Whole Foods in the United States and I almost had a panic attack. There were just so many options, so much of everything. The huge piles of food, it was overwhelming, paralyzing and ultimately sad because I know much of it will be wasted. I stood and stared at a shelf of chapsticks as big as I was unable to choose because there were just simply too many choices. Not only choices but sizes and how much bigger the things were. The food, the fruits and vegetables were all just… bigger. It’s no wonder when you think about it that simply that I too would become bigger during my time there. We are a product of what we eat after all.
So my first question is this, why are the basic ingredients in America bigger? Are we manipulating our food? Our animals? Does America only buy bigger? Bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger burgers? And what is really the gain there? Is “supersized” really a plus?
The limitations I have in France actually make my life easier. It is supposed to be the opposite, having everything possible is supposed to make like better but it doesn’t for me. It’s just … too much. The paradox of choice. Too much noise in my head. Too much packaging screaming at me for attention.
Here is an example of how I make dinner in France: I walk to one of my grocers, look and see what vegetable looks the most amazing and I plan a meal around that. Tonight, I am roasting carrots because not only did the bushy, earthy bunches of carrots look amazing but they also had a rare purple carrot that just tickled me with excitement. My brain can wrap its head around that. My mental health is calm and satisfied.
I bring up mental health because it is so tied to physical health. When I am feeling anxious, I eat more comfort food, drink more alcohol. Being away from my work in France, which is my greatest passion, made me anxious. Being in the urban energy of L.A. and all the designer gloss and focus on money and looks made me anxious. Combine that with easy access 24 hours a day to fried food, savory tacos, chips, and cocktails and yeah… no wonder I gained some weight.
At one point in my journey across the US visiting Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend there were zero healthy food options, only processed fast food chains. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy fast food from time to time but when it’s the only option and I’ve had it three meals in a row I snap. I actually snapped at a guy and I know it had to do with my irritation with the food inside me making me feel sick. The last meal in that area I just gave up and had a margarita for dinner because I couldn’t eat anymore processed brown food. I was defeated and I felt heart broken as I looked around at the diners in the restaurant who also looked miserable and unhealthy and I just wished they had more options than food wrapped in a brightly colored logo.
I feel like the fast food chains are an amazing testament to human survival. We can produce so much food so our species will never starve while the hidden cost is stripping complete communities and income groups of important culture. My grandmother, who only went out to eat once a week, would make my favorite soup from her childhood, potato soup and cornbread, which came from the depression era when there wasn’t a lot of options on the farm she grew up on. It’s basically boiled potatoes with some milk and I loved it. But would she have cooked as much if it were cheaper and easier to eat off the 99¢ menu when she herself was a child? And if fast food were the norm for areas of poverty in 1930’s America, would my grandmother, who never had weight issues, have had health issues related to weight? Would my priceless memories of time together in her garden and her kitchen be erased into a soulless bottom dollar of some CEO’s pocketbook?
People always talk about coming to Europe and eating all the bread, cheese and pasta and not gaining weight, or in some cases even losing weight. I eat all those things here in France every single week. Is the key to health as simple as real ingredients? There must also be a difference in the way food is produced or raised between the two counties. Why are those things associated with being “fat” in America but not in Europe? In Europe there is no association with indulgence and these dishes.
So my body had a transformation. I wanted to talk about this because I didn’t like the way I felt. I felt sick. I felt clogged mentally and physically. My skin was a disaster! Broken out and irritated. Again, please separate the notion of beauty from health. I am not saying I look better or worse, I am merely talking about how I felt. And it’s not that I wasn’t working out. I was actually working out harder in the states than in France because I had access to Barre classes and Core Power Yoga, etc.
However, I don’t have a car in France so I walk a lot more in addition to running most days a week. I love walking places, it opens up time for discovery, connects you to the day and to feel the seasons. How the smells in the air change, the way the light moves, the rolling waves of nature. I know being in a car or using Uber played a role with my experience in the States. I just started feeling like a rat in a cage on a wheel. You want to have a good time, eat and drink all this fun food, ok but now you had too many chips? Buy this workout class to feel better. Ok, so you worked out now treat yourself! ARRGGG!!!
So maybe the solution is in shopping at the farmer’s market as much as possible in the U.S. but have you noticed how much more expensive food at the farmer’s market is? In France, food doesn’t feel as commercialized or commoditized and it certainly isn’t expensive. On my very first trip to the big Saturday market I was used to American prices and I kept trying to pay for things with 20’s until I realized how inexpensive everything was. I don’t think you should have to be wealthy to be able to eat well. We should all have access to organic food and humanely raised animal products as some sort of basic standard. I don’t think that should only be available to the elite and it is feeling more and more that way. I think it would be a mental struggle of control I personally would lose. Telling myself to not eat everything on my plate, to not have cocktails, to go to the movies and not buy snacks. Ugh, I would hate that! That’s not freedom to me.
I don’t want this whole thing to come off as France is so much better than the US. Look, America is an experiment in the greatest achievements possible for man and governance. I think it’s incredible that you can pretty much get anything you want, anytime you want in the United States. Look at how far humanity has come! And when I lived in New York City, I didn’t know any other way. Cars on demand, 24-hour organic grocery store at the end of my block, Seamless delivery, the best restaurants in the world, more of anything you could ever dream of. But I wasn’t happy. I had to work so hard to make so much money to buy what I thought I needed until I learned a new way. A way that is just simpler. A way that I don’t have to try to control my food choices or intake because my body is yoyo-ing. I can just live here and I feel good mentally and physically.
I’ve been back in France for a week now. When I first looked at myself in the mirror I was shocked at how visibly different I appeared in the same space. I love my curves and softness and I love food, but this didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel like me and the visage looking back at me I didn’t recognize.
Photographing myself in the self portrait above was a way to try to understand it, for me to process out visually what I was feeling internally. I hope we can have an open dialog about food, cultures, and what makes us feel the healthiest. For me, buying inexpensive ingredients daily from small businesses or from farmers, cooking at home (even foods Americans consider “indulgent”) I feel better mentally and physically.
This is by no means an article on how to lose weight the French way. The French don’t “diet”. They don’t have to, why? What is the difference in our foods? There are a lot of reasons why I moved to France but it wasn’t until now that I realized food was also a part of it…. America was making me sick.
I invite you to share your thoughts or experiences on my Instagram here.