Monday, August 18, 2014

What France Taught Me About Balance Variety and Moderation

I just returned from a 10-day vacation in Paris.  My wife and I went for a family wedding but we also used it as an excuse to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary and our 40th birthdays.  It was a memorable trip for many reasons and as I thought more about it, I realized that there is a lot that the French can teach us, if we are ready to listen.  So here are some things that I observed while I was there, in no particular order.

1) There is a very nice sense of balance in France.  Of course that is a word that would resonate with me, right?  There is a sense of balance when it comes to juggling work, family, friends and making time to relax.  I first noticed this just after we arrived in Paris.  We found that many places were closed during the end of July and August.  They were closed because the business owners take an extended vacation during the summer. What a way to really balance work and personal life than with planned long vacation each summer.  Secondly, walking through the city, we found multiple places to just sit and enjoy a picnic or just watch people go by.   You can see by the pictures below that we made sure to use as many of these open spaces as often as possible.

Resting along the Seine at Paris Plages

Jardin des Plantes

2) Obviously the French are known for their food and, being a dietitian, I knew that I was going to experience as much different foodie experiences as possible.  But for all the "heavy" foods that might come to mind when you think about French food, there is a very strong respect (for lack of a better word) for food and eating.  That is to say, meals are events.  Eating is a time to focus on food, friends and family and not something to rush through.  If you want to experience mindful eating, eat a meal in France.  The best example of this was at a cooking class my wife and I took.  The class started in an open-air market going through the stalls, smelling, looking and talking to vendors about what's fresh and what looks good.  After buying all of the ingredients we needed, we went back to the kitchen to cook our meal.  The spontaneous menu ended up being squid stuffed with risotto, greens and pine nuts in a fennel cream sauce.  Of course there was dessert and we made a Creme d'Almond.  All made from scratch and of course, all delicious.  Since we were in France, we just had to have a cheese and wine course right?!  The entire meal (which was really lunch) was over 2 hours (not including cooking).  A slow cooked meal that was savored the way any meal should be.  Despite the cream, cheese and dessert, there was no feeling of guilt or overeating. It was truly an intuitive eating experience.  

Table set for lunch

Squid stuffed with risotto, collard greens and pine nuts in a fennel cream sauce

Creme d'Almond

3) I don't speak French but I had my Google Translate with me all the time so I was able to interpret different words that my wife and I encountered.  Not once did I come across the words "gluten-free." In LA, it seems like I can't take 10 steps without hearing or reading the words "gluten-free."  I'm sure there are as many who suffer from celiac disease and gluten intolerances in France as there are in the USA, but it's clear that we've hit epic fad status here in LA so it was refreshing to not hear those words for 10 days and to not be judged like we were carrying the devil in our bag every morning as we left the boulangerie with a fresh baguette!  

4) France is the land of balance, variety and moderation.  Those words, which seem to be co-opted by big food companies in America, still retain their meaning in France.  Sure, not everyone eats cheese, bread and wine at every meal, and we saw our fair share of "big food" marketing and products while we were there but it's a very different mindset. Balance in all things.  Variety in food choices but also activities.  Moderation with foods by enjoying each bite.  My best example of all of those was going for ice cream at the world famous, Berthillion. My wife and I chose different flavors and the first thing we noticed was how small the scoop was--no more than a melon-ball size of ice cream but the flavor in that one scoop was beyond any I had before.  It was the most intense and delicious scoop of chocolate ice cream that I've ever had.  The French are known for their cheese and wine but I'd submit to you all that their ice cream should receive just as much praise and recognition.  

Enjoying some of the best ice cream ever

Like I said above, it was a trip that has had a lasting effect on me.  I feel inspired about food once again and confident in my convictions that ALL foods fit in moderation.  We should respect not only food, but where it came from, and the act of eating it.  

My one piece of advice is this: if you ever go to Paris, the best thing you can do is to buy Robyn Webb's book The Paris Apartment Vacation Guide.  Her advice was better than any other we got on our trip.  She guided us to markets, foodie locations, great hidden spots off the beaten path and places to enjoy ice cream!  Because of her expertise, our trip was a success!  Thank you Robyn!


  1. I totally agree. Learning how to find balance is the best and healthiest way to maintain a healthy weight, mind and body. I love the way that the French enjoy their food and value their time together when eating.
    The science behind this style of eating explains why it works so well and how our primitive brain is the usual controller of why, what, how much, where and when we eat. Through learning healthier habits, like those of the French, we are able to treat food as a pleasure and not as the enemy.
    Loved the photos. They made me want to get on a plane and fly to France today.

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