Losing weight in France


(Nikki McArthur) #1

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)

  • Milk


I increased my intake of:



  • Vegetables



  • Pulses and grains

  • Fruit

  • Water



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 GUILTY. There’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 :)


(Nikki McArthur) #2

Excellent Sheila and I bet you enjoyed the Salmon just as much (and it makes you feel good to have chosen the healthier dish doesn’t it). You’re on your way already!


(Sheila Walshe-Blackmore) #3

Thanks Nikki. We stayed in Narbonne this evening, so could have used it as an excuse. Ordered grilled salmon instead of opting for the usual magret de canard.


(Nikki McArthur) #4

Thanks Sheila. So sorry to hear about your health problems. I expect you were depressed (as you say) and had every reason to be. I’m one of those people who tend to comfort eat (and have suffered from depression in the past) so can totally sympathise there. I can understand it’s difficult to tackle the exercise if you have health problems, but walking is good exercise - could you maybe try that? I managed to loose the weight without increasing my level of exercise, but I really feel I need some toning up now. Yes alcohol is a difficult one, but best to try to cut down if you can’t cut it out completely. So pleased you enjoyed the post and hope it helps. Good luck xx


(Sheila Walshe-Blackmore) #5

Well done, Nikki. I too gained weight after each of three kids were born. My weight went up and down like a yo-yo, and at one point I had sizes 12, 14, 16, `18 and elasticated in the wardrobe. In 2005, I suffered a burst brain aneurysm, had brain surgery, etc. I was lucky to be alive. When I got out of hospital, I ate all around me. Looking back on that time now, I was probably depressed and didn’t realise it. I went mad for stuff like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream,etc., etc. Suffice to say, about six weeks post-surgery, I was like Jabba the Hut from Star Wars! I am still struggling with the weight and with high blood pressure, so exercise is out for the moment. However, I think I will definitely take some of your ideas and see what I can do. Thanks for the post, it has been inspirational! Might have some difficulty cutting out the alcohol, but I will try. Thanks, Sheila.


(Suzanne Fitzgerald) #6

that’s true Nikki, even the kids clothes are smaller fitting in France than the UK. My 2 year old is still wearing size 9-12m UK but 18-24m French.

I think I’m carrying about half a stone from my first 2 kids - will wait and see what I’m left with after the 3rd. I don’t think I’ll ever fit in my original skinny jeans ever again but I have my nice new pair that my hubby treated me to last year which I’d be happy to fit into again.

I intend to have a break for at least 2 years between No 3 and any future little Fitzgeralds so hopefully I’ll have a chance to tone up & get rid of those cheeky eclairs I’ve been enjoying :wink:


(Nikki McArthur) #7

Thanks Suzanne. I didn’t have any problem before I had the children - could eat what I wanted and never had to bother with exercise. It seemed that I gained over 1/2 stone with each child and I’ve had 5, so I was probably nearly 3 stone over weight. I think my child bearing days are over now (well I hope so) so at least I should be able to keep the weight off :slight_smile:
And yes I know there are plenty of big women in France, just not as many as there are in England and I’m sure the average dress size is much smaller.


(Suzanne Fitzgerald) #8

Well done Nikki, I’m the first to admit I’ve been one of those really lucky people who didn’t need to exercise & could eat whatever I wanted (although my portion sizes are probably smaller than the average persons). Since I’ve had the kids though all that has changed and in between being pregnant I end up feeling a bit big on my arms, tummy and thighs. I know I need to do exercise to sort this out and I keep saying when I stop having kids I’ll sort it. I hope it’s not too late by then! My hubby used to run every other day so that he could eat his beloved French bread & maintain a weight he was happy with, another trick was to drink a pint of water before eating as that stops your stomach thinking you’re as hungry & then overeating.

My hubby and I are totally different, when I’m not hungry I stop eating, he eats everything on his plate so I have to be careful to load it up with vegetables and go easy on the potatoes & red meat.

Your method is pretty similar to what we followed a couple of years back and he lost quite a lot of weight (combined with his running) but since he’s been working away it’s more difficult to stop it creeping up as he doesn’t run anymore & the temptation of a quick sandwich at lunch is too much. Once we’re back home again I’m sure he’ll be out running again, for now I try to be careful about how many times a week we eat red meat & carbs which is helping.

I too read the French Women Don’t Get Fat book and it was an eye opener, although I have to say there are some Fat French Women - just check out the crisps & frozen pizza sections of your local supermarket!


(Nikki McArthur) #9

I used to enjoy going to the gym in england, but we don’t have any nearby here. My son actually has a home gym which he keeps at our house, so I suppose the answer is right on my doorstep. Only thing is I don’t konw how to use it and don’t want to end up doing myself an injury or looking like Mrs Universe! I’ll have to try and find someone who knows about these things and can give me some training.


(Alison Plummer) #10

I joined a ‘ladies’ gym about a year ago now, but for the first 6 months just used it as an excuse to eat what I wanted !!
I do enjoy going now and as I always go to in the same time slot I know a few of the women and it makes it easier.


(Nikki McArthur) #11

I must admit I’ve slipped up on the bread recently -soo many lovely breads in France. But if you really enjoy bread, don’t cut it out completely, just cut down and you’ll enjoy it all the more :slight_smile: I’m finding the exercise part much harder. I’ve yet to find the solution for me - I’m still looking.


(Alison Plummer) #12

Well done on your weight loss so far. I’ve been following (British) Weight Watchers since April and have lost over 2 Stone so far. It seems to follow a lot of what you have said too, I have almost cut out alcohol as well and don’t really miss it too much, but I can’t cut out bread. I have tried in the past but I LOVE bread. We did bring back some Warburton Thins (like a thin roll) in the summer and I’m enjoying these as a sandwich once a week.
Enjoy your exercise when you start, always easier said than done !!