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How To Stay On Track With Your Diet: Lessons Learned from a French and Italian Eating Discipline
If you live in a culture that fosters life’s balance, slower living, strict eating discipline, and mindful eating, can you imagine how much easier it to stay on track with your diet?
Oh là là.
Years ago when I counseled my first client on eating healthy and losing weight, I didn’t have much experience on how to urge them to stay on track with their eating plan. I couldn’t offer them my personal experience neither, because I didn’t have a specific diet and exercise program that I followed. (I was lucky to have the body type that just ate healthy and exercised a lot and this was enough to stay fit and slim). My professional training as a dietitian didn’t thoroughly prepare me on how to counsel clients with how to keep their weight in check.
Years ago I didn’t live in France.
Thinking about it, it is relatively easy for a third person, like a dietitian, to tell a weight loss patient the basics for a successful diet:
1. make an eating and exercise plan 2. aim for small goals 3. focus on small and steady weight loss.
But for a ‘typical’ client, their habits take over and the person moves back to living in what is comfortable for them (and they regain the weight they lost).
My years of counseling clients on weight loss has emphasized (more and more to me) that it really isn’t easy to:
1. lose weight 2. keep weight off 3. maintain a balanced eating and exercise plan
Why? Because life gets in the way. Money and time are tight. Work, family and other life stresses takes over. Sometimes we just get tired of restricting and denying the foods we love.
If you live in a culture that promotes a more disciplined and balanced approach to eating, it is easier to stay focused on good eating habits. The crowd and the neighbor does it too. On the other side, if you live in an environment that consistently tempts you in the other direction, this makes it an uphill battle to stay on a healthy eating track.
In France, where I have lived for the last decade, the culture supports a more sane approach to eating. In Italy, a country where I have visited extensively, I also see on a superficial level the Italian’s way of sitting around the table and “mangia, mangia!”
This article will try to encourage you on how to stay focused on your weight goals and stay on track with your eating and exercising. As I have done with the other articles in this weight loss series (see the first article here) , my weight loss methods are from observations from my experience in France and Italy.
How the French and Italian Food Culture Promotes Balance
I have a unique cultural situation that professionally helps me to see what works in different food and eating cultures. For ten months of the year we live in France and for two months over the summer we live in the United States, on the Jersey Shore (and I feel lucky to visit Italy a few times a year!).
What I really appreciate in all three cultures is each country’s uniqueness on their approach to eating and food. In France there is a strict meal discipline. This French eating schedule can be rigid at times, but the benefits of cooking, waiting and treasuring a long meal outweigh the rigidity. In Italy, food is always on the agenda, it is a type of love to share a meal together, to have nonna (grandma) cook for you. (Even if the Italian children are getting bigger from all this sharing the food love)! The Italians do have a structured eating schedule like you see in France, but the Italian culture seems more food easy-going than in France. In the United States, I like the laid-back ways of eating, especially in the summer, but there is not enough meal discipline. In America, there are too many people grabbing meals on the run, eating in their car, eating standing up and eating at all times during the day and night.
How the French are a Disciplined Culture
Let me tell you a secret about the French culture. You may not know this, either from your visits to France driving around with the speedy (crazy?) French drivers or what you may imagine (think bikes, berets and baguettes) but the French have this discipline in them, in their work, in their habits and in their way of living. And do you know where it starts?
At a very young age in school.
For me, this school discipline is still a cultural shock. As an example, when I look at my children’s schoolwork, I see this strict discipline come out with remarks from the teacher. Work must be neat, handwriting perfect, and don’t forget to use a ruler to underline the heading and date. Have pride in what you hand in. Have pride in yourself.
For French people, this discipline stays with you. Presenting schoolwork that is neat. Presenting yourself as neat. It is just part of the culture and you learn to integrate it as part of yourself when you grow up in France. Nothing wrong with this. It is a cultural thing.
French Women and Their Approach to Body Weight Discipline
In my opinion, French women are the queens of strict meal and body weight discipline. And you know what? In the global and fast paced industrialized food market we live in, this strict meal discipline may be what saves French women from obesity problems more than in other cultures.
I know that French women have this allure and reputation for being chic and thin. This might be true about French women in Paris and in other major big French cities, but where I live in Pau, the French women are mostly ‘normal’ looking and most do not look like those skinny French women you see in magazines. But even here in the SW of France, French women are French women and most of them have this underlying sentiment of body discipline. One that comes from their younger days in school and home culture, and one that is sparked uniquely by a camaraderie of the French women culture. It is this last discipline that keeps these French women (mostly) in their regular weight over the years. Even in menopause, a difficult weight period for every woman, French women may gain a few pounds, but more than that is often kept in check by the scale.
What French women do for their body weight discipline is that they rarely go outside that window of the 5 -10 kilogram (about 11-10 pounds) limit. How do I know this? By the weight remarks that I hear from French women after having a baby, going on vacation, holiday times like Christmas.
I only have 5 kilos to lose to get back to my pre-baby weight. I gained 2 kilos over vacation so I am cutting back for a few weeks. Etc. Etc.
And if French women need help to get back to their regular weight? They get help. Some do it the typical way: by seeing a nutritionist, exercising more, cutting back on food and alcohol. But some do things more drastically: using medication, smoking more cigarettes, starving themselves. You know, the same things other people do in every culture to lose weight.
But the difference in how the French culture stays on track is that the French (and mostly the French women) are queens of body weight discipline because they do not allow themselves to go outside this small bracket of a few kilograms weight gain. When the scale starts moving up in one direction, even a little bit, these women take immediate action and get back to where they were.
So that is my first tip of staying on track with your weight. Practice body weight discipline and do not get outside that window of your normal weight. It is too hard to get back. (I am not saying to start smoking more cigarettes or to starve yourself, I do not agree with these methods to lose a few pounds, even if I know that this is what some do). If it means pumping up exercise after vacation or a holiday period, or putting on those favorite jeans to make sure they fit; then do it.
Stay on track with your eating and exercise program by keeping a close track to stay in the window of your weight and get back inside when you have gone over your weight goals.
Need some other tips? Here are some more:
Weight Loss Methods That Work: Other Ways to Stay On Track With Your Diet
1. Detach yourself from any emotional aspects related to food and drink.
2. Break any bad habits, like eating in front of the television, computer.
3. Use an application on your smart phone or computer that helps track weight, calories and exercise.
4. Have a support system: family, workout buddy, at work and with friends. You cannot do this alone.
5. Find ways to force yourself to eat well and exercise : keeping healthy food stocked at home and buy an expensive gym membership you don’t want to waste.
6. Fight your cravings and addiction by getting help. If you are having cravings related to sugar or carbohydrates (read here).
Stay focused. Stay disciplined. Stay on track.
Do you feel motivated or I don’t know if I can do this? You can! Why wait for tomorrow? Every step counts, as long as you are moving forward. One key to stay motivated is to eliminate those factors that will stop you from weight loss success. Such as sugar addiction.
If you need more information on anything in this article, you can also contact me with any questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are looking for one to one counseling via Skype or telephone, I also counsel private clients. Contact me and I can send you a list of my services.
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I wish you success in your weight loss goals.