January 20, 2013

The Real Reason Why French Women Don’t Get Fat

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Every morning on my walk to catch the tram to Universite de Geneve, I look down Rue Versonnex and see the snowcapped Jura Mountains in nearby France. A view of the famous symbol of Geneva, Jet d’Eau, is about a minute walk from my residence. My runs along Lake Geneva provide picturesque views of the mountains that seem to encircle the city. To say the least, my first week abroad in Geneva, Switzerland has been idyllic. However, there has been one thing that has been constantly nagging me: My stomach.Frenchwoman Mireille Guiliano explains in her book French Women Don’t Get Fat the paradox of why the French are able to enjoy rich foods yet still remain slim. Very, very slim as I have seen. Her book has been widely published and lauded for its focus on the French lifestyle over actual diet. Guiliano attributes the well-known svelte figures of the French to portion control and savoring every bite through using all of the senses. I may not be directly in France, but Geneva is considered to be on the “frontier” because of its close proximity to its neighboring country. 70,000 people cross the border daily from France to come to work in Geneva, and the French are ubiquitous in this city. Though I have only been here a week, I would like to disagree with Guiliano and explain much more simply why French women don’t get fat: They are constantly starving. There has been a recurring pattern these first six days: I wake up hungry, my stomach grumbles during the day, I go to bed hungry and I wake up in the middle of the night ravenous.  The 2 a.m. jet-lagged alertness leads me to come to the nightmarish realization that all that awaits me at breakfast is a croissant. To be more exact, an air filled puff of bread with absolutely no true nutritional value or protein. Lunch usually brings a small baguette sandwich slightly bigger than the size of my thumb, sparsely stuffed with some sort of cheese and meat. Around 7:30, it is finally time for dinner, but at that point I am so hungry that I no longer feel hungry. This meal usually consists of some variety of pasta, which yet again provides little to no satiating feeling for a starving American. Take into account that I am lactose intolerant as well as gluten intolerant, which pretty much eliminates all of the staples listed above. Trying to sustain myself off of the few snack bars I packed and the bar of chocolate given to me by my program will only last me so long. I know this is supposed to be about the amazing food I should be eating in Switzerland, but here’s the reality: A large Domino’s pizza is 45 CHF (about $50) and the two breasts of chicken I bought at the grocery store were 10 CHF (about $13). That is enough to buy a club pack of Wegmans’ Boneless / Skinless Chicken Breasts, let alone two singular! All of the window displays in patisseries and fromage shops look incredible, but I have neither the money nor the digestive design to enjoy them. I will predict it now: My mother is going to read this (thanks for reading, Mom!) and send a very concerned e-mail. But don’t worry, Mom, this American will turn into a Suisse Miss in no time, as I am starting to get the hang of things. I cooked a vegetarian chili last night, and at some point will probably sacrifice my stomach and indulge in a fondue. I also plan to go grocery shopping in France, a 20-minute train ride away, where food is almost half the price in comparison to Geneva. For the first week, it has been adjustment to the Swiss lifestyle and eating habits. The city and distant mountains are spectacular, and I am determined to enjoy the local eats well in one-way or the other. Or at least figure out a way to shut my stomach up.

Original Author: Casey Carr