Having seen a bit of the world, I had lost my taste for attending the local university. I now wanted to study languages in a Grande École (like an Ivy League school) in Paris and, on top of that, to take a literary track at the Sorbonne at the same time. It was unusual and really an insane workload. My parents were not at all keen on the idea of Paris: if I got in (hardly a given, as the competition is legendary), it was going to be a big emotional and financial sacrifice to have me three and a half hours from home. So I had to campaign hard, but thanks in part to the obvious persistence of my raw nerves, in the end they let me go back to Paris for the famously grueling entrance exam. I passed, and in late September I moved to Paris. My parents always wanted the best for me.
By All Saints' Day (November 1), I had gained another five pounds, and by Christmas, five more still. At five feet three, I was now overweight by any standard, and nothing I owned fit, not even my American mother's summer shift. I had two flannel onessame design, but roomiermade to cover up my lumpiness. I told the dressmaker to hurry and hated myself every minute of the day. More and more, my father's faux pas at Le Havre seemed justified. Those were blurry days of crying myself to sleep and zipping past all mirrors. It may not seem so strange an experience for a nineteen-year-old, but none of my French girlfriends was going through it.
Then something of a Yuletide miracle occurred. Or perhaps I should say, Dr. Miracle, who showed up thanks to my mamie. Over the long holiday break, she asked the family physician, Dr. Meyer, to pay a call. She did this most discreetly, careful not to bruise me further. Dr. Meyer had watched me grow up, and he was the kindest gentleman on earth. He assured me that getting back in shape would be really easy and just a matter of a few "old French tricks." By Easter, he promised, I'd be almost back to my old self, and certainly by the end of the school year in June I'd be ready to wear my old bathing suit, the one I'd packed for America. As in a fairy tale, it was going to be our secret. (No use boring anyone else with the particulars of our plan, he said.) And the weight would go away much faster than it came. Sounded great to me. Of course, I wanted to put my faith in Dr. Meyer, and fortunately, there didn't seem to be many options at the time.
DR. MIRACLE'S WEEKEND PRESCRIPTION
For the next three weeks, I was to keep a diary of everything I ate. This is a strategy that will sound familiar from some American diet programs, such as Weight Watchers. I was to record not only what and how much, but also when and where. There was no calorie counting, not that I could have done that. The stated purpose was simply for him to gauge the nutritional value of what I was eating (it was the first time I ever heard the word). Since nothing more was asked of me, I was only too happy to comply. This is the first thing you should do, too.
Dr. Meyer demanded no great precision in measurement. Just estimate, he said, stipulating "a portion" as the only unit of quantity and roughly equal to a medium-size apple. In America, where the greatest enemy of balanced eating is ever bigger portions, I suggest a little more precision. Here's where the small kitchen scale comes in. (Bread, which sometimes comes in huge slices here, might be more easily weighed than compared with an apple, which seems bigger here, too!)
Three weeks later, I was home again for the weekend. Just before noon, Dr. Miracle, distingué, gray templed, made his second house call. He also stayed for lunch. Afterward, reviewing my diary, he immediately identified a pattern utterly obvious to him but hiding somehow from me, as I blithely recorded every crumb I put in my mouth. On the walk between school and the room I was renting in the Seventh Arrondissement, there were no fewer than sixteen pastry shops. Without my having much noticed, my meals were more and more revolving around pastry. As I was living in Paris, my family could not know this, so when I came home, my mother naturally prepared my favorites, unaware I was eating extra desserts on the sly, even under her roof.
Excerpted from French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano Copyright © 2005 by Mireille Guiliano. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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