Saturday, 19 May 2012

à la française: Tips for Eating Well

Right before coming back to Singapore from Montreal, I was able to go to Paris for 6 wonderful days. :) It was just a fantastic time, and not just because I was able to meet up with Donald after being apart for awhile (he's doing his exchange too in Germany), but there's just something so special about that city, even in the rain. (And it rained pretty much EVERYDAY we were there) It definitely helped that I'd gotten used to seeing so much French in Montreal, but only after going to Paris did I realize how easy I'd had it in Montreal where pretty much everyone is effectively bilingual. 

That said, there will be posts dedicated to waxing lyrical about Paris but for this one, I just wanted to introduce some new stuff that I've learnt about the French, namely, some secrets about the way they eat. It's a topic that's much-discussed and it's definitely of interest to me -- how is it, that they are able to eat all that DECADENT food, and still remain slim, with relatively great health? I suppose I got a little worried after all those pastries in both Montreal and Paris and well, being someone who's always been a bit preoccupied about weight and healthy eating (ask any of my friends ;p), I figured there's no better time to take a leaf out of the French's book. 

The book, The French Twist: Twelve Secrets of Decadent Dining and Natural Weight Management, by Carol Cottrill, was simply fantastic. I devoured it in just a few days over the past week and there have been so many gems gleaned from it! But just as a teaser, here are the 12 secrets that she's written about: 
1. Embrace your individuality, your beauty, and your natural weight. 
The French woman accepts her body and rather than strive to attain a model's physique and weight through strict, obsessive diet and exercise, aims to keep herself at her natural weight through natural means. Here's the thing - they tend to regulate their weight through relying on internal cues, such as eating slowly enough to know when they are almost full and satisfied, then stopping, rather than relying on external cues such as when their plate is clean or when the TV show they are watching is over. 

2. Do not resist that which you crave. The more you resist, the more it's likely to come back to you. 
Diets are not the way to go. Because most of the diets revolve around restriction and denying oneself of certain types of foods. Rather than abstain from or deny oneself certain types of foods e.g. chocolates/carbs completely, it's better to give in to cravings but learn to eat in moderation. And after awhile, you'll realize that when you can have something and you've eaten a bit of it already, you don't crave it so much any more. 

3. Quality over quantity. 
Well cooked food from fresh produce is always better. "Elevate the quality of your food, and you will naturally eat less because high-quality, nutrient-dense food delivers the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients we need to feel satisfied." 'Nuff said. I do know that it's often the higher quality foods that are more expensive and hence less accessible to certain groups of people. It's something that should/needs to be changed but in the meantime, it's also good to consider that spending more money on healthy foods also means you'll be able to spend less money on recovering from illness. Investing in your health is probably the best form of investment you can make for yourself. 

4. Eat pleasurably. 
The French have a way of eating leisurely and savoring their meals. I never thought of it this way until reading the book but, "Hunger is the best sauce". And from the French point of view, instead of rushing through and scarfing down food when hungry, it's better to wait, feel the hunger and savor each bite slowly, enjoying the food through heightened senses. 

5. Everything in moderation. 

6. Real food is the way to go. 

7. Eat smaller portions and adjust your appetite accordingly. 
 Try eating smaller portions and in a slower, more leisurely manner, listening to your body as you do so. And once you reach a point at which you're satisfied but not stuffed, it's time to stop. And the remaining portions can be taken away (if you're at a restaurant). Gradually, you will learn how much food your body really needs rather than how much you yourself assume you need. 

8. Remember your metabolism is at play. Your body's metabolism changes depending on the time of day (with our digestive force being the most active at lunchtime) so we should eat accordingly. Lunch should be the biggest meal of the day, and it's not good to skip breakfast because when the body senses it's not getting enough energy, our metabolism rate slows down. Also, getting enough sleep is important!! With less sleep, the hunger hormone Ghrelin increases while the fullness hormone Leptin decreases. That's a simple way of putting things but everyone knows that without sleep, one just feels peeved. Interestingly, being aware helps with digestion because digestion begins at the 'mouth-watering' stage. By always being aware of what we're eating and tuning in to our senses, it's easier to be completely satisfied with a meal because we've been completely present. 

9. The French approach to exercise - be active doing what you enjoy. 
Apparently there aren't so many gyms in France because people tend to lead naturally active lives. Moderate exercise is really all the body needs and the best way to go about exercising is to "find pleasure in movement". It's better to find an activity we enjoy and feel pleasure in, rather than force ourselves to exercise in a certain manner that we feel is punishing. 

10. Make each meal a ritual to enjoy. 
 Cultivating dining rituals help make meals more enjoyable and allow you to focus on enjoying the meal and the company. This helps you focus on savoring and enjoying the food rather than be distracted by something else such as the TV. 

11. Know what you value and work towards it. 
 A simple equation, but a meaningful one at that: Value + Action = Outcome. I like this. Because it really does break things down into bite sized portions for thought. If you value your health (value), you will try to eat better quality food in a healthy manner (action), and this will be beneficial (outcome). So it's always good to remind yourself of your values and know what whatever action you take in accordance with those values with result in a particular outcome. If you value convenience or instant gratification, you might end up eating fast food or engaging in a quick fix diet, the outcome of which is more likely to be poorer health or a diet that doesn't work.

12. Eat the French Way 

There's a lot more that could be elaborated on for individual points but it's getting late and I'm getting sleepy. But I did want to introduce these tips for healthier eating. At the end of the day, I do like the way the French go about things. Instead of going on a diet to control weight, they don't deny themselves anything but rather, go about eating in moderation, sensually and pleasurably, with all the attendant benefits. It's so common-sensical, yet not everyone does it. 

Along this note, I've embarked on a little change in my life for myself, that of cooking my own lunches to bring along to school. I figured with this, there are multiple benefits -- 1. I'll be able to control what goes into my food, and I'll be able to pick healthier, better quality ingredients 2. I'll be learning a new, very necessary skill in life (God knows my culinary skills are just above the level of non-existence) 3. I'll be able to control the portion sizes. 4. I get to save some money! Furthermore, it's something that I've learnt from my time spent in Montreal. Pretty much everyone there at the hospitals packed their own lunches! Even the cafeterias came equipped with microwave ovens and toasters for people to reheat their food. It's not something you see often in Singapore, lemme tell you that. And once again, it makes SO MUCH SENSE. I'm glad that it's something I picked up from Montreal. Traveling rocks for reasons like these; when you can assimilate some aspects of another culture into your own life. 

So for the very first week, I decided to make a huge load of two things to pack to school over the course of a few days: 
1. Tabouleh Salad 
2. Eggplant Pomodoro Pasta 

I fell in love with Tabouleh Salad after my housemate in Montreal, Jessica, made some. And not only that, it was available in all the supermarkets and there were so many Lebanese restaurants to eat at! SIGH. <3

Instead of Bulgur, I used couscous because there happened to be some at home and I've no idea where to find Bulgur O_o. The first attempt came out pretty well! Just a little too soggy/lemony but nothing that a little bit of quantity tweaking won't solve.
The Eggplant Pomodoro dish actually turned out really well! :) It's easy enough because it's all just about cutting up the ingredients and then frying them. What really helped with the taste though, were the green olives and capers because they added the saltiness to the mix (so I didn't need to add any additional table salt).
PhotobucketI'd forgotten to add the garnish on. :) It just looks way better with that burst of green. 
More to come soon!

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