I always learn a great deal about food and fitness when I visit my son Steve; his French wife, Sabrina; and their two sons in Montpellier, France.
Montpellier is located in the Languedoc region on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Like Provence, its next-door neighbor, the Languedoc region is filled with vineyards, castles, Roman ruins and antiquities.
Montpellier boasts numerous schools and universities. Consequently, the public squares, restaurants and coffeehouses are filled with high-spirited youth intermingled with occasional tourists and a few retirees. During this particular visit, the rugby world cup competition was nearing its finals, further adding to the high spirits of pedestrians on the crowded streets.
Surrounded by extraordinary hospitality, good food and wonderful wine, I indulged myself. Breakfast was the first treat of the day, usually beginning with strong coffee, a croissant embedded with bits of chocolate and a piece of fruit.
Lunches and dinners were more leisurely and complicated. A typical meal might begin with an aperitif followed by a substantial entrée. The next course, a green salad, would be followed by bread and an assortment of exceptional cheeses. A round of fruit and yogurt might come next. Finally, an irresistibly beautiful dessert accompanied by rich coffee would end the meal. Each course was, of course, accompanied by wine.
At home in California, I drink wine sparingly, my coffee is weak and lunch is a bowl of vegetable soup. But each day in France, I drank goblets of wonderful red or rose wine throughout the two-hour, multi-course lunches and dinners. Plus, after each meal, I sipped delightful cups of dark roasted coffee with the best of them.
How, I ask myself, can people eat like this and stay trim? That, of course, is the famous French paradox.
My daughter-in-law, for example, started her pregnancies weighing 99 pounds; four months after giving birth, she weighed 101. Six weeks later, she weighed one pound more than she did before her pregnancies. Predictably enough, she lost that pound very shortly.
I’ve decided the French paradox does not apply to tourists, or at least to me. Unlike my extended French family (including my son who has lost 30 pounds since moving to France), if I eat bread, cheese, wine, chocolates and six-course meals each day, I do not stay trim. Instead, after fourteen days in France, I came home two pounds heavier.
Without regretting the extravagances that resulted in the extra weight, I’m eager to resume my eating and exercise regimen. That may be the French paradox pour moi. Oui?