Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 6 Countdown to Provence: Perspective of a French-American

Fabienne Spier Prepares Seasonal Foods

I spoke at length with Fabienne Spier, Professor of French, George Washington University in Washington, DC about food and lifestyle distinctions between Americans and French people. We explored the topic of how to lose excess weight and still find joy in life.

The American lifestyle is spreading to France and may be contributing to its increasing rates of overweight and obesity Fabienne told me during our interview. Fabienne observed that French people see the American way of life as new and fashionable. In France it is considered a treat nowadays to take children to McDonalds and more people are driving to the supermarket, eating out at lunch, and nibbling during the day.

Still Fabienne believes that “French Women Don’t Get Fat” (book by Mireille Guilano) because they place great importance on beauty in general. They pay careful attention to  their weight so they can stay attractive. She acknowledged though that some women in France use smoking to stay thinner, a practice that is neither healthy nor admirable.

Fabienne moved to the US from just outside of Paris 20 years ago. She was struck by lifestyle differences she discovered upon arrival. Among the key dissimilarities she noticed were:

  • The notion of “cooking from scratch” was new because everything is usually cooked from scratch in France.
  • Americans experienced guilt rather than joy from eating.
  • Eating out was routine in the US. In France eating out is reserved for special occasions because it is more expensive than eating at home.
  • Exercise looked hard and seemed to be an activity that must be done in a gym. France people get much of their exercise from walking, the main mode of transportation.
What does Fabienne advise from her bi-cultural experience about how to lose excess weight while living joyfully? She suggests preparing (or learning how to prepare) simple foods. In France meals always start with a large salad with a homemade vinaigrette or soup which are very filling. “Cooking doesn’t have to be complex. Simpler is better” she suggested.

Fabienne’s 5 top tips are:

  1. Cook simple, quality foods. Quality is much more important than quantity;
  2. Walk 45 minutes a day;
  3. Drink water instead of sweetened beverages;
  4. When hungry grab an apple. They are filling, sweet, and satisfying; and
  5. Be curious about the foods you buy. Your decisions have an impact on your health, that of your family, and the planet. Read labels, try to buy local products, and choose meat and fish that have been humanely and sustainably raised (more expensive but you don’t need to eat them every day).
What about seasonality? Fabienne offers us a dessert idea using rhubarb, which is delicious, beautiful, and now in season.

Recipe: Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote with Ice Cream

Serves 6 people


8 Stems or a bunch of rhubarb
1 Pound strawberries, stemmed (organic: fresh or frozen)
1 Cup of water
1/3 Cup sugar
1 Scoop vanilla ice cream per serving
6 Biscotti

To make rhubarb and strawberry compote: Wash and chop rhubarb. Place in saucepan. Add washed strawberries, water, and sugar. Cook for 15 minutes with lid. Remove lid and continue cooking until water almost completely evaporates.

Serve compote lukewarm topped with a scoop of ice cream and serve with a biscotti.

Clearly Fabienne gets much satisfaction from cooking simple foods that are of high quality. After all she says, “Food is life!”

What tips have you uncovered that can help persons who need and want to lose weight and live in joy? (Please comment below).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 8: Countdown to Provence: Celebrating Food and Life

Fête de la Tomate
Have you heard the buzz about food festivals that will abound this summer in the US? Last Sunday’s Parade Magazine article, Hungry, Eat Your Way Across America illustrated the wide variety of places to celebrate the glory of specific foods in its May 22 issue. What better way to celebrate life and the bounty summer? How about the watermelon festival in Hope, Arkansas, Aug. 11-13 or the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, July 29-31? My mouth waters thinking about the Huckleberry Festival in Montana in August. I picked these unforgettable berries in the mountains of Idaho as a kid. Why had I imagined that only the French were crazy enough for food to host festivals that celebrate a single food? Check out these delectable festivals in all 50 states at

My husband and I've been to Jazz, lace, apple, tomato, and even a spelt (wheat) festivals during our annual treks through France each year for the past decade . The most remarkable and memorable festivals were the 2008 Fête de la Tomate on the grounds of the Chateau de la Bordelière and the Jazz festival in suburb of Mont Louis Sur-Loire just outside of Tours. At the Fête de la Tomate we tasted from among the 600 varieties of tomatoes and delighted in their dedication to saving heirloom varieties for future generations through their seed program. The shapes and colors ranged dramatically. Who ever heard of a white tomato? Can you imagine varieties of tomatoes like Paul Robson, Brandywine Pink, and Creamed Sausage? That day convinced us that there’s nothing better than a magnificent slice of tomato drizzled with a little olive oil and washed down with a good glass of wine “bien sur.”

When we weren’t delighting in tomatoes, or visiting the gardens and chateaus of la vallée de la Loire, we were kicking back at the Jazz Festival listening to Jazz musicians like Joe Henderson (American Saxophonist) and his band while enjoying “diner”and a glass of wine. 

What sorts of festivals can we choose from this summer in France? See below for a sampling.


Gastronomy by the Seine, Annual Paris Culinary Summit

Cycle Festival, Aix-en-Provence

Music in the Streets, Aix-en-Provence

International Festival of Lyric Arts, Aix-en-Provence

Foire de St. Jean, Craft Fair, Flea, and Sardines, Aix-en-Provencce


Wine Festival, Aix en Provence

Melon Festival, Cavaillon, Provence

Lavender Festival, Montélimar endormes Provence

Raspberry Festival, Concezi


Fête d’Olives (Green), Mouries, Provence

Jazz, Avignon

Fêtes de Vin, Gordes, Provence

So whether you are in the US, France, or elsewhere this summer, we wish you a grand celebration of food and life.

Ah, hold on a minute. With all the enthusiasm about food, what about losing weight? The timing is good. Some of the lowest calorie foods that are packed with nutrition come with the bounty of summer. Think tomatoes, berries, and watermelon, and salads. And it’s a great time of year to step up your physical activity. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend that we increase our fruit and vegetable intake. The message is, “Make fruits and vegetables half your plate.”

If you’re planning to lose weight this summer, what are your strategies?

Jazz Touraine

Thursday, May 19, 2011

15-Day Count Down to Provence: Getting a Handle on Overweight and Obesity

This morning I got up early (very early) to get the facts on overweight and obesity.  I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about what’s going on with this worldwide phenomenon and share what I learned with you. 

I discovered that there is a debate about whether the US is the fattest country in the world.  Some Pacific Islands and countries in the Middle East exceed us.  Still, the US is the fattest country in the developed world, if we are to believe a 2010 report

The real issue is that virtually everywhere across the globe, the number of persons with excess body weight has increased since 1980.  And according to a related Huff Post article, the study shows that other countries are gaining weight faster than the US.  

Why should we care?  Health risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke associated with overweight and obesity give us reasons enough for concern.  Associated skyrocketing health care costs is another reason to become alarmed.  Did you know that health care spending is 25 percent higher for someone who is obese than for someone who is of normal weight? (Okay, call me a geek for statistics). 

How about France where we’ll live for the next three months?  France is faring better than most developed countries in terms of overweight and obesity.  It ranks among the lowest of the world’s 33 wealthiest nations.  Still obesity rates have increased in France and are expected to continue to get worse.  About 40 percent of people in France are overweight or obese (in contrast to 68 percent in the US).  In a article from 2007, the US ranked high for the percentage of adults who are overweight (ninth place) while France ranked quite low (128 of 194 countries).

What’s the cause of the overweight and obesity epidemic?  According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Changes in the food supply and eating habits, combined with a dramatic fall in physical activity have made obesity a global epidemic.”  A rapid transformation in eating habits may be afoot.  For example, the much-lauded Mediterranean Diet, had all but disappeared in Greece as of 2008. Along with the diet’s extinction came more calories and greater girth.  

Please comment below on these questions:  What can we learn from these fast facts?   What should we be doing collectively and individually about this epidemic?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

First Entry 5/15/11: A Summer in Provence

Le Voilier Restaurant, Bonifacio, Corsica 2010

Bonjour!  Hi everyone.  It’s Kay Loughrey.  I’d like to take you with me on a journey to France (also Prague and Krakow) this summer.  Want to come along?  What a blast we’ll have on the Whole Mind Wellness Blog as we savor the trip together and explore how the French (and others) feed their souls, find pleasure in life while apparently living healthfully (food, activity, and weight).

What questions do you want answered during our journey and what photos do you want to see along the way?  Here are a few burning questions of my own as I get ready to leave on June 3 for three months in France:

1.      Do the French really get more joy out of life with their famous “joie de vivre”?
2.      Is it really true that French women don’t get fat?  If so, how do they get away with eating all that cheese and "mousse au chocolat" and drinking “beaucoup de vin” without gaining weight? 
3.      The French seem to be healthier too—why is that?
4.      How will my own weight fare during a journey where I’m sure to search out more than a few French tarts?

A little note about the photos in this blog entry.  They came from France though not from Provence.  We took these photos on the French Island of Corsica last June.  As you can tell from the photos, the food there is fabulous as elsewhere in France.

This fall I will begin offering a new series of Whole Mind Weight Management seminars and tele-seminars.  My challenge this summer will be to enjoy a shortened version of “A Year in Provence” (by Peter Mayle) and not gain weight.  Can I do it?  Please share your pearls of wisdom and tell me whether it's possible to do both.

I plan to take lots of photos and interview plenty of people to help answer our questions about savoring the good life while leading a healthy lifestyle.  You tell me:  Can the two go together? 

Now, please add your comments below “s’il vous plait.”

A tout a l’heure!

Yours truly,

Kay Loughrey
Whole Mind Wellness Blog

Ajaccio, Corsica, 2010