11 DAYS, 11 POUNDS
Guest writer: Robin
Hi there Americans,
Some time ago, my better half (this is just a common expression that in no way reflects the reality of the situation) asked me if I wanted to post something on her new Unintentionally Frenchified blog.
As you probably know, this delightful blog deals mainly with three topics: pizza, travels and the life of an expatriate in France.
It is essentially in this last section, that my lovely wife spends all her free time typing furiously away. Revealing intimate details of her life here in my country of birth and her country of heart (I’ve got to repeat this often to convince her). Even if I’ve always said that it would only be fair if I too completed this exercise about the US, I never actually took the plunge. If I’m going to be completely truthful, I didn’t immediately accept Kate’s invitation to guest write on her blog, despite repeated requests.
Was it the lack of time, inspiration or maybe both, that never enabled me to overcome the anxiety of the blank sheet of paper? We’ll never know, but I recently returned from ten days in the United States for Christmas with Kate. I figured it was about time for me to turn the tables and write about what you folks mistakenly call “the best country in the world ” (no offense Kate). While the US is a country that I do quite adore, this is not, I am telling you, “the best country in the world.”
This trip was not my first trip to the United States, nor my first adventure in what Kate calls “the good ole’ Midwest.” I hope you’ll forgive me but I’m not going to focus here on the hundreds of things that separate us, the cultural or culinary habits that differentiate us. If you wish, I will do this in another post because yes, if Kate allows me, I’ll be back. What I would like to share with you today is the (small) trauma resulting from this most recent trip. A psychological session, one could say, that cost me absolutely nothing.
So sit down, get a notebook and grab your fanciest pen. Put on those reading glasses, a crisp white collared shirt and a burgundy v neck sweater (this is how I imagine all psychologists) while I lie down on my couch and start sharing my story.
Warning for the reader: what will follow must be put in a “European” context and is in no way meant to shock you.
“I am a little over 33 years old and I have discovered a facet of aging that is most unpleasant: weight gain. Like most of you, or at least half of you if we only consider the men, I had possessed, until my 30’s, the most extraordinary ability to eat a rather ghastly diet. I filled myself unquestionably with McDonalds, kebabs, pizza, pasta, beer and alcohol and never once did my body decide to store all this junk food in pockets of fat dispersed around my waist. Naïve as I was, I lived in the illusion that my metabolism would accept indefinitely the gourds of delicious fat and addictive sugar I was continually inhaling.
Well, I guess you can imagine that the reality is much different. I started around 30, to gain slowly, but surely, gram after gram. Until one day, my mother, whom I absolutely adore and who thinks I’m the best thing that ever happened to planet earth, said to me “my darling, you are getting fat.”
I must emphasize one thing to the reader, the word fat in French doesn’t have the same significance as it does in English. Or so Kate tells me. Fat for my tiny, but mighty, mother, means any excess weight you’re carrying that isn’t healthy for your body anymore. She’s not commenting on the difference in my physical appearance, she’s making a comment about how the extra weight is affecting the health inside of my body.
Back to the story. The fact is, after that fateful day, I realized that my new beer belly was around to stay and if I wanted to get healthier, it wouldn’t happen on its own. Thus began, the merciless struggle between myself, sports, kebabs and burgers. For about 3 years, and until this fateful Christmas trip, I struggled week after week (this is slightly exaggerated to capture your attention) to eliminate, through exercise, my frequent lapses of mental weakness. During these times, I would inhale my favorite burritos and burgers like I owned shares in the restaurant and then hit up the gym during the lunch hour to soothe my guilt. I like to say that I saw some changes with my new routine, but that would be an out-right lie.
And so, on December 19, Kate flew with her still 70-kilogram husband to Chicago, Illinois.
Everything did not suddenly change for me when we arrived in the Midwest, but after a couple of days exposed to American marketing, and some well-known international brands that I was dying to try, my mental resistance crumbled.
It’s important keep in mind that when you live on the other side of the Atlantic, several things make dieting WAY more easy:
- First off, advertising in France is regulated and the promotion of products considered harmful to your health (fat or sweet products) are even more controlled.
- You can’t advertise everywhere and anytime you publicize unhealthy food, the ads are systematically accompanied by the following phrase “for your health, avoid eating too much fat, too much sugar or too much salt”.
- There is a tax on junk food which makes products high in fat or sugar, way less attractive for your bank account, than healthy products like fruit.
- And of course, the temptations in France aren’t near as numerous as the US. You won’t find Chick-fil-A, Arby’s and Starbucks on every corner and I’ve never heard of anything open 24/7 except one pharmacy in the entire city of Paris.
The little willpower I was clinging to completely disappeared and I gave into a pizza, burrito, and two plates of Mac and Cheese in just two days.
From there no one could stop the downhill acceleration. Though, we must admit, that the 4 Christmas celebrations planned over 10 days did nothing to help my fragile state. But as the journey continued and I gradually felt my stomach widen, I knew the struggle was real and that I was doomed to lose this fight.
In my defense, temptation is ever-present and overwhelming in the US. You’re confronted with the temptation to spend money and consume products, but also the temptation to eat unhealthy products. And to put an extra spin on, the amount of calories in American food is 1.5 to 2 times greater than what we are used to in Europe. Three examples from this trip come to mind particularly.
A mandatory ritual of any trip to the US for Kate is to go fill up (objects + food) at Target. And by losing myself in the food aisles while Kate was feeding (not literally in this example) her addiction, I realized that everything was packaged so that the consumer, aka myself, fills their greasy little pockets with crap. Fat products like chips are labeled with a 0% sugar to give the impression that they are not so bad for your health. Sweet products like maple syrup have a huge 0% FAT sticker. I walked around those aisles contemplating why a society would seek to exploit the ignorance or lack of attention of consumers so maliciously? Why try to mislead the buyer? Even if I was attempting not to fall for this devious little trick, it’s tough on your mental restraints. I left Target with a bag of Skinny Pop and the idea that selling at any cost in the US, takes priority over the effects of food on the body.
My second observation, a real cracker upper, occurred on an “off” vacation day. We had no special Christmas celebration planned and jetlag was winning so we decided to order a meal on UberEats for lunch. I was already a little aware at that moment of the stress I was putting on my body, so in a surge of survival, I scrolled my phone to reach the healthy and light part of what the application proposed. The first proposal was a light pizza. Intrigued, I clicked on the link to discover what exactly do American’s consider a light pizza? Well, ladies and gents, the answer was a pizza with “less than 300 calories per slice.” This personal pan pizza had exactly 8 slices. So basically a 2400 calorie pizza (ie, my full daily intake) was considered light. LOL. I die. After laughing for 5 minutes and quizzing Kate on her expectations as an American of a “light meal,” I went ahead and ordered an enchilada off the normal menu. #caloricsuicide
The stroke of grease was brought to me during our car trip between St. Louis and Minneapolis. 8 hours of a long straight line. About halfway through the trip and around lunchtime, Kate, her family and I, all decided to stop for lunch “on the run”. This apparently meant eating in the restaurant, but taking only 15 minutes. I’m French, so eating in 15 minutes doesn’t actually exist, but like anytime I’m with Kate being American, I’ll give it a try. The chosen “on the run” restaurant was Culvers. In order to save time, we decided that the front car, which was 15 minutes ahead of our car, would order for everyone. We looked up the menu on the internet to make our choice. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Culver’s website, but it’s exceptionally well done: menus, food compositions, nutritional value, calories … And f*ck, the calories are insane. A medium fry with chili and cheese sauce: 690 calories. A double cheeseburger: 720 calories. And cheese curds. Don’t even get me started on the beauty, that are those golden fried nuggets of cheese at 510 calories. It was really that day on the I-94 road, that I accepted my fate and understood that my struggle to stay under the 70 kilos was impossible …
December 31, after a 9 hour flight home, suitcases full of gifts, hearts filled with love and an abundance of irreplaceable memories, I arrived home and weighed myself: 75 kilos. That’s an 11 pound gain in 11 days. I lost a 3 year fight in 10 days. And the question is, do I regret it?…….
Guest post by the babe magnet, Robin! You can message him here on Instagram if you need some helping learning how not to resist all that fast food ;).
I’m always interested in guest blogging for someone or having some one guest write on Unintentionally Frenchified! Don’t hesitate to email, DM, Linkedin, Pinterest, Facebook Message if you’re interested! Happy Monday Folks!