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Eating "sensibly" in Paris

I have a couple of medical problems being monitored. My DRS and various coaches want me to consider "sensible eating while we are in France" (is that an oxymoron as my helpers suggest?) for nearly eight weeks this May/June. 31 days will be in Paris.

I have to wonder as many faithful on this thread must be my age or older...approaching 70... how can you eat the food regularly discussed and stay healthy?

How does one do a four hour meal with regularity?

Do French restaurants provide specific info on their menu's content in terms of sodium, fats, calories, etc for my chief coach, my wife, to ponder before she let's me order?

I need to know your strategies for staying at a healthy weight given the tremendous temptations available on any block in the city.

Of course we could eat home meals prepared from fresh air markets in our apartment, and will on some days; but, I don't get the feeling you regulars do that.

So what are your secrets?

Or are you all obese? (Don't take offense as I am, sadly, obese.)

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  1. there are lots of Mediterranean, African and Arabic places in Paris that are lower in fat than your 'stereotypical' French food.

    1. "Do French restaurants provide specific info on their menu's content in terms of sodium, fats, calories, etc"

      Not that I have seen - I assume the expectation is most people know what goes into the food. I tend to find with good fresh ingredients its not what goes onto the plate but more about how many plates you eat. Thus I think the best advice is to eat small and varied. Lots of the modern degustation menus are quite small portions with simple fresh produce so probably lower risk.

      Probably the best approach in Paris (and everywhere) is to reduce carbs as I think breads and pastries will be your downfall - cutting out fats and calorie counting is fairly soulless (and there is more and more evidence its a poor weight control strategy). So include a little cheese every now and resist dessert. .

      1 Reply
      1. re: PhilD

        <<I tend to find with good fresh ingredients it's not what goes onto the plate but more about how many plates you eat. Thus I think the best advice is to eat small and varied. >>

        Better words could not be written and holds true in all walks of life, not just for a wonderful trip to Paris.

      2. Actually, obesity is far lower in France than in the US (although it's on the rise...)

        I found it far, far easier to eat sensibly in France -- loads more veggies, less processed food. Cleaner eating all round, with lots of healthiER options.

        And you'll be walking a lot -- my guess is that you'll actually come home a kilo or two lighter.

        1. great suggestions.

          For me, when I go to Paris I rarely actually frequent traditional french restaurants.

          There is a great supply of ethnic restaurants (especially vietnamese) where you can eat much healthier. These restaurant also tend to be much more open minded (if you aren't causasian, you will much less likely to run into racism there as well).

          Agree about avoiding bread and pastries as much as possible. The biggest challenge is that it is nearly impossible to get a high protein, healthy breakfast in France. If you are staying in a place with a kitchen, fix yourself an omelette for breakfast every day and it will reduce your hunger through the day.

          Also don't be afraid to order a la carte instead of the prix fixe menus. For me, the menus usually have way too much food and encourage you to eat more than you should

          1. Actually, the French do eat sensibly. No between meal snacks. No or little sugary drinks. Breadstuffs at breakfast or as a sandwich at lunch. Seasonal vegetables. Reasonably sized portions of meat.

            We usually gain no weight while visiting France up to a month at a time, and usually even drop a pound or two because of reasonable portion sizes and lots of walking.

            Sample what is important to you during your stay, but remember that sample is the operative word. We most often buy one piece of something and split it. That way we can try more things. You can also split an entree or dessert at a restaurant but not a plat or main course.

            15 Replies
            1. re: mangeur

              we do that a *lot* -- order two of a two-course menu -- one of us orders the entrée/plat, the other orders the plat/dessert -- then we split the entrée and dessert. (and not so much as a raised eyebrow from the serveur -- they'll usually wordlessly bring two sets of flatware for each course, just in case anybody wonders)

              Works well for us -- that and a pichet de 25cl and we're good.

              1. re: sunshine842

                I agree with this strategy. We also do this at lunch. I find that eating the larger meal at lunch prevents weight gain because you have the rest of the day to walk it off. At dinner, we usually have some poached fish & salad that we buy for a picnic or to bring back to the apartment. With all the walking, we usually do not gain any weight. Also, before leaving, we usually do the 17 day diet (book title) & lose as much weight as we can to give us a little room "to grow."

                1. re: sunshine842

                  That's such a smart strategy. That would totally satisfy me too.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    This is our first trip to Paris, May 5-13. We're planning something similar. I'm 50; Hubby is 54. We're both a bit heavy but plan to do a lot of walking (as on previous vacations to DC and NYC).

                    Last few months, our serving sizes have greatly reduced, we literally cannot eat big American servings anymore without feeling uncomfortable. The idea of a larger lunch and lighter dinner follows what we've been doing. I like the 2-course split idea.

                    I asked Husband about fancy places or reservations. He says we'll play it by ear. Is that possible?

                    1. re: propita

                      Someone on this board suggested that I ask my hotels to make reservations for me, which they did quite happily. I corresponded with the hotels by email. You really do need reservations at most places I've found.

                      1. re: propita

                        Getting into many "fancy" places without prior reservations may not be a problem. Or a reservation may possibly be made same day or day before. Problem rooms will be those that are small and trendy. Pay attention to Sundays and Mondays.

                        Lunch may be less of a problem also.

                        1. re: propita

                          Agree with mangeur that small and of-the-moment being the problematic reservations. But also keep an eye out for the public holidays - May has a few of them occurring on a Thursday when some smaller/ owner-operated places will take the Friday as well.

                          1. re: shakti2

                            Indeed. Last year, several of our target dining rooms closed for the entire week surrounding May 1.

                            1. re: shakti2

                              yes! I realized that we'll be in Paris for VE Day, a Thursday. While we like that idea of being in Paris on that day, I realize this could skew the long weekend, both sightseeing and foodwise.

                              We're not for "trendy" places. Simple food is more our style. And no wine, it doesn't mix with our meds. I was never a big fan anyway, as I seem to be sensitive to the taste of alcohol to the point that it tastes bad to me. Odd, huh?

                              Husband is diabetic, but has the all clear from his doctor to have baguettes pretty much all he wants, provided he's walking a lot. "It's only three weeks and you'll be walking."

                              Any advice for low-price food and snacks is appreciated.

                              1. re: propita

                                there are always tons of sandwich stands for a pret-a-manger bite on the go (and all the ones I've had were really good). While Mrs. Ephigenia Fussybottom of Croakford-on-Leeds would sooner die on her toilet than be seen eating while walking in the street, you won't be the only ones.

                                1. re: hill food

                                  You realise "Pret-a-manger" is a chain of UK (now international) sandwich shops

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    yeah, I know they're in the US as well and they kinda suck IMHO, I was just trying to be clever and use a bit of Frenchified nonsense.

                                2. re: propita

                                  France has all kinds of great foods but is in general not a snack culture. You can always go into a boulangerie and get a viennoiserie, but it would be regrettable to come to France and target snack.
                                  "Low-priced food"
                                  Do you have a kitchen ? That would be the best option to keep your price down and to find things to eat on a big holiday day.
                                  Otherwise, see if Jeanne B on rue Lepic is open. Its week-day poulet de Challan lunch menu, at 15 euro for 2 courses, can hardly be beat for quality and price. Otherwise, try the excellent Turkish places like Urfa Durum and Ozlem, but they ten always to close for holidays and even closed for dinner sometimes.

                              2. re: propita

                                Tourists play it by ear, people serious about food put a plan together and reserve.

                                You don't need to reserve every meal but the ones you really want to try it makes sense to reserve. And its polite to reserve even if its on the day if its a last minute decision - walk-ins can be hit or miss, giving them a call and reserving is just polite (and Parisians respect good manners).

                                Do remember Paris is a big business city and the hungry workers go out to lunch. When I worked there we always booked our lunches and often needed to try a few places to get a seat. So its not just the trendy that get booked, lots of good simple places do as well.

                                Do remember French portions are far smaller than the US so you may need to adapt accordingly. Sharing is good, but don't order just one dish between two - sunshine orders two set meals and shares dishes.

                                1. re: propita

                                  "fancy places or reservations. He says we'll play it by ear. Is that possible?"
                                  Which fancy places? Fancy places well known for good food would be more difficult to book than non-fancy places. Fancy places famous for having a beautiful room and mediocre food, like the famous touristy brasserie chains, may be easier to book, but I would not recommend them.
                                  As Mangeur says, you can reserve in many places just one to 3 days in advance, especially if not for a weekend, especially if not for a weekend night.

                            2. I think if one eat sensibly at home, one shouldn't have much problem eating sensibly in Paris. My partner and I are almost your age but we are not on any particular diet such as low salt, low fat, low calories. We basically eat what we want during our annual stay in Paris. We have an apartment and eat-in a lot because we enjoy the markets and cooking; also for us eating out day after day can be mentally tiring. It is age related slowing down. When eating out, like most posters, we split courses and frequently skip desserts unless it is has something we can't turn down. And we keep our restaurant alcohol in check; budget also figures in. Since we don't snack at home, we don't snack while traveling; maybe an afternoon cafe stop or share a pastry. If we are staying in hotels, we never eat two restaurant meals a day; one meal is alway something light and simple. While traveling, we are out a lot more and walking is always more enjoyable than public transport or taxi. In Paris, it is not unthinkable for us to stroll from Montmartre to our apartment in the 5e or from our friends in Passy back. Since you are spending a large amount of time in Paris, it is not like one is on a 5 day greatest hit eating binge. Just pace yourself or after a few days, your body will tell you to.

                              1. "How does one do a four hour meal with regularity?"

                                I doubt that anyone does that regularly. I do it rarely, for a celebration, birthday, out-of-town good friends coming through, accompanying food journalists, etc.

                                "Do French restaurants provide specific info on their menu's content in terms of sodium, fats, calories, etc for my chief coach, my wife, to ponder before she let's me order?"

                                The restaurateurs here consider that their responsibility is to give you good food. They have no undue nutritionist ambitions.

                                "I need to know your strategies for staying at a healthy weight given the tremendous temptations available on any block in the city."

                                Quality is everything. Quantity is meaningless. I suppose people on this board are not victims of famine. Why place any importance on quantity ?

                                "Of course we could eat home meals prepared from fresh air markets in our apartment, and will on some days; but, I don't get the feeling you regulars do that."

                                The regular locals do.

                                "So what are your secrets?"

                                See above.

                                "Or are you all obese? (Don't take offense as I am, sadly, obese.)"

                                5'3". 99 lb., with a personal built-in gym otherwise known as a 4th floor walk-up.

                                Besides prioritizing quality over quantiy, people in Paris also walk a lot. A long walk after a good meal is part of the enjoyment.

                                1. As a native who eats out for most of his meals, I find modern French cuisine to be exceptionally healthy... fresh and seasonal ingredients, low sodium (sometimes too much so), small portions. Maybe you should focus on this genre rather than trad/ classic for most of your meals.

                                  Of course you will have to cut down on bread and sugary desserts, avoid offal, and abstain from snacking.

                                  The key component of exercise is easier in Europe. If you are prone to a lazy pace when walking, try to speed it up to match the urban pace of Parisiens. And, in Paris, use the Vélib bike system as often as possible... the fear of traffic and of getting lost will disappear with experience and if you have a good mapping function on your phone (adapted with a local SMS card).

                                  Sightseeing can also have its own inbuilt exercise opportunities. Zigzag (and huff and puff) through the streets and stairways of Montmartre to go from, say, métro Pigalle to métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt and back... ok, ok, you can have a rest at Coquelicot/ rue Abbesses for a cuppa or La Mascotte/ rue Abbesses for a plate of oysters or Jeanne B on rue Lepic for a light lunch. Or a long walk in the very hilly Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th to be rewarded with one of the best pano views of Paris and a glass or two of wine at Rosa Bonheur or Le Pavillon du Lac... and while in the Buttes Chaumont area, take a detour to the impossibly charming Mouzaia quartier (google it for a better idea ... and to prevent me from going on and on about it), and maybe another little detour for lunch at the time-warp Bar Fleuri on the rue du Plateau @ rue des Alouettes. Or, continuing the "butte theme", a hike around the charming Butte aux Cailles in the 13th... starting with the very good Tue + Fri + Sat street market on the boulevard Blanqui/ place d'Italie, then the passageway through the very modern social housing complex (?51 or so bd Blanqui) up to Rue Cinq Diamants and then to rue Butte aux Cailles.... lunch at Chez Gladines or Les Cailloux or, for fab North African nosh, Chez Mamame ... stop off at the honey shop at 21 rue Butte aux Cailles... and wander at will... charm and exercise guaranteed.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Parnassien

                                    One correction to my post, Marché Blanqui is Tue, Fri and Sun mornings... not Sat.

                                    1. re: Parnassien

                                      "avoid offal,"
                                      But that's why I live in Paris.
                                      "Montmartre"
                                      As for Montmartre, where I live, I used to do the stairs up 2, down 1 and then on the other side down 2, up 1 (as I was taught by my life food coach (see Parigi I'm OT)) but as venerability has imposed itself on me I more limp and pant than anything else.
                                      But back fully on topic, hychka, as someone who approached 70 a decade ago, like others
                                      - I only eat lunch out and walk/garden/museum, etc after
                                      - portions are sensible
                                      - I haven't dwelt over lunch for 4 hours in a half-century
                                      - "sodium, fats, calories, etc" are not listed or considered by me or them
                                      - are you all obese? 6 feet 155 pounds, more fat, less muscle than when I rowed, but hey,
                                      - like Mangeur, I have to come back to America every month for a few days and find I have to watch my weight, not so in France.
                                      PS I'm a physician and don't listen to doctors. Just kidding, I listen and wait for the next Cochrane report http://www.cochrane.org/cochrane-reviews

                                    2. I need to add another note. Particularly for a first time or infrequent visitor who has an interest in food, Paris can present an impossibly enormous array of the stuff beyond dreams. But the truth is that while there are wonderful products not found elsewhere, there is also a huge amount of fabulous looking but not worth eating items in every category. It's tempting to want to try them all, but soon one becomes inured to the mediocre. With limited time and calories, one really has to do a lot more window shopping than actual eating.

                                      One has to learn to buy the smallest quantity allowed so as not to wind up with today's leftovers squelching tomorrows finds. It's where only moderation allows one to enjoy the most creations in a defined time.

                                      1. The good news is that Paris is a wonderful city for walking ..and walking ..and walking some more. I always have two three-course meals every day (and would never skip the bread) while in Paris but have never gained weight, probably because of all the walking we do.
                                        More good news -- meals are much better balanced than in the US and chicken in Paris tastes much, much better than chicken in the US, Also, some bistros offer a 2 course menu in addition to a 3-course option, which Mrs. Dcbbq appreciates.

                                        1. I'm older than you, although not seriously overweight. If you've not been to Paris before, I understand your trepidation, but fear not!

                                          If you rent an apartment for your stay, you will be able to shop the fabulous markets and prepare at least some of your food. We actually prefer to do that and save our dining money for the "special" places. and never eat more than one "major" meal a day - and sometimes not even that.

                                          Add to that all the walking you'll do, and you'll be able to fit in the great cheeses and chocolates for which France is so famous. Relax and enjoy, and I'll bet you'll return home a few lbs lighter.