Saturday, May 30, 2009

Unhealthy or Healthy Americans?

When I moved to France, and even now, many of my friends would comment on how thin and beautiful all the French women were going to be. I can not tell a lie; they were right. Most of the people are rather thin there, but you rarely see joggers or people exercising. At least they were not as common where I lived in Lille as they are here in Houston. Just a general observation on my part is that the French live a more active lifestyle. I don't mean they exercise, I mean they have to walk everywhere. Typically a person walks to the market and carriestheir groceries home. They just move more. Add that to smaller portions and you get smaller people. Not rocket science.

The thing is, when I lived there I only moved when I had to. When I worked I had to walk at least 45 minutes every trip. When I went to the market or to meet friends I had to walk to the tram or the store. But only once in 15 months did I lace up my tennies and go for a jog. However, I did walk with my good friend Lillian. We would walk about twice a week just around our neighborhood. In regular shoes. I always thought it was funny knowing that if I did that in Houston I would have changed and looked sporty. But she always just had on normal clothes so I matched by wearing jeans. It was always cold or at least cool so it's not like we ever broke a sweat.

I actually lost weight once I started working because of the increased walking. Well that and it took my body so many calories to keep warm on the way to and from anywhere. But I never changed my eating habits and I never once had a "light" beer. Living so close to Belgium I would think it a sin to even ask for a Miller Light. Actually I think you can only get Amstel Light or Heineken Light, but I digress. So I drank wine and dark beer and lost weight. But I never felt really healthy (shocker).

Since I have been home I have joined a gym and started a simple run walk plan. I even tried to swim laps last week! Who knew my ass was made out of lead? That sucker sank after the second lap. Solution: breast stroke and act like you belong there. I felt like a fish out of water while in the water! Let's just say I am not a natural lap swimmer. My point is though that I feel more healthy here now and have lost 9 pounds while living in Unhealthy America! Plus I really think Americans are looking more towards a healthy lifestyle, although that could just be in my neck of the woods.

Looking back I know I could have joined a gym and worked out, but I felt guilty spending 65 euro a month when I wasn't working. Then when I finally got my papers to work I had been there for 10 months and felt I needed to contribute to the bills, although Cyr always told me I didn't have to and to buy shoes. I married a good one didn't I?! Plus it was so cold from October until March that exercising outside was just too painful to think of. I didn't even bike because I just knew I would get in a crash and not be able to tell the people in the hospital what was wrong or that I would get lost and have to call Cyr for help. :-)

Lesson I learned: Looking back I did not find things to do or ways to exercise and feel healthy when I lived in Lille. I think it took me too long to feel comfortable with the language and I let that intimidate me and I sat at home too much. Thank goodness I met Steph and Marie Jose or I would have become a hermit! I should have pushed through it and found places to ride my bike. I used to ride an average of at least 40 miles a week here and then I did nothing when I moved. It was my own fault really.

Next Time: I'm going to get out more. Plus the fact that now I speak a little more French helps. But if any of you move to a place where you feel like you don't fit in, I would say take advice from Nike, Just Do It. I wish I had, it would have made my stay even better.


parlezvouskiwi said...

Wow, thank you for this thoughtful hindsight. It got me thinking and Im going to take your advice when I move to France soon. Just do it, and not be intimidated. So true. Thanks for the great post, Ive bookmarked it. :-)

Leesa said...

Hi Susan!

Nice to read your post! Glad all is well there... All is well from our end....

Take good care!


Anonymous said...

Lovely to read your thoughts about this... so many french people comment on my food choices or what I cook, and then they'd eat their crossiant for breakfast (cigarette in hand) whereas I'd eat poached eggs on toast!

I put on about 8kgs when I moved to France, 2 years later I've lost 10kgs! and I've not done anything drastic. Over time I think my body has gotten used to the food, and perhaps I care a little more what I put in my mouth but wont do the drastic dieting like I did back home. I do walk everywhere too because I have to, I don't have a car like I did back home. I now jog and I would usually only see men when I went out but I've found if I run in the early morning there seems to be more women out - swimming pools and group aerobics are full of french women exercising too.

I don't feel as healthy here either as I did at home. I worked out a lot in NZ whereas here I only do the minimum to ease stress.

Good work on the pounds lost, keep it up at the pool, you'll get better once your body gets stronger.

Bethy{aka}lilsis said...

Gosh, I am so jealous!
I always say that I'm going to eat healthier and exercise more but I work so much that I am constantly exhausted!! And they say Americans are workaholics...
I can't comment on other countries because sadly, I've only ever briefly been out of it and it was Mexico- however, I am planning and scheming for me and my hubby to live abroad hopefully in the next 5 years!
But, I do think that we are pretty healthy here, even with my total admitted laziness/lack of energy. Everywhere you read there is a diet to make your body healthier, etc. And considering that I'm 21 and had to have gallbladder surgery last week, I know I'm going to start watching what I put in my mouth :/
And as for gyms- my small town supports 3! So we may the fattest nation, and in part it's really because our demanding lifestyles usually have us opting for the cheap, easy fast food than a meal you have to prepare beforehand...
But when you can't pick a magazine or newspaper or even look online without being bombarded by new diet fads and ways to reduce your carbon footprint- it's very obvious that even if we're not healthier, then we are conscious enough that we want to be :-)

Susan in Lille said...

parlezvoukiwi (love the name by the way) - Best of luck with your move to France! What a wonderful time to move there, not sure where you will go but summers are great most everywhere in France. Good for you, get out there and participate.

Leesa - I think of you often because there are now so many cupcake companies here, Paris needs The Cupcake Princess!

Kim - Thanks for the post! I was laughing at how they tell you their choices are better while eating a croissant and smoking, you are so right...that kills me. But obviously not them eh? (har-har) Thanks for the encouragement about the pool, I hope you are right!

Bethy - I completely agree with everything you have said. It seems right now Americans really are trying to do better and are very conscious of health and the environment. Sorry to hear about your surgery, I hope you are healing quickly.

Leesa said...

Hi Susan!

I know someone via blogging who is from New York and who lives in Paris... her name is Cat Brunier and hopefully she will open a cupcake store one day in Paris.. I sure hope so! Anyhow... Her blog is
Check it out...
Take care,

Andromeda said...

I totally don't feel as healthy in France, despite not gaining any weight since I stopped running after the half-marathon. I guess it's all the walking and poorstudent diet of beans and toast, but I just don't feel active and fit, no matter what the scale says. After the move the running will start up again, and I'll definite be cooking better.

Glad things are going so good in Texas!

Susan in Lille said...

Leesa - I'll check it out! We should be making a trip back to France before Christmas and I would love to see you in Paris. Will keep you posted.

Andromeda - I have been thinking about you and your running! I am sooooo slow. I started in the Snail Group. I bought a great book from Runners World on how to get off the couch and start. I'm doing like a run 2 walk 2 right now (how embarrassing) but I feel great!

Andromeda said...

As long as you feel good, it doesn't matter how fast or how long you go! And this way you'll stay motivated and keep doing it, which is the whole point :-)

Kate said...

Good for you with an exercise plan. And you will have plenty more opportunities to have a blast in France!

Bethy{aka}lilsis said...

Where'd you go?

Susan in Lille said...

Bethy and Kate -

Thanks for pulled me out of my "life is work" phase. I'm back and ready to be friends again.

Marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marie said...

Hello my friend from Texas !
I read this post as soon as you posted it but couldn't find a moment to comment."Life is my work/Work is my life", I was like you until we left for vacations 1 month ago...
I am happy to read that I helped you a little bit about going out of your La Madeleine appartment but I wish I did more ! We had a tough Winter and although I've been through tougher ones in Boston, it felt different in Lille...can't tell why ??!!
I know exactly how you feel about exercise and being/eating healthy in France. I used to exercise a lot more in the US and your post made me wonder why ! My first answer is that exercising can be complicated in France (like a lot of everyday life/basics stuff) and that you really have to be motivated and willing to waste time to be able to do it, even just a few laps. Don't you think ?
Maybe it's also the food ? I ate completely home made meals and always natural ingredients at my parents' and we all felt really great after meals...and in really good shape to exercise ! Could that be the main reasons why exercise is not that easy in France ?
Since I moved back 2 years and a half ago, I gained 10 pounds...shame on me !!