There’s a woman in my spin class — our spin class — who rarely smiles. Her face is usually set in a mien of unsettling intensity, her eyes always agog at..something.
She is as lean as a whippet, her muscles shorn of all excess fat, all softening curves. She carries a large bottle water with ice cubes in it.
She’s in her 50s, maybe retired or self-employed or doesn’t have to work. She appears to live at the gym, working out for hours.
Culturally, as someone who needs to shed at least 30 pounds, if not more, I should envy her, despising my own excess adipose tissue — a tummy whose additional flesh I can still grab (OMG!), despite three months now of two-day-a-week calorie restriction (750 per day), no alcohol until Friday evening and two to three spin classes a week plus lifting weights.
(I do see a difference in my shape and size now, as do my husband and friends. It’s just sloooooow. This morning in the mirror I saw…shadows in my cheeks. Definition?!)
I’m working it.
She’s working it.
The day after my left hip replacement….Feb. 2012
Another friend of the blog, a fellow journalist named Caitlin, writes Fit and Feminist — and is now doing (gulp) triathlons.
We’re all headed to the same place eventually, some much faster and more heart-breakingly so, than others.
I live in an apartment building where we own our homes, so I’ve stayed for decades and have gotten to know our neighbors.
It’s also a building with many — most — residents in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Death stalks our hallways.
But in the past decade, we’ve also lost two lovely men, both mid-life, to brain tumors. One man on our floor died of cancer, at least three women in our building, (those that I know personally), are dealing with it.
It’s deeply sobering — (a fact I spend a lot of time denying!) — to stop and realize how fragile our bodies are, prey to genetic shit-shows we didn’t choose and must face nonetheless; my mother has survived at least four forms of cancer so I’m hyper-vigilant with mammograms, skin checks, Pap smears. I smoked once, for about four months, when I was 14 and am very careful about much alcohol I consume.
The weight I’m working so hard to shed is less for cosmetic reasons than for health.
And yet, life also offers tremendous sensual, shared pleasure in the form of delicious foods and drinks, which (yes, I admit) also include alcohol and sweets.
Some people dismiss this idea — sucking back juice or Soylent — treating food as mere fuel.
Not I. Not ever.
I was in great shape in fall 2014…then spent three weeks in Paris. Ooooohlala.
I look at young women, and men, in shorts and tank tops on the summer streets, carelessly luxuriating in their unlined, unscathed beauty, and wonder if they’ll look back in a few decades with rue or remorse, or happy memories of having savored it all while it was theirs to savor.
It’s a fine balance, this, between the mortification of the flesh, the discipline and self-denial to keep (or regain) a lean physique — and the slothful joys of long naps, a slice of chocolate cake or pie, hours on the sofa watching terrible television or playing video games instead of lifting weights or running or yoga.
Having worked non-stop to meet a magazine deadline, (the story for Chatelaine, a major Canadian magazine, which I’m really proud of, a medical one of course, is here), I ended up in the hospital, in March 2007, with pneumonia, and spent three days there on an IV, coughing so hard I could barely sleep. Drenched with fever sweat, I staggered into the ward shower, and — out loud, alone — apologized to my poor, aching, weary, worn-out body.
It was not, I finally and belatedly realized, a machine to be run until it smoked for lack of grease in the wheels.
Our bodies are the greatest of gifts, to be cherished and held and adored.
Getting in and out of these three cities, and around them while staying there, can feel overwhelming. It’s not. Download whatever apps work best for you (I am not an apps person!) or, as I do, grab a few really good maps, including separate maps of the bus and subway systems. Study them in bright light at your leisure — i.e. not in the dark/wind/rain when you look like a gormless tourist inviting thieves to snatch your purse, backback, phone or suitcase.
In London and Paris, the lines have names; in Paris for the final destination, and in Paris they also have numbers. In NYC, they have numbers or letters — the L, the Q, the 4. The problem with NYC? Sometimes they go express and you’ll have to get out before the stop you had planned.
I was heartened in Paris and London to see sliding glass panels at some station platforms that open in concert with the train’s doors — which prevent the horror of suicide or homicide. In NYC, which has nothing so civilized, be careful.I can’t say this too strongly; people have been shoved onto the tracks and killed by mentally-ill people standing near them. Stand as far back as possible from the platform edge and be aware of who is near you.
Cabs cost a fortune in London, less so in Paris and are not terrible in New York. In NYC, you’ll see bright green cabs — they won’t stop for you if you’re in Manhattan as they are designated for the outer boroughs. You’ll also go crazy around 4:30 p.m. trying to hail a cab as that’s the time of shift change and many are racing to the garage.
Take the bus whenever possible. You’ll see so much more of the city and start to understand its geography. Buy a weekly transit pass in each city to save money and speed you up; in New York, you slide your Metrocard to enter the subway, dip it when entering a bus.
Remember that others work there and are weary/late/in a hurry. Don’t hog seats/space with your bags and packpack!
When walking do not, ever, walk slooooooooowly and in a large pack of bodies that spans the width of the sidewalk. It’s rude, dangerous and obstructive. Nor should you abruptly stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk or stairs or the entrance to the subway. We’re in a hurry, dammit!
It’s too easy to assume your default setting of hotel/Air BnB/couchsurfing. How about house or apartment-sitting? A home exchange?
As I blogged here earlier, I spent my three Paris weeks in two people’s homes, both of them professional photographers and photo editors, (hence, great taste!) It was so much more relaxing for me to lounge away my mornings at the kitchen table or dining table, reading the paper or a book. I was able to spread my stuff out, do laundry, cook my own meals — and listen to music as loudly as seemed prudent.
In short, I felt truly at home in a foreign city. I loved food shopping, coming home with my baguette and gooey hunk of Reblochon (cheese) and some fresh figs for breakfast. I bought several sorts of loose tea and enjoyed it as well.
Unless I can afford a really lovely hotel, I’d rather rent a place.
A whole set of blog posts on its own!
If you love antiques as much as I do, you’ll quickly suss out the best vintage stores and flea markets in these three cities; in Paris, I scored a gorgeous fedora and 80s earrings at Eponyme in the 11th and was deeply disappointed by the sky-high prices at the flea market at Clignancourt. In Manhattan, check out the East Village — East 7th and East 9th — for lots of vintage and some great indie shops; I just discovered Haberdashery on East 9th. Heaven! It has one of the best-edited collections of serious vintage I’ve ever seen.
All three cities offer boatloads of style from smart, savvy retailers, whether the fabric department in London at Liberty (swoon) or the jewelry in Manhattan at Barney’s (bring a Brinks truck full of money.) Pick a cool/chic neighborhood and spend a leisurely afternoon exploring it, whether Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Marylebone High Street in London or the 6th or Marais in Paris.
Don’t forget — you can, (as I did twice on that trip) — box and ship home your new things from the local post office or a bunch of your less-needed clothes/shoes to make room/reduce weight in your suitcase; mine weighed just one pound below the limit when I returned!
These are three of the world’s most stylish cities. Sure you can schlub around in baggy pants and white sneakers and bright pink nylon, but you might as well wave a flag shouting “Tourist!”
Many of their residents take serious pride and pleasure in how they present themselves, whether the hipsters of Willamsburg or the Sloanies of London. In NYC, assume that wearing black makes for good native camouflage; women favor a good, fresh manicure (easily acquired in many affordable nail salons), and haircut, with polish in cool dark non-frosted shades or pale.
Parisian women, and men, are justifiably known for their style and it’s easy enough to fit in if that’s fun for you. Women rarely wear prints or leggings and many sport truly eye-catching accessories — an unusual hat, a terrific muffler, interesting shoes. I rarely saw anyone wearing high heels; cobblestone streets chew them up. Many men, of all ages, also wear mufflers or scarves to add a dash of color and texture. Look for unusual color combinations and flashes of wit — a lavender sock, a tangerine pair of gloves.
London men, especially, dress with care: narrow-toe, highly-polished leather shoes, narrow trousers, a great briefcase. Women dress more eccentrically and playfully there than in Paris or New York — all black in London and Paris just feels sad and lacks imagination, while the pom-pom-studded skirt I saw on the Tube in London would raise dubious eyebrows in much of New York.
Bring an umbrella to all three cities! In a month, (late December to late January), I faced a frigid low of 33 F to a high of almost 50. London was more humid. A small umbrella, (with a sealable Ziploc bag for when it’s soaked and you need to tuck it into your bag or backpack), is a must.
To stay warm, I’m a big fan of cashmere, even socks, mitts, scarf and/or hat. Light and silky, it’s super-warm but not bulky. Add a thin layer of polypro or silk beneath your clothes on the bitterest of days. Woolen tights aren’t easy to find in the U.S. but also make a big difference.
Eating and drinking
London will bankrupt you! I have little great advice other than…expect it and bring money. I save hard for my vacations and refuse to make myself miserable, so I mix up splurges, (a cup of tea at the Ritz in London [not the full tea!] for about $10) and a cocktail in their gob-smacking gorgeous bar for $30), with a quick cheap sandwich for lunch.
Keep in mind that museums and art galleries often have excellent dining facilities; I loved my lunch at Tate Modern,
Paris restaurants typically offer a plat du jour, always less costly than dinner. For about $15 to $20, you can enjoy a hot meal of two or even three courses. Wine can be a little as five euros a glass — about $7. Enjoy!
New York City has a terrifically wide array of options, from the hautest of elegant bars and restaurants to the usual national chains like Olive Garden, Friday’s, etc. The city excels at diners, old-school, all-service restaurants whose enormous laminated menus go on for pages. Few things make me as happy as settling in at the battered Formica counter, (look for a shelf or a hook beneath it to hang your purse or pack so no one can grab it and run), and eating there. Try Neil’s, at 70th and Lexington, or Veselka, on the Lower East Side, in business since 1954.
Whatever you do, flee midtown: boring, crowded, filled with tourists.
When you’re a visitor with limited time, it’s tempting to rush around all day and forget how tired, hungry and thirsty you’ll end up. Allow for a two-hour lunch or a glass of wine or an espresso sitting outdoors in a Paris cafe — which has heaters for the winter. Slow down.
And do not keeping staring into your bloody phone. Just….be there.
Read about your city!
These might be histories, or fiction or guidebooks. I always take my London A-Z, (a highly detailed set of maps), and my Plan de Paris, (ditto), both of which are small and slide into a pocket or purse easily.
There are, of course, dozens of great blogs written by savvy, stylish people living in each of these cities whose posts will be timely and give you all sorts of fun ideas; I like Small Dog Syndrome for London and Juliet in Paris (whose August 2014 posts about London were super-helpful and detailed.)
Pick up the local newspapers; in New York, compare the New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News to get a real picture of this city’s diversity; in London, the Guardian, Times and Daily Mail; in Paris (if you read French), Le Monde, and Liberation. The letters to the editor, alone, offer some serious insights into what people all around you are thinking and care most about.
Yes, you can read online but don’t. Go old-school and savor it.
Gives you something to tuck under your arm, and look like you belong!
The last few visits here we’ve rented an apartment. Unless we suddenly (hah!) come into millions, I suspect we’ll keep making that same choice, for a few reasons.
We stayed in a hotel for one night seven years ago. It was gorgeous but minuscule — and our own bathroom at home is 5 x 7, so I know what small looks like!
I’m also a homebody, so I like being able to laze around for hours in the morning, or afternoon, without the need to get dressed to eat or wait for a maid to come clean the room. I like listening to music on my computer (check out TSF jazz, a local station here I discovered this trip.)
I really enjoy having a home to come home to after a fun/exhausting day bopping around Paris. I love the city but — between crazy shoving crowds, the endless stairs of the Metro and the general pace — it’s epuisant!
A few thoughts for those of you considering it:
You can choose a neighborhood and get to know it
We rented on the Ile St. Louis twice, a two-bedroom with a large and comfortable bathroom and super-deep bathtub. We literally overlooked Berthillon, the famed ice cream maker, and could hop across the street for a boule of mango or passion fruit. The ISL is a quiet and bourgeois neighborhood but it’s perfectly located in the Seine, with easy walking access to the Left Bank and Right Bank (the two halves of Paris.) There are plenty of restaurants.
This time we’ve been in the 7th., also quiet and bourgeois. I’ve loved every minute of it and will miss it. It’s not a spot I would have chosen, (we were offered it by friends), so it’s been a great discovery.
I fail to see the point, or pleasure, of traveling the world only to be surrounded, in a hotel or hostel, by fellow North Americans — I travel to flee my normal life and its references! By renting a flat, whether you’re alone or with your family, you’re choosing to plant yourself into the country, culture and neighborhood, not cling to the safe and familiar.
You’ll live like a Parisian for a while
Not a bad thing! You’ll shop every day or so for freshly-baked bread, produce, flowers, and the many delicious cheeses. You can stop at a traiteur offering an array of delicious prepared foods, from a roast chicken to a quiche to salads. You’ll line up at la boulangerie for your daily fresh baguette or croissant.
You can cook!
Maybe your dream is to fully escape the kitchen. But if you love great food, what better pleasure than waking up to a fresh croissant and some runny cheese in the comfort of your temporary home? Making a tisane from some tea you bought around the corner and settling into the sofa? Enjoying a yogurt or fromage blanc? Fresh figs, the fattest asparagus you’ve ever seen…
It’s cheaper and healthier to eat even some of your meals at home plus the added sensual joy of shopping for lovely food in the city’s many street markets…not just racing around an enormous, soulless American grocery store jammed with nasty, useless, fattening junk food. (Yes, I loathe them!)
I pigged out our first week and could barely get into my stockings as a result. The second week, alone, I ate more often at home, consumed less, and many fewer sweets and wine. Voila!
I was amazed by my friend Rebecca — one day after arriving from the U.S. this week, and using a one-burner stove, she made a fantastic meal: bruschetta, green salad, fish stew and a bakery-bought galette du roi. (See, you won’t find that classic dessert on a restaurant menu!)
If you speak French, allez-y! If you don’t, you’ll pick some up quickly
I speak French so I really enjoy chatting to people here, whether asking a law student at the landromat to help me figure out to open the washer door (!) to buying new shoelaces. The city gets so many tourists you’ll find many shopkeepers and retailers able to converse en anglais — but so much better if you quickly adopt the essential habit of saying, every single time, Bonjour monsieur/madame! and Au revoir, monsieur/dame! It’s comme il faut and just a more civilized way to behave.
If you have fantasies of living here more permanently, (as we do), you’ll quickly get a better feel for the place
The sun rises here in late December at 8:43 a.m. Seriously. This city is much further north than you might expect, so days are short and often very cloudy. If you take the bus and Metro as locals do, you’ll experience the utter insanity of rush hour and can enjoy getting lost within the bowels of Chatelet Les Halles mid-renovation — all joys you’d miss if you cab everywhere.
The apartments I’ve been staying in here are both on the ground floor. Easy for luggage and shopping — but they don’t get much daylight. I now realize how essential it would be to rent or own on a higher floor to access the maximum precious sunlight as winter days here also tend to be overcast.
You’ll feel the rhythms of the neighborhood and the city
Almost every building has a concierge or gardien, a man or woman, (like a superintendent), who keeps a careful eye on the building and its inhabitants. In the 7th, our gardien was Marie, a lovely African-American woman with a rocking collection of sneakers, (les baskets!), who also delivered the mail.
You’ll see when shops open and close, and get to know your local merchants a bit as you buy your food and drink. You’ll see dog-walkers and babies in their carriages and kids on their way to and from school.
Don’t expect to find a washer, dryer or dishwasher
Most Paris apartments are small, and appliances and furniture scaled accordingly. Many homes will have a small washing machine for clothes, but fewer will also accommodate a dryer and I would never expect to find a dishwasher. Bring enough clothes and/or be prepared to spend an hour at the laundromat or do some hand-washing.
Things will look different — like electrical outlets!
French appliances use a two-pronged plug whose prongs are rounded. Be sure to bring a set of electrical converters with you. I’d also inquire before you arrive about how much power you can safely use before blowing a fuse. (See below!)
Don’t forget — you’ll be thinking and shopping in metric!
So if you want a small portion of meat or cheese or loose tea, think 100 grams, (cent grams, s’il vous plait!); a kilo = 2.2 pounds.
Also, in euros!
So don’t forget that it’s not $10 you’re spending but $13 or $15 or whatever the rate is that week.
Is there an elevator?
I made the mistake on a prior visit of taking a friend’s advice to stay in a flat he had enjoyed. I didn’t even think to ask…and it was a sixth-floor walk-up. Make sure, if you dislike hoofing it with tons of luggage up a narrow staircase, there is un ascenseur.
Is the flat properly heated/cooled?
I’ve been wearing a lot more clothing than I expected to sleep in.
Beware of minuterie
This oh-so-French invention is lighting that only stays on for a few minutes, saving costs for the building. You have to find the hallway and/or stairs light button outside your apartment, (not easy), push it, and move fast! Best to carry with you a mini-flashlight or headlamp.
How good is the apartment’s lighting?
We had only one small bedside lamp. Bring a mini-flashlight — (how to unlock that unfamiliar door in a dark hallway?) — and a headlamp, available from any camping supply company.
Don’t lose the keys!
Don’t forget the door code!
Remember your address and memorize the nearest Metro stops; functioning while jet-lagged and disoriented and non-French-speaking, (let alone drugged or drunk), is not a great combo.
Bring a large, light, capacious bag for food-shopping. You’ll need it.
Carry a Metro map and Plan de Paris, (or whatever app suits you), so you can always orient yourself quickly. You do not want to be the hapless tourist whose bag is snatched, backpack plundered or pockets picked while you dick around on the Metro or street corner. It happens!
And don’t — as poor Jose did — bring a power strip and try to plug it in. Nope. Blew a fuse and that introduced us to the (very nice) people at our local electric supply shop…after photographing the fusebox, which we did not understand, and emailing the image to our friend whose apartment it is…
Al Araibya reports that women in Iraq now face the prospect of FGM — female genital mutilation:
The al-Qaeda-Inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has ordered all girls and women between the ages of 11 and 46 in and around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, the United Nations said on Thursday.
“It is a fatwa (or religious edict) of ISIS, we learnt this this morning,” said Jacqueline Badcock, the number two U.N. official in Iraq.
The “fatwa” would potentially affect 4 million women and girls, Badcock told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Arbil.
“This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” she said, according to Reuters.
And here’s a story from The Guardian about how men feel completely comfortable telling women they do not know personally what or how to eat:
That so many women have reported this frankly quite incredibly patronising experience, is testament to the strength of the myth that a woman’s physical form exists, above all else, to titillate men. It’s the same mistaken assumption that lies behind the command to “give us a smile”, or the belief that a woman in a low-cut top must be looking for male attention.
As incredible as it seems, some women actually experience moments in their lives when their entire sentient being isn’t focused exclusively on providing men pleasure. They might wear a strappy top because they are hot, for example; eat a burger because they are hungry; or drink a diet soda because they quite like the taste. Explosive revelations, I know.
You might laugh, but for some, the belief that a man has an automatic “right” over the body of any woman he encounters in a public space is worryingly ingrained.
Should we laugh, cry, get angry — or start an MGM movement in reply?
I love cooking, and cookbooks and folders filled with recipes clipped from everywhere.
I knew Jose, my husband, was a potential keeper when he had the same 1989 cookbook I’ve used for years, and love, written by American ex-pat Patricia Wells, “Bistro Cooking.”
We once had friends over for dinner and the recipe — flambeed chicken with mushrooms — contained the unforgettable phrase “Avert your gaze” for the moment when you ignite the bird. (Or singe your eyelashes and eyebrows.)
Two cookbooks I’m getting to know and enjoy are so utterly different. Even their covers and photos are as unalike — as the British would say — as chalk and cheese.
One, Tamasin’s Weekend Food, is written by Tamasin Day-Lewis, sister of the British actor Daniel Day-Lewis. I have no idea where I bought it — probably on a visit home to Canada, where it’s much easier to find books by British publishers than here in New York.
I love everything about this book, from its silver end-papers to the way it’s structured: Friday Night, Saturday morning, Saturday lunch, Tea time, Saturday supper and Sunday lunch.
I love her elegant assumption, (so not true for us), that one has fled the craziness of city life for a weekend spent with kids and dogs in some crumbling 16th century rectory with muddy Wellies in the entryway.
It has a soft red ribbon with which to mark your place.
I love the photos of her — no make-up, lean-limbed, clutching a bunch of carrots in her blue jeans like some Celtic Scarlett O’Hara, long hair askew. Even on the cover, she’s looking down, not smiling and looks tired.
The recipes, each quirky enough to be interesting, are a mix of humble — home-made bread — and vaguely exotic, like pan bagnat., one of my favorite French things to eat.
I recently — on a weeknight even! — when it was rainy and windy and the night air smelled of woodsmoke, tackled her salmon fishcakes with creme fraiche tartare sauce. All of it made from scratch. She insisted on wild salmon — and, indeed it had a wholly different consistency than the filets we usually buy. The tartar sauce, as promised was “moreish, the sort of thing you have to dip your finger into.” Indeed! It was light, creamy, tart and unlike any gummy, nasty bottled tartar sauce I’ve eaten.
The other book, “The barefoot contessa back to basics” is very American, from its cover image of jolly, not-thin Ina Garten looking into the camera with its perky lime-green lettering, spine and end-papers to the photo of her gorgeous country house — a mansion in the Hamptons and super-elegant kitchen. It was a wedding gift to us from friends who, like us, love to entertain guests.
I like that she includes recipes for cocktails, one of which we served at a brunch for friends — mango banana daiquiris.
I like her list of 10 things not to serve at a dinner party, including garlic and raw onions, nuts and two fish courses. (We now make sure to ask every guest if there is any food they loathe, having once made a fantastic salmon dish at which my friend J [sigh] sniffed: “I don’t eat fish.”)
Not the right answer!
The recipes offer a nice range of choices and the color photos are terrific. I’m looking forward to exploring it further even as, (yes, somehow), I try to shed 30+ pounds over the next few months.
I’m intrigued by what we eat, why we choose it and how challenging it is to eat (and drink!) very differently if you’re trying to lose weight.
Here’s a link to a new book that explains how major food companies carefully engineer things like potato chips so they are quite literally irresistible.
In 2002, I gained 23 pounds in one year, stunning both my GP and ob-gyn.
I hadn’t done anything very differently, (no entire-cream-pie-eating-sessions, for example), but two major events had happened in the same six months — I’d started research, and lots of travel, on my first book and my mother (who survived) was found to have a very large brain tumor.
I went out to Vancouver, British Columbia, (I was in Dayton, Ohio doing book research when I learned I had a few days to get there) to see her through the surgery. Oh, and, I’d discovered some cysts in one breast (turned out to be nothing) that was scaring me shitless.
My point is this — if you’d commanded me, then, to count every calorie I was ingesting, I’d have laughed hysterically. Every ounce of my energy and wits was already in play.
But I do live and work in a wealthy suburb of New York City, where the alpha women are all ropy arms, size 2’s in sheath dresses, their calves the diameter of my forearms. And, in America, being productive trumps everything, so we’re all running reallyfastallthetime, tending to the endless needs of our bosses, clients and families, usually in that order.
Oh…..and our needs as well.
I think this skewed order is very much a part of why so many people are so fat. When the only source of real, cheap, accessible pleasure is something in a crinkly bag you can cram into your mouth while driving/commuting/sitting at your desk, you’re going to take the path of least resistance.
If the only thing that day (or week or month) that is going to make you 100 percent happy, (without a fight or eye-roll or endless negotiation with a whiny toddler), is a doughnut (dopamine hit alert!), odds are higher you’ll reach for the easy, quick and cheap holy trinity of sugar, salt and fat than a pious, low-cal apple or pile of celery sticks.
Our choices are also deeply cultural. I recently interviewed a senior manager who tried to call a lunch meeting of her staff in Montreal, a city with French values (food matters!) in a nation much more committed to life balance. No one came. I love that!
We are all deeply hungry, throughout our lives, for many things — silence, beauty, kindness, understanding, stimulation, leisure, pleasure, solace. Many of us simply do not have enough of these things in our days, or lives. We under-value them, or refuse to carve out time for them or have made too many commitments to many other people. We’re lonely or bored or overworked or underpaid. Possibly all of these miseries at once!
Food becomes proxy for so many other things we really want but can’t get, often in public moments when we most need comfort or joy: Fries instead of a hug. A Coke instead of a compliment. A bag of popcorn, with butter, instead of ten (six?) hours’ unbroken sleep. A 20-ounce latte instead of 20 minutes’ walk in fresh air with a lovely view.
I’m trying, still, to lose that weight, upping my exercise routine and being more careful about intake choices. So fucking tedious!
Simply counting all those calories doesn’t address the fundamental and challenging issues of every single choice affected by our knowledge [or lack of] nutrition, our limits of self-discipline, our self-awareness, and the limited time many of us have to choose, prepare and consume affordably healthy food.
Interesting, if deeply depressing, story in The New York Times Magazine by the paper’s health reporter, Tara Parker-Pope, about how bloody hard it is to lose weight — and keep it off:
While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.
“What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight,” Proietto says. “This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment.”
While the findings from Proietto and colleagues, published this fall in The New England Journal of Medicine, are not conclusive — the study was small and the findings need to be replicated — the research has nonetheless caused a stir in the weight-loss community, adding to a growing body of evidence that challenges conventional thinking about obesity.
I’m writing this post the day the story appeared and it’s already listed on the Times’ website as the fifth most e-mailed and eighth most-viewed story of the day.
“You see! It’s not just me!”
I can hear the frustrated bellow echoing across the internet, as fatties tell their skinnier/self-righteous family to back the hell off on the single easiest way to nag someone and make them really miserable. By telling them how to lose weight. “All you have to do is…”
I know because I need to lose weight — at least 30 pounds — and my father never lets me forget it. When I went out to British Columbia last year to put my mother into a nursing home — she, a former model with wrists the diameter of twigs — said “You’re fat.” Nice.
Two years ago this month I went to a nutritionist who put me on a vicious diet. No sugar of any form for a month. No carbohydrates or fruit for the first two weeks. I measured everything I ate with measuring cups and spoons. I drank a lot of water.
Yes, it worked. I refuse to get on a scale but I know my body — and see how my clothes fit. I shed 15 to 20 pounds within four months. I looked and felt great. Worried neighbors stopped my husband to make sure my weight loss was benign.
And then….why, yes, the weight came back on.
No, it didn’t creep up on me in my sleep. It showed up in the ways it does for all of us who weigh more than we should: through my own choices, of dessert, beer, the occasional cocktail, gooey French cheese.
I have no tidy answers on the battle between sensual enjoyment of a wide variety of food and drink, to me one of life’s great gifts, and being lean, taut, ever-vigilant for every stray calorie, exercising every day for hours to make sure the flesh is vanquished. My fridge contains the Holy Grail of 0 percent fat Greek yogurt. I eat it every day — and am sick to death of cold, wet, sour — but healthy! — nutrition.
There is a terrible, sad irony that millions of people worldwide are dying of starvation as the rest of us freak out over calorie counts and portion sizes.
Have you gained weight — and lost it — and kept it off?
Having just survived eight days of an all-vegetarian retreat — I may never eat field greens again! — it got me to thinking of the best meals (and, yes, drinks!) I’ve ever enjoyed.
The food we ate wasn’t bad at all, and in fact beautifully presented, healthy, full of vitamins. The cheese/fennel scones were perfect little pillows; the berry crumble lovely; the crispy green beans just the right color and texture…
Here are some of my favorite meals:
In a port-side cafe in Concarneau, Brittany, cold, fresh oysters, a baguette with sweet butter, tiny hot sausages and a crisp glass of Muscadet.
Street-vendor food in Bangkok.
My late granny’s Christmas goose.
My mom’s hamburger smash — ground meat, salt, pepper, carrots, potatoes — all mixed up in a frying pan.
The sweetie’s blueberry pancakes with, of course, real maple syrup.
A spectacular fish soup I ate on a frigidly cold winter’s day in Old Montreal — in 1987! It was that good.
The peach crumble with sour cream at Stash Cafe, also in Old Montreal.
On my first visit to England, when I was 12, eating clotted cream right from the bottle.
Some hellaciously good barbecue in Fort Worth.
At a rooftop party in Paris on New Year’s Eve, fistfuls of fresh oysters shucked right in front of us.
At Los Almendros, in Merida, a fish dish so good we went back the next night and ate it again.
The tiny perfect sweet mussels our friend Celia made for us for dinner when she lived in Paris, served on her rooftop.
The stew my Dad and I made in Ireland from mussels we picked ourselves from Galway Bay.
My friend Mary’s Brooklyn roof-top open-air feasts, with a bottomless tureen of lethal/delicious caipirinhas.
Hot, fresh churros with a melting chocolate center, bought from a Mexico City roadside stand our driver Gerardo took us to.
The spaghetti carbonara, eaten at the bar, at Morandi in New York City.
At Casa de Piedra, a long-gone and lovely hotel in Cuernavaca, my first and unforgettable taste of sweet chestnut paste. Not to mention their enormous, salty home-made potato chips. (Here’s a link to a replacement every bit as lovely and charming, Casa Colonial.)
I love throwing dinner parties. If I were rich, and less busy, I’d have one almost every single week.
They combine all the things I love most: creating and setting a pretty table; choosing recipes and shopping for good food and wine; cooking; making people happy — and spending quiet, uninterrupted time face to face with people I care about.
I use a collection of antique and colored plates and glasses, new and old linen napkins, and love to sit by candlelight as we all share stories.
As I write this, I’m sitting at our antique farm table, the one I bought in Montreal in 1985 and still use, layered with a blue and white vintage cotton tablecloth.
We sit on a bench my ex-husband made that stores all our hardware and tools, and top with custom-made cushions covered in lime green cotton with cobalt-blue piping. I turn the ugly glass balcony divider into a wall by throwing a pretty coverlet over it and lining up big, soft cushions covered in a variety of fabrics, from a 1930s floral print I found in a Paris flea market to a great blue and green check I found in Fredericksburg, Texas (where else?)
Instant outdoor restaurant!
My friend Tamara, whose fun cookbook is here, holds dinner parties in the backyard of her Queens, NY apartment. I attended the first one two summers ago and was instantly charmed — strangers pay $40 per person and sit at a motley array of tables, set with mismatched china and cutlery, and eat great food and get to know one another. It’s very un-New York to travel from one borough to another, let alone risk an evening with people you don’t know. But Tamara’s crowd is smart and fun and creative: I’ve met everyone from radio reporters to a dentist to attorneys.
I made a new friend there whose career as a singer of 1920s music is rocketing along; if you’re ever in New York, you’ve got to hear the Hot Sardines and Mme. Bougerol. The woman rocks a washboard! (Turned out her mom, also at that first dinner where we met, went to the same school and camp as I did. Small world.)
This is the whole point of dinner parties — unlikely combinations, the germination of new friendships with people you would never have met elsewhere. We held one, midwinter, about eight years ago that included our Maine-born minister and his wife; a war photographer, a British journalist and his girlfriend; an interior designer. Ages ranged from 30s to 60s. We ate chili and rice and salad — and a man and woman who met there that night have been happily married for years. Ka-ching!
I grew up in a family that loved to entertain, and eat well, so it all feels like a normal and lovely thing to do. We also don’t have kids, and so it’s easier for us than for those who do, especially little kids or lots of kids.