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Walking and Eating

November 29, 2010

Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at www.amihungry.com.

 

It’s amazing how much I can eat when I walk a lot.

I realize that what I define as “a lot” likely differs from the average American, who may often only walk from house to car to office, and vice versa. I will often walk 2-3 miles per day, but this was far more than that. This is the marathon walking that I only do once a year on my annual Thanksgiving trip. The record is still the 14 miles we walked in DC in 2007, but this year in Paris we came a close second, walking an estimated 12 miles on our second day.

Since this is only a once-a-year event, I’d forgotten how all this impacts my hunger and eating. This year was also different because just 1 ½ months before I’d gone on a new medication that had a negative impact on my metabolism. Without quite being aware of it, I gained five pounds because instead of instinctual eating, where I focused on my body’s hunger and fullness cues, I was in habitual eating mode, planning meals based on what I could normally eat.

But finally, a week before Paris, I got tired of feeling lethargic and low-energy. I resigned myself to the fact that I simply couldn’t eat as much, although it took me a couple of days to be okay with that. When I started to feel better in general, lighter and clearer and more focused, I remembered why it was good to eat only what I needed. I did feel a pang, though, at the thought of going to Paris and not being able to sample all of its culinary delights. I had forgotten about the walking.

I noticed it first on our second day. In the morning, I had a relatively light breakfast of two scrambled eggs, ¼ of a baguette still crusty and warm from the oven of the boulangerie and spread with raspberry jam, a small apple, and tea. I felt good at that and headed out at 9:30 with my brother and niece.

We walked from the Latin Quarter to the Place de la Concorde and began down the Champs Elysees. This was two hours of pretty solid walking, and by then my stomach was starting to gurgle. I was assuming we’d find a restaurant with a fixed-price menu for lunch as we had the day before, but I didn’t realize that the first part of the Cmaps Elysees only had food vendor carts. Most of those sold baguette sandwiches and crepes, or the occasional hot dog. We held out until 12:15, by which point we were starving. We got sandwiches, and mine was huge: a circular loaf of bread with a diameter the size of my head, moistened with the French favorite of mayonnaise, filled with lettuce, tomato (from Sabine’s cheeseburger, since she doesn’t like them), onions, ham, and cheese. We also shared some tasty frites (not called French fries in France), then rounded out our meal with crepes – huge, platter-sized wheels slathered with Nutella, folded in a triangle, and dusted with powdered sugar.

We ate outside, and despite the cold, it was heavenly. Everything tasted wonderful, and after all that, I felt only comfortably full, not stuffed. Plus, I knew we’d be walking more. I was right.

The afternoon took us down to l’Arc de Triomphe, to le Tour Eiffel, past les Hotel des Invalides, and eventually back to the Latin Quarter (we got a bit turned around). By the time we returned to the apartment it was 5, we had walked somewhere around 12 miles – and I wasn’t hungry.

I felt like I should have been after all that, but by now I know enough to ignore the “should” voice in my head. Instead I focused on my true need of hydration; I’d been deliberately dehydrating because I was tired of paying to pee. After some gorgeous loose-leaf tea we’d bought, and a lot of water, by 6:45 I was feeling a bit peckish, so I had some salad, a slice of ham, a piece of bread, and two clementines. I anted to wait before eating more, since my body wasn’t really hungry, so I went to pick up a few staples at the store: eggs, cheese, bananas, peanut butter, and coffee (the latter for my brother).

That was when I started to get truly hungry. In the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, the suggestion is that you ask yourself what do you want, what do you need, and what do you have. Well, I must have subconsciously thought “what do I want” because I found myself staring at large bars of dark chocolate. I added one to my basket and went to check out. While waiting (it was packed), my body’s demands increased and I realized that my items were actually what I needed: carbs (chocolate and banana), and fat and protein (peanut butter). I grew impatient, wanting to add those to my “what do I have” list.

As soon as I got bak, my brother and I had the same impulse. We broke off pieces of chocolate, slathered them with peanut butter, and ate with relish. I immediately felt better. I added a banana with peanut butter as well as half of a peanut butter and jam sandwich, with a carrot thrown in for balance. Finally, I felt satisfied. Then I realized how much I had eaten and was amazed.

When people talk about why French women don’t get fat, despite all the bread and cheese and chocolate and wine, I hope they factor in walking. We did see one heavy woman (in McDonald’s appropriately enough), but by and large the Parisians seem quite trim, I suspect for the same reasons as discussed in last year’s Thanksgiving blog about NY being the thinnest city in America: you have to walk everywhere.

Personally, I’m happy to walk. I enjoy the exercise and learning my way around a new place. And, of course, it means that I could eat croissants and baguettes and chocolate without worry, because I truly was hungry for it. It was, for me, the perfect holiday experience.

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