The Sweets, The Fat And The Scale

Yummy Cake

Yummy Cake

The first time I weighed myself in Canada, I almost had a heart attack.

The scale in the cor­ner of the kitchen was taunt­ing me, and one morn­ing, I finally climbed on it. I was just curi­ous, I guess. Barely awake, my eyes still out-of-focus, I blinked sev­eral times, try­ing to bring the scale’s nee­dle into focus. And I gasped.

Then, I real­ized it wasn’t kilos but pounds.

My heart started beat­ing nor­mally again.

It took me a long time to get used to the impe­r­ial sys­tem, but it took me even longer to learn how to eat in North America.

When I first came to Canada, we had just fin­ished a long trip in Latin Amer­ica. We were both pretty thin and fit thanks to daily plates of “arroz, pollo y fri­joles” and a very tight bud­get. But once back to civ­i­liza­tion, we were hun­gry for some­thing dif­fer­ent. North Amer­i­can style food was new to me and I was eager to explore the local culi­nary spe­cial­ties. I tried all the fast-food chains I could find: after all, France only has MacDonald’s and Quick.

I learned that pizza slices were sold with a side of fries, that the per­fect addi­tion to an oth­er­wise fairly healthy sub sand­wich was either a bag of Dori­tos or two cook­ies. Appe­tiz­ers were the size of three nor­mal French plates and the food was very greasy. But hey, after all, what’s the harm once in a while?

We cooked a lot too. We could afford fast-foods joints once in a while, but we were broke. Trips to the super­mar­kets were very inter­est­ing as well: so many prod­ucts were new to me! I couldn’t believe I had spent over 20 years with­out mac­a­roni and cheese, peanut but­ter and jelly, hot dog, onion rings…!

This period of dis­cov­ery was fol­lowed by a period of intense home­sick­ness. I missed cheese for exam­ple, real cheese. The first time I had been to Sub­way, the guy behind the counter asked me which kind of cheese I wanted on my sand­wich. I was already drool­ing in expec­ta­tion, and asked in return which kind of cheese they had, speak­ing with the voice of an expert. He rolled his eyes and pointed at a few the square slices: “er… white, yel­low and we are out of Amer­i­can”. White…? Yel­low…? What kind of cheese was that? No need to worry though, since they all tasted the same (plas­tic rub­bery taste), I usu­ally don’t care which kind is put in my sand­wich now and just say “reg­u­lar cheese” like most cus­tomers… what­ever that is.

When they think of French cui­sine, most North Amer­i­cans think of extremely elab­o­rate dishes or just plain stereo­typ­i­cal ones, such as snails (which I have never had by the way). I didn’t miss that. I miss the sim­ple prod­ucts, such as fresh bread, thin crust piz­zas, quiches, pâté, fancy yogurts and pas­tries. But I quickly learned that they were no equiv­a­lent and that I’d bet­ter dis­cover new local spe­cial­ties. After all, why spend a lot of money in a jar of Nutella when you can have some local maple syrup?

But I still wasn’t done with my culi­nary cul­ture shock.

Peo­ple say that French women don’t get fat: I beg to dif­fer. I was French and I got fat.

The thing is, in France, I never really cared about what I ate. Like most women, I fol­lowed the common-sense diet. Eat a crois­sant once in a while, just not with the above jar of Nutella. Have some cheese but not a fon­due every night. Pasta dishes are fine as long as they are home­made. A sand­wich is a great lunch, just go easy on the but­ter. And the list goes on.

But this didn’t work in Canada. It took me a while to real­ize that any­thing fat was not just fat, but ultra-fat. There were no sim­ple French but­ter crois­sant, but super-sized pas­tries filled with choco­late, dipped in cin­na­mon and topped with cream. Any sand­wich had tons of may­on­naise in it, not just but­ter. Fries or chips had to be dipped in three kind of sauces — hell, even pizza crust was sup­posed to be dipped in gar­lic sauce!

I started doing some­thing that I have never done in France before: read­ing the labels. When I dis­cov­ered that a can of soup could be half of my daily calo­ries intake, I got really pissed off. Was there any­thing healthy to eat here? I wasn’t buy­ing much processed food (such as microwave din­ers) because I wasn’t use to them and it still wasn’t good enough. Was I con­demned to make every meal from scratch?

Over time, I devel­oped some tech­niques. I sys­tem­at­i­cally buy the “low-fat” ver­sion of a prod­uct (such a cream cheese, bacon, yogurt etc.): I can’t tell the dif­fer­ence any­way. I read the labels more care­fully: some toma­toes sauces for instance pack an insane amount of preser­v­a­tives and impossible-to-pronounce ingre­di­ents for what it is, i.e. just toma­toes sauce. My cook­ing skills also got bet­ter and learned to make meals I loved.

I kept on eat­ing out once in a while but I made sure I did it because I felt like it, not because I was starv­ing and wanted to eat some­thing right away. This is a big prob­lem in North Amer­ica: food is every­where and avail­able at all time, it’s very easy to eat just because you are bored. The amount of crap food peo­ple eat is scary and it’s very easy to get dragged into think­ing that chicken wings with pizza and beer is a bal­anced meal. We lost touch of real­ity… completely.

Junk food is also a busi­ness. You think they get a good deal at all-you-can-eat restau­rants, when they get a buy-one-get-one-free burger, when the orders are super­sized. The truth is, eat­ing well is harder and more expen­sive. Plus, junk food is not always where you expect: most peo­ple would right­fully blame McDon­alds or KFC for the extra weight gain but wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily think their super-sized fancy cof­fee with whipped cream on top is part of the equation.

As I under­stood what makes us fat and how to eat health­ier meal, I nat­u­rally lost weight. Seri­ously, that eas­ily. I also lost the guilt asso­ci­ated with food that I had some­how picked up in Canada. It took me a while but I think I got it now.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… gotta go cook!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. When I moved to France I put on 10kgs! I couldn’t believe the large lunches (3 courses for €2.80 at uni), the thick but­ter in the sand­wiches and creamy may­on­naise… oh and of course the pain au choco­lat. Every­thing I learnt about healthy eat­ing, i.e. no but­ter, low fat sauces, diet and low-fat sub­sti­tutes went out the win­dow. In France you eat every­thing with full fat and with plea­sure. Not to men­tion find­ing it so dif­fi­cult to find really brown rye bread. Plus in NZ it was nor­mal for girls to exer­cise (here if the girls go to the gym once a week its great) — I’d go to the gym 5–6 days a week, in France I found it dif­fi­cult to find a gym to cater to my needs. Girls are meant to do aer­o­bics classes or any type of group exer­cise classes… that is not for me!

    2.5 years on I’ve lost about 12 kgs thanks to get­ting used to the French food, I think my body has devel­oped a way to metabolise French food and I enjoy it. Also I run 4–5 days per week at night when no one can see me ;) and I just have to ignore the snide com­ments from peo­ple on the street. By run­ning I can enjoy lots of cheese, creamy may­on­naise in my baguette and not put on weight. I spent 2 months in the UK over the sum­mer and I was so sick of ched­dar cheese!! I’m going to miss st.nectaire, can­tal and comté!
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..Noël =-.

    • I can totally see why North Amer­i­cans would gain weight in France. I mean, good food (vien­nois­eries, fro­mage…) is cheaper and food is a huge part of life over there. yet, for some rea­son, I don’t gain weight when I go to France. Must be a metab­o­lism thing. And my friends are all skinny, despite eat­ing Nutella tartines!

      French don’t go to the gym. The first time I went to the gym was in Canada, and I hated it. I’m not an out­door sport kind of per­son, although I like yoga. That said, you do walk a lot in France, which could explain why peo­ple aren’t fat.

      French don’t under­stand run­ning. If you run, they expect to see the police after you :lol:

  2. Pingback: 5 Things My Mum Observed in Canada | Correr Es Mi Destino

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