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February 28, 2011

14 Fitness & Nutrition Observations Overseas: An American in Paris

Just got back from an amazing 10 day work trip/vacation to Europe!  Jade, Gary and I hit London, Paris and Amsterdam and as fitness professionals, it was definitely an experience for us.  Here are some fitness/diet/health-related observations from an ignorant American (me) and some interesting lessons I learned while abroad :) Nothing like getting out of your comfort zone!

1] Parisians are often drinking wine and smoking cigarettes by 10am in cafes…I was unsuccessfully trying to order an egg white omelet in French and was brought an egg salad with a side of French fries.

2] Speaking of French fries, they are served with literally every meal in France. I thought Americans created the French fry…? Guess not.

3] Could the portions of coffee be any smaller? Here is me drinking one of the many teeny-tiny coffees we had–I literally drank like 10 of these one morning–equaling one Starbucks “Tall.”  They are also a LOT stronger (i.e. straight-up espresso), so at least I had the energy to walk the 10 daily miles we racked up walking all over the place everyday.

4]  In all 3 cities, walking is a way of life–rain or shine. It was amazing how many people are out and about in the freezing cold and rain walking to work, to restaurants and shopping. They even sit outside at cafes IN THE RAIN AND COLD talking with friends, eating, drinking and smoking. Totally unfazed by the weather. Paris is like no where else!

5] Speaking of talking with friends, eating and drinking…the pace at restaurants is MUCH slower than in the states.  Servers won’t even approach your table until your menu is down and closed. Then after you eat, they won’t bring you the check until you ask for it. This routine was a little difficult for us at first since we didn’t figure it out and thought they just forgot about us. But by mid-week, surprisingly we actually started to enjoy sitting, watching, talking and savoring the food a little more (not to mention practicing our French and translating words using the iTranslate app).  I can definitely see how a slower pace on the whole would help decrease stress of the people in that place, which may contribute to the fact that…

6] …People are a lot thinner in general.  You rarely see someone overweight or obese, despite the fact that people are eating baguettes left and right in Paris.  Like Jade said, a lot of what we observed “flies in the face of what we believe to be true about the fat loss lifestyle.”  I observed on the whole that people eat less frequently and each meal lasts longer than in America…hours.  The smoking might have something to do with suppressing appetite and of course the walking helps.  Still, it remains somewhat of a mystery to me…though there are not NEARLY the amount of fast food restaurants as in the states.

7] I have never seen so many people ride around on BICYCLES than I saw in Amsterdam.  It is the #1 way to get around in that city, and you will literally get RUN OVER if you are not careful.  Bike racks, bike rentals, bike paths and bicyclists are everywhere, it is both a primary mode of transportation and obviously the primary mode of exercise…which bring me to my next observation, which is that…

8] There are very few people jogging around outdoor or walking down the street sporting athletic wear.  One morning in London, Jade and I walked around the city for a couple hours in our Lululemon duds and I have never gotten so many ass-stares as I did in those workout pants lol! It is not a common streetwear look and I got the distinct impression that structured exercise is not a huge priority, at least not in the mainstream.

9] Meanwhile, Winston-Salem’s own Krispy Kreme has made it to London–spotted inside Harrods!

10] We did a Metabolic Effect Training for instructors in the UK and met a wonderful group of fitness professionals, so there are obviously many fitness enthusiasts there too, which was awesome.  The training was at one of the many David Lloyd Fitness Centers around London, and I was surprised at the extensiveness of these gyms–there was a full-on restaurant/bar, with men lined up drinking beers at it…at the gym.  There were people watching football (i.e. soccer) on big screen TVs, people surfing the internet and some just laying around on the many couches.  We ordered lunch there during the training and got this incredibly clean spread of chicken and veggies! Insane–I could spend the day at those gyms, everything you need all in one place!

11] We took the train from London to Paris and from Paris to Amsterdam, and I was super-impressed with the food and beverage service.  A thousand times better than what we got on the PLANE from the US to the UK.  We got served several meals containing real gourmet food, along with plenty of refills on coffee, water, soft drinks and a complimentary wine-for-one bottle with dinner…unreal. The funniest had to be the train ride back from Amsterdam to Paris, which was the last of the day…they must have been trying to get rid of the food because they were literally serving us croissants every 5 minutes. The croissants are insane!  Filled with chocolate, as if the flour and sugar weren’t enough–3 bites only! :)

12] One of the best ways to fit in our exercise while on away was via 1 minute “blitzes” throughout the day. Jade did several while in Paris–funniest had to be the 1 minute of bench push-ups he did on the Champs-Elysees, while many confused Parisians looked on. Or the 1 minute of bench jumps he did in front of the Arc de Triomphe. I tried to distance myself lol! Just kidding!

Single-leg squats?

13] Found: Sugar-free gum in France. Phew.

14] And finally…if you are an American eating at restaurants in Europe, just ask for double the serving up front.  The portions are much smaller, leaving a traditional American starving (or maybe it was just me).  Gary learned how to say “extra chicken” in French and I learned how to ask for “another.”  Protein is scarce, carbs are abundant.  Proteins of choice definitely seem to be beef and seafood.  Chicken, not so much.  Now if I can just figure out how to say, “where is the Starbucks so I can get a venti coffee si vous plait” I think we’ll be ready for our next trip!

We had a blast! :)

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