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An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
If Americans have done one thing quite well…. It’s been to confuse a very simple concept: Moving our bodies. Does exercise seem like a daunting task that you’d rather avoid? Are you confused about how to move your body? Do you wonder, “Should I do fast spurts or a slow jog”? Yoga or Crossfit? Barre class or tango?
When confused, this is when I turn to the French for a common sense approach that almost seems too easy to be true.
Enter the French Mademoiselle …
When I arrived in Paris for the first time, I desperately looked for a gym. My inner monologue was telling me that I needed to burn those calories that I’d be consuming from croissants, le chocolat and Champagne.
The more I searched, the more perplexed I became. I saw the occasional jogger (I now place my bets they were ex-pats). And, no one was wearing yoga pants.
I couldn’t find a gym in Paris.
How did these French women stay so slim?
I just had to find out.
Over dinner, I asked a French lady about her exercise regime. She answered, “Oh, I don’t exercise. I just walk a lot and I like to play tennis.” She didn’t see it as exercise but indulging in a pleasure.
She also confessed that life is very difficult for the French person who is overweight — from the looks they receive to their inability to find clothes. For this reason alone, they are motivated to stay slim.
This seemed a bit harsh….but…. okay!
My findings? During that visit, I dropped 5 pounds in a week while eating foie gras, nightly indulgences of des fromages and wine during meals. And, let’s not forget le chocolat!
Back at home, I was going to the gym each day trying to get six-pack abs and watching my calories like a hawk, cutting my carbs down to a bare minimum. I had prescribed to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. If it wasn’t causing my muscles to scream in pain, I believed it wasn’t worth my time.
Like most things in my life at the time, I lived in extremes, which meant when it came to exercise, I was either sitting or spinning.
However, in Paris, I was moving all day sans the gym (seriously, thank God, I couldn’t find one. This was pre-smart phone attached to us like leashes).
What was the difference?
The French lifestyle makes all day movement as natural as waking and sleeping.
Regardless of our perception of the French woman lounging at cafes smoking (and yes, she does that very well too), what we don’t see are the number of steps that she climbed and walked to park her little derriere in that seat.
Julianne, a lady who lives in the Marais district of Paris told me:
“I eat what I want. Drink what I want. And, I walk all over this city in my heels. That’s my secret. And, I don’t desire to have hard muscles like a man. I want to look like a woman, so that takes a lot of the pressure off.”
While the French have mastered the art of leisure, they are not lazy people.
They walk everywhere, some women (not all) participate in sports they love and shop daily for their food and then carry ten pounds of groceries up, sometimes, five flight of stairs to their apartment. They take strolls after dinner, and their sex life is typically very active.
All this activity adds up throughout the course of a day.
As a result, the majority stay slim and healthy.
Also, when it comes to une voiture (translation = a car) the French share. I was shocked to discover that my well-off French friends have one car for the entire family – mom, dad and two teenagers. Whoever is left without the keys are d’aller à pied. This lifestyle leaves more money in their pocket for play and other indulgences …. and a tight bottom is always a nice reward.
The French woman lives for a life of pleasure.
She finds nothing sensual in wasting two hours of her precious day driving to the gym, changing clothes, pushing and pulling on some sweaty machine and surrounding herself with grunting males full of testosterone (she saves that for the bedroom). She’d rather take a walk with friends and eat a little less. She’s confused by the American who spends hours in the gym building a voracious appetite, only to leave and undo all that hard work with a large meal.
She also knows that any regimen that she can’t maintain for life will ultimately fail her.
So, when it comes to exercise, she chooses consistent moderation.
So, mon amie, what if YOU adopted a more natural, feminine approach to exercise instead of the intense extremes of our culture that leave many women frustrated and feeling defeated because it’s not aligned with their natural, feminine way of being?
I can tell you from experience what I think would happen:
You’d enjoy moving your body much more and stop living in the tortuous extremes that usually end in defeat.
10 French Inspired Movement Ideas
While we can’t all live in Paris or be French, and we don’t have to be, I have discovered some clever ways to live life more sensually while adding movement into daily life.
1. Park at the Back of the Parking Lot:
Don’t be one of those people that spends 10 minutes of your precious life circling the lot for a space by the door. Challenge yourself to park at the back of the lot. Those extra steps add up.
2. Find an Active Artform:
Participating in dance, pole dancing, trapeze or any art form that requires you to move your body can be fun and help you stay fit.
3. Take the Stairs:
I rarely take elevators when stairs are available. The next time you have the chance to climb a couple flights, do it!
4. Walk with Purpose:
The French know how to stroll, but they also know how to pick up the pace for the sake of fitness. Walk briskly while contracting your abdomen and paying attention to your posture.
5. Go out exploring:
Many Parisians clock thousands of steps a day just by exploring the city. Why can’t you do the same? Walk around your city, town or neighborhood. You may be surprised at all the cool things you discover.
6. Pick a sport:
French women may not run around the Seine at six o’clock in the morning. She’s more likely to have a sport she enjoys participating in: skiing, snowboarding, golf, swimming, tennis or yoga. The French mindset is one of individualism, so choose something you love and then get to playing!
7. Sneak in Fitness:
French women have sneaky tricks up their sleeves to keep fit. For example, my friend, Catherine, does 100 squats each morning while drying her hair. I perform lunges while vacuuming, and I’ve discovered that 100 sit-ups takes me to the first 15 minutes of a movie. How can you sneak in a few strengthening moves into your day?
8. Grow a Garden:
Bending over, raking, digging and pulling is sure to add to your physical fitness. My grandmother wasn’t French, but she was a Farm girl. She never stepped foot into a gym, but she worked out in her garden and walked a lot. She lived to be 93 and was tres slim.
9. Get a Bike:
I love seeing a chic French woman biking through the streets of Paris — usually in heels and a dress. Living in a bike obsessed town, I’m really enjoying this concept of leaving the car at home and hitting the pavement with a bike. In fact, I purchased a town bike this year. I dress up, grab my Papillionaire and bike into town to pick up bread, cruise by the river and just enjoy the beautiful scenery. My inner Frenchie is so proud of me.
10. Create your Active Mantra:
Instead of indulging in beliefs about your loathing of exercise, begin to play around with mantras of the woman you desire to be, a healthy, fit and happy woman. You will fit the beliefs that you have about yourself. Try creating your own mantra to remind yourself of your body’s natural desire to move. These are some of my favorites:
I am a woman on the move.
I am creating my best body every.
My body deserves movement.
Celebrate and honor what your body loves to do.
What you do in your street clothes matters just as much as what you do in your workout clothes. You don’t have to join a gym or wear gym clothes to move your body.
I go through stages where I love sweating it out while lifting weights; other times, I prefer biking, dancing or wake boarding. So, if you love the gym, then by all means, go for it!
When I found the beautiful path of moderation and pleasure, I realized how complicated I was making something that is quite simple: Just move and enjoy life!
My life became a whole lot sweeter when I stopped with the insane American fitness ethic and adopted a more European approach (and my body became slimmer too!).
Coincidence? I think not.
It was the extremes that was causing so much struggle.
Now it’s Your Turn, Bon Vivant:
Please take un petit moment to answer these 3 questions in the comments below:
1. What are some fun ways that you can move your body every day?
2. What is your inspiring mantra for moving your body?
3. Do you have some savvy secrets that keep you fit?
I would love to hear about your experiences. I can’t wait to mix and mingle with you below.
The Self-Image Manifesto
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