Alexandra, whom you have met several times in this space, is my French niece. She is a doctor and works in the French health ministry, a wife, mother of three girls and as of a few months ago, the grandmother of a little boy.
If she were not disciplined, she could never accomplish everything she does each day. Apart from the above mentioned, she is the first assistant to the mayor of a large town and conseillère général of the Hauts-de-Seine.
After lunch on Sunday, over coffee, raspberries and chocolates, we did our interview. She is a good sport about my constant questions. This time, as promised, we were back on the subject of discipline and how she stays slim — not skeletal, but slender, normal.
Alexandra is the first in the five part series on diet and discipline.
As she has pointed out many times, what she does to stay en forme and energetic is pure habit, which she has passed along to her daughters by example, never by nagging.
She lives by a routine that works for her, which on occasion includes caloric indulgences. As every Frenchwoman I know says: “How would it be possible to live happily without succumbing to temptation — on occasion.” (Note the qualifier.)
Here then is a typical day in Alexandra’s life:
Breakfast (every day):
A glass of pomegranate juice
Two slices of pain au levain (sour dough bread) toasted with demi-sel butter and either bitter orange marmalade or cassis jam from Lucien Georgelin.
One-half of a grapefruit
One litre of Russian Earl Grey tea with two percent milk.
Lunch (primarily daily variations on a salad):
The base of the salad will be bulgar, quinoa or pasta.
Masses of vegetables: tomatoes, celery, carrots, cucumber, green or red pepper slices, celeriac, “and any other fresh vegetable on offer.”
For the protein she chooses from: ham, chicken, tuna, salmon and cheese. “I’ll often have a bit of cheese with another protein,” she said, “but by the time I pile on all the vegetables there is not much room for the the rest.”
Dessert: a plain yogurt or apple compote.
*Most days, Alexandra eats in the ministry’s cafeteria and since the preoccupation of her job and the mission of the ministry is healthy living, the food is fresh and delicious, she told me.
Dinner (similar menus most evenings of the work week):
Homemade ratatouille with pasta or mushrooms with pasta.
Occasionally a galette de sarrasin (a buckwheat crepe) with an egg or melted Gruyere inside and a green salad.
“We rarely have meat during the week and we should probably be eating more fish — I’m rethinking our menus at the moment,” she said.
Dessert: a homemade fruit compote. (Translation: no sugar added.)
An herbal tea from Les 2 Marmottes to relax and aid digestion.
“There is always a bottle of water on my desk and I make it a point to finish it, plus I often drink green tea during the day,”she said. “No, I never snack.”
Alexandra swims laps once a week, 30 times 50 meters. Twice each week, for 30 minutes, she works out with an exercise coach. “I’ve been going to the woman’s apartment for 25 years, it’s mainly for abdominal workouts,” she said.
When the weather permits, she rides her bicycle from her house in Paris to her office, 25 minutes away, and on the weekends she rides her bicycle in the country at least 20 kilometres on Saturday and again on Sunday.
Don’t ever believe the nonsense you hear and read about French women not exercising. More and more are working out in gym classes, but it’s true most prefer their exercise en plein air.