Monday, 7 April 2014

Pretending to be Française: A cautionary tale, by guest-blogger Erika Sherk

Introduction by Lisa:
Erika is not only a good friend of mine, but a role model when it comes to self discipline and eating clean.
Imagine my surprise when I heard that she had eaten feet, liver, cheeks and brains all in one meal. I was not only surprised, but excited for her. I was so happy to hear that she was experimenting with new things, taking chances, and living on the edge! Until I saw how much it affected her afterwards.
Then I felt awful.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand how changes to a person’s diet can affect them so much, both physically and mentally. Personally, I like to eat whatever I want and just stick to a workout regime. I’m not terrible with my food choices, but I was raised on meat and potatoes and ice cream for dessert – yum. And I still love that stuff! But I’m understanding more and more that to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle you can’t always eat whatever you want. And the more I pay attention to my diet, the more I can appreciate how different it makes a person feel.

Erika is about 500 steps ahead of me in the healthy meal planning chapter of life. 
Below are some details about her exotic, over-seas, risk-taking meals and how they affected her.
My favorite take-away from this personal essay is how important it is to be true to you, no matter what the circumstance. 
Not to mention she references her yogic experiences in the France - how amazing is that! Hopefully she'll share more of that with us in another upcoming blog post... ;)  
All in all, Erika’s not only an impressively healthy person, but a good friend, person and exceptional writer. I think you will enjoy this little glimpse into a special part of her life.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Erika in France, 2013.
A friend once told me I had an addictive personality. I was surprised. “Totally off base,” I thought. I have since learned: she was right.
When I left Canada in October, I was a lean, tanned mountain biker living off vegan food and smoothies.
Five days a week I would ride my Rocky Mountain 15 kilometres to work, go for a run in the sunshine at lunchtime and ride home at the end of the day. Evenings I’d do more aggressive rides – jumping things, whipping around corners and down hills. Romantic dates for me generally involved three hours on a mountain bike. I was always moving. I was addicted to fresh air, exercise and obscenely healthy food.
It was this health-freak, bikeaholic Canadian who landed in Lyon, France on October 7. Three months later, however, a different person got on the plane to return to Canada.
Let me tell you My Story.
Actually, there’s not a lot to say. Basically, I just learned the hard way that I am not French. Also that addictive personalities need to watch out when they start latching on to something, especially when pastries are involved.
When I set up shop in Lyon - France’s second biggest city - the plan was to practise French and secretly, to become French. Lyon was the gastronomical capital of France and maybe even the world. It seemed the obvious launching pad for my transformation.
Veganism be damned, I was soon out with a gang of guys who were friends of my French tutor in Canada, tucking into a vat of beef cheeks stewed in honey. Obviously we’d had an appetizer or two to get started - one-course meals don’t really exist there. In this case we’d already tucked into chicken liver cake, pigs’ feet, head cheese and other delights. The liver cake was delicious. The pigs’ feet: a travesty.
Anyway, I ate feet, liver, cheeks and brains at one meal. It was great. I fished a few carrots out of the beef vat to balance things out and drank a lot of red wine because well, French is a difficult language. The owner of the bouchon (a Lyonnaise "fat food" restaurant as one local friend described it) we were in came over with eau de vie at the end of the evening. To me, it was a little glass of 80 proof culture. Bring it on! I’m practically French already!
At home, my roommate Damien lived on paté, rillettes, quiche, cheese and red wine. He was my gastronomic inspiration. I began a slow descent into a life of artery abuse. The liver and feet were only the beginning. Quiche became a very regular part of my day. Hot wine in the evenings. Croissants made a daily appearance. When le Maison Kayser patisserie is a short (and charming) walk down the hill, it’s simply the right thing to do. I took up coffee drinking. I wanted to start smoking but was too Canadian to actually try.
It wasn't just the food. I embraced my immersion in all kinds of ways. I learned to swear in French and how to look haughty when offended. I made my way out of two situations where men I didn’t want to kiss tried to kiss me. (Mercifully, the old standards popped into my brain, insta-translated by pure panic– “merci mais ce n’est pas comme ça pour moi, je t’aime mais comme un ami seulement!’)

I volunteered at a yoga studio with the tall, trilingual Stéphane. I made friends, I had language partners. I had long discussions about how nice I was and how that needed to be remedied (not French enough.) I had French suitors to fight off and French films and concerts to attend.  I visited Paris and Normandy, I rode bikes, I took wine tours, I bought a beautiful vintage leather jacket and had a haircut that made me look rather like a peacock. Life was grand.
But I kept getting sick. I had two vicious flus while I was there - two long, brutal illnesses in three months that had me alternately shaking and then burning up with fever.
I also became a bit withdrawn. I stressed for no reason. I slept badly. Looking back, these are classic signs of what happens when I don’t eat the way I need. If I eat properly and exercise enough, I’m basically guaranteed good health, high energy and happiness. It’s how I work. But I was being French! This was culture! I needed to live off cheese, wine, croissants, quiche, chocolate and various bits and pieces of cows and pigs. It was an education, gosh darn it, and I was committed. Basically everything I avoided at home – things I knew very well made me feel sick, tired and not myself – I dove into in France.
But here’s the annoying conclusion: No matter where I am, I can’t get away with it. There are no loopholes. If I don’t eat clean, I don’t function well.
In a way, I’m really annoyed with myself. I could have felt much better while I was there. I didn’t need a cranky political opponent to poison me, I did it myself. The obvious question is why? Probably because it felt awesome. It was nice not to worry about consuming the perfect combination of food at the perfect time. I felt hedonistic and carefree.
I’m slightly obsessive, normally, when it comes to food. I have to calculate how much protein I’ve had, how long it's been since I ate, whether I’ve had enough vegetables, what colour they were, whether I have the carbs I need for an upcoming ski. I’m hypoglycemic and have a few intolerances and sensitivities. It’s pretty standard for eating to make me feel ill, in one way or another, if I’m not ultra-careful.
But … lesson learned. I did not feel like my awesome self in France. A lot of the time I felt tired and anxious and sick. I still had a glorious time. One does not take three months off work to spend them swanning around France and not enjoy it. But if I went back, I wouldn’t mess it up. My system is finely wired and it demands respect.
So I pledge that this trip will be the last one I screw up. I will recognize the fact that everything that goes (or doesn’t) into my body affects my energy, my happiness, my sociability, my humour, my intelligence and my sleep. If it means hauling around nuts and kale chips and seaweed snacks, I’ll do it. If it means saying no to 90 per cent of treats lined up on the patisserie shelves, I’ll do it (crying on the inside, obviously, but outwardly stoic.)
I’ll respect all the frustrating demands of my physical self. I’ll remember how angry I felt the last time I only had grapefruit for breakfast, I’ll remember how shaky I get from too much caffeine, I’ll remember how eating white bread makes me want to sleep all day. I’ll remember how if I eat sugar, I feel wretched every time. I will bow to you, you demanding dictator of a body! Because I like feeling good. In fact, I like feeling awesome.
So there you go – my cautionary tale. Now go and eat something green and vegetable-y. There’s an addiction I support.