The French Paradox is a phenomenon that I’m sure many of you are already familiar with. Based off the book French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, how do French women eat all that butter, cheese, bread, wine, and chocolate while remaining pencil thin? They must all have eating disorders or something because a few weeks in France and you typically return home with some extra luggage of the waist and hip variety.
Let me explain why foreigners gain weight in France and why French women don’t…
Good Eating Habits:
Controlled portions!!! French people tend to eat a little bit of everything offered, and they eat it slowly so that less food could satisfy them. You wouldn’t believe how many times I found myself with an empty plate while the Frenchies weren’t even halfway done! Not cool guys. However, I trained myself to eat slower and not to over indulge. Many French people also do not concern themselves with things like “how much protein/fat/sugar/salt does that have?” They seem more content about eating… the worry free attitude allows them to enjoy eating the food in front of them even more.
An eat at mealtime mentality:
Although snacking has become more common in France, I’ve heard French parents tell their children “Only animals are hungry”. It’s a good rule of thumb though, because to me, it doesn’t make any sense why American college students are eating full fledged meals (second dinners) at 1 or 2 AM… just go to bed already!
The French government created a lifestyle program called Manger-Bouger (eat and move). There are two forms of exercise: the subtle “I’ll go walk to work, the store, the post office”, cook, clean, be active all day form; and then, the specific “lets go run 5 kilometers” form. It’s funny because I always saw French people engaged in exercise. During my stay in France, I continued to run everyday (about me) yet, I upped my milage from the usual three miles a day to five or six! (This way, I could counteract all the extra delicious crêpes au chocolat, or bread and cheese). I’m pretty convinced that I’ve seen the entire village of Marroles-En-Brie during my runs, because quite frankly, everybody went out to exercise!
It’s scientifically proven that smoking suppresses your appetite (I am not telling you to run out and smoke). But, if you look at the thin Parisian women at a café, you’ll typically find all of them huffing away and talking to their friends rather than eating. IF they choose to dine, it’s a little salad served with a drink. Smoking like a chimney and not eating anything seems to be a classic route of the French diet.
V is for Vegetable:
You know, those little green things mom made you eat. Now, I left this reason down here because I know a ton of American’s who eat their fruits and vegetables (it’s essentially my entire diet). However, the French boast that they eat FRESH fruits, veggies, bread, meats, and dairy… It’s kinda true that American supermarket shelves are being filled with more chemically processed fare: “fat free”, “sugar free”, “artificial flavored” foods. So, the possibility that all this processed stuff is doing more harm than good is certainly out there.
Chivalry isn’t dead:
This may seem a little shallow, however French women realize that remaining thin and “beautiful” prolongs the perks and benefits of being a woman! Yes, this is coming from a guy’s perspective, but give it a little thought. Thanks to social norms and increased pressure to be “thin”, weight is a huge concern for people around the world, especially for women. Remember that the French have a saying…
Il faut souffrir pour être belle!
It’s necessary to suffer to be beautiful (girls)!
Please, share your comments below! It lets me know that people are out there with different viewpoints.
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I like this article! Also, it’s worth mentioning that traditional French meals are quite low in carbs. Eating fat isn’t a bad thing providing carbs are limited; I suspect a lot of French men and women are in a state of nutritional ketosis, just like me! Perhaps that’s why obesity is increasing in France now with the rise of processed starch-packed meals? I eat loads of meats, cheeses, oils, veggies, nuts, seeds, etc but because I limit my carbs, I lose weight rather than gain because my body is using fatty acids as its preferred fuel. And yep, definitely a lot of vegetables! My favourite French dish is cassoulet – the perfect mix of veggies and meat – and the best cassoulet I ever had was cooked by my host French ‘Mum’ in Montpellier.
Hey, thanks for your comment! I certainly know about feeding stereotypes.. yes, this post is pretty biased. I mainly used outside sources, for example, the chivalry blurb was from something I read off the internet, yet some people do think like that! I know it’s mentioned up above, but I eat extremely healthy over here in the United States (and yes, there are overweight French people – they act as if they are all slender).
I never said it’s fine for men to be overweight, but that’s kind of how society is playing out these days. Men seem to be slightly more worry-free about their weight. It’s horrible if you ask me; and incredibly sexist. Yet, society and culture as a whole manipulates what is attractive or socially acceptable – it’s up to each individual to follow the social norms or stray away to what they believe in.
I’m currently living in France, as well and I have had a very different experience. In fact, my family at home cooks with fresher ingredients than my family does here and we have more of a plant-based diet. It honestly depends on the family and how someone was raised. Being French does not necessarily make someone healthy or thin. I have seen quite a few “chunky” people since I’ve been here. I think you do highlight some interesting observations, but they are merely feeding the stereotypes that we have back home. As an “ambassador” in a foreign country, it is our job not only to highlight the differences but to also break down the stereotypes and realise that essentially, everyone in a country is different and may not be categorized under one diet or eating style.
Also, the Chivalry Isn’t Dead blurb at the end is insulting to anyone who has ever had an eating disorder. You don’t specify whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that there is an increased pressure to be thin. I find it to be extremely shallow, because under your assumptions, it is perfectly fine for a man to be overweight or a little hefty in a relationship as long as his wife or girlfriend is pin thin and maintaining her charms and beauty.
If there is one thing that I have learned whilst in France, it would have to be that sexism is alive and well in this country.