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Eating like the French.

The French have the lowest obesity rate in Europe despite the rising trend of fast food, on the run or as an afternoon treat; the French are still obnoxiously slender. So why?  French food has been known for its rich sauces, predominately meat dishes, dessert at every meal, multiple courses, and, as Julia Child so elegantly and passionately pointed out, their love of BUTTER.

The French eat better and therefore live better.

Already they live an active lifestyle where sports are in a high value and walking is frequent because most people use public transports.

The French sleep better because of their evening meals. They are therefore in better health and shape and can burn calories and fats more efficiently and then there society is centralised around good eats, something that facilitates healthy meals. 

 From reading, I have derived some basic rules that are key to how the French stay skinny but seem to eat so much. Here goes...

They do not obsess over food:  Even when on diets, they are not as insane as western women about food. They do not keep track of points, or calories, count proteins or fibers, or stress that they have to eat this as opposed to that. They allow themselves treats and do not panic if one day they go totally nuts on an ice cream, they allow their bodies the things it craves and therefore do not get depressed or discouraged.

The French eat what is in season. Yes we live in a world where we can buy strawberries in January but the French make it a point to always serve veggies that are growing at that time period. For one thing; France is still an agricultural state and takes pride in consuming its own produce grown on its own soil and so there is a stronger interest in seasonal products.

Meals are long. I recently read in a French fashion magazine that sitting down for a sandwich should be a 20 minute ordeal. 20 MINUTES! That is what the French consider to be a fast meal? But there is a reason for this, which is not that the French would avoid getting back to work in any way they can. Nope. Food is easier to digest when you are sitting down, chew every bite entirely, and enjoy yourself. The most important thing to the French is to ENJOY the food.

Family meals are an important daily event and food is appreciated. Not until recently would it have ever been thinkable that a French family would eat dinner in front of a TV and even today this idea is looked on as a repulsive act. And you will not see the French rushing through a meal. The French have 2 hours for lunch normally and they take that seriously. At 12 everyone drops what they are doing and they enjoy a full and hearty meal. Fast food  is still no exception, you order an entrée+plate+desert and everyone sits-down. They savor each part of a meal, eating slowly and talking. No hurry, no rush, just indulgence.

No snacking.  Even in gas stations snacks in France are so VERY limited to a few key products usually in only one limited flavor spectrum. But that is because French snack foods are limited to some familiar things that can be munched on at the apéro* because the French do not snack between meals. Kids do however have a sugary afternoon snack called the gouté.

Portion sizes are smaller. Except for food in restaurants serving sizes are usually no larger than my fist (about three inches both ways) so baically one spoonfull of each thing somewhere around 200 grams.

Food is served at the table. The idea of bringing individual plates from the kitchen forces us to load down on portions for fear that if we wanted more we would have to get up. Having the food within reach allows us to put less on our plates therefore we do not risk eating beyond our means just because we insiste on making a “happy plate”

Red meat is not for the evening: You can eat a 72 oz steak but certainly NOT for dinner. Lunch-time allows more time for digestion than dinner (4 hours before going to bed). Lunch can consist of a thin omelet or a baguette sandwich. MUCH more considering the average dinner-time for the French is between 7 and 9 and for Americans between 5 and 7. Plus the French think if you ate meat at lunch there is no reason to eat it at night(150grams a day is the recommended). So they serve white fish, or sometimes ham instead.

Pasta is OK. You can have pasta! Imagine that! But anything over 200 grams and you are beyond your means. When you are cooking a heavy pasta dish with cream ad sauces, meats and fats 200 grams of Pasta between two people is a safe portion. It allows you to enjoy something that almost 75% people like. Again eating is about enjoying youself, savoring the food, but not over doing it. Eating things that we want and not depriving ouselves is the best way to let the body react naturally.

Meals are very well defined. They have a set time, a certain order, a protocol and there are certain foods that can only be eaten at certain times of the day.

Breakfast: Coffee, a croissant or buttered toast, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a few bowls of black coffee seems light and disappointing to Americans or British who dream of a double stack or mushrooms, tomatos, eggs, and sausage. But this is just a little munch to hold you over until 12 because every French person eats lunch religiously at this time.

A typical French meal

*An apéro: The most trendy part of a meal and even sometimes the most elaborate. Usually a sweet alcoholic drink, a cocktail, a beer, champagne, sweet wine, or some standard alcohols like anis that are served with amuse-bouches: olives, nuts, crackers sometimes cheeses before a meal. Taking a moment to prepare the body for eating is very important and this helps you warm-up much like stretching does a jogger. It’s not to be exaggerated however two very small glasses is almost too much. This is not only a way to chill-out before diving into dinner, to create an atmosphere, or wait on guests but it is also a part of the order of the meal. Alcohol slows digestion therefore making you feel fuller and all right with the smaller portions to follow.

The entrée:  The dishes are light for the most part at the most you may receive a few slices of some meats like dried sausage or even some quiche but the most popular entrée is raw veggies or crudités or carrots rapées.

Carrot salad as a popular start to a meal: Carrots are already a veggie you should eat every day. With Vitamins, antioxidants, low calories, important natural sugars, and vitamin K, and Beta-carotene. With a light dressing of olive oil and Dijon mustard (add raisins sometimes for some sweet) one spoonful is usually the right serving for each person.

The plate-principal: Between dinner and lunch this varies. Lunch portions are what I like to call restaurant portions; HUGE plates of rich foods in sauces, steaks, Pasta and more, so filling you think your going to burst. However dinner is another thing.

Evening meals are heavy in glucide that is Pastas, couscous, breads, risottos, crêpes, things that are not filling and there is a large portion of veggies and fruits.

Salade the end at of the meal: Shocking for westerners who figure they eat salad at the start of a meal to fill up on greens so they don’t eat as much but at the end of the meal roughage helps with the digestion.

Cheese: This course gives you the fat and other fillers to satisfy all the body’s true needs in the meal. Sometimes served with salade.

Dessert: At lunch this is an important factor because the sweet bit at the end of the meal keeps you from having cravings in the day time and holds you over until that 9 o’clock dinner reservation. Satisfying these cravings creates a hormone that tells the brain “ok dear, now I’m good”. In the evening this is also a factor. But you won’t see any chocolate volcanos being served again portion sizes are the most important. If the French have cake it is usually about half the size of a Starbucks muffin but more commonly they will serve fruits, yogurts, or maybe even a small scoop of ice cream to polish everything off.

Coffee or tea: Caffine is great for digestion and jumps the body into working and not letting you fall asleep right after a filling meal. Served after and not with desert.

After dinner drinks: instead of jumping of from the table and plopping in front of the TV, or running to the next task the French have one more drink before leaving the table. The digestive, so very properly named lets you sit back and reflect on what you have consumed. This is usually a hard liquor like whiskey, brandy, or eau de vie(which really tastes like moonshine that is sipped straight or some liqueur like Baily’s but not mixed with anything else.


  1. This has to be one of my favorite of your posts, Lisa! I have an infatuation with the french. Much like when we were children during art class and we quietly looked over our shoulder to see what your classmate was working on...sometimes wishing you had come up with it first. lol. Maybe I was a french in a past lifetime, I don't know but someday I hope to travel to France and take in the scenes. Great post! I used to watch a cooking show on the Cooking Channel called, French Food at Home with Laura Calder. She has an enviable figure and she has shared some of the things that you have mentioned on her show or during interviews. Maybe I aught to tweak a few things in my daily habits to be able to eat like the French. xoxo

  2. great post!
    thnx for sharring!

  3. Love love love this post Lisa!!!!

  4. Lisa, not only was this fun to read, but it makes me want to hop on a plane to Paris so I can enjoy a tiny half muffin sized dessert with lunch! Loved this!

    xo Mary Jo

  5. Oh boy, I adore this post and all the tips make so much sense:) Have a beautiful day. xoxo


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