7 Secrets of the French Lifestyle

It’s noted that the French have high intakes of fats, drink red wine, eat bread, indulge in chocolate and pastries, and cheese. It begs the question, however, why aren’t the French gaining as much weight (7% obesity) as Americans (30% obesity), or have more heart disease? Neuroscientist Will Clower, who lived in France for two years and wrote “The Fat Fallacy: The French Diet Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss,” observed that when Americans lived in France, they lost weight, and when the French lived in the United States they gained weight. This is exactly what happened to me.

Before moving to the States, I spent most of my life in Paris and traveled regularly to the USA, leaving each time 10 pounds heavier and needing more than two weeks to lose it all upon returning to France. What’s the reason? Lifestyle.

1. Red wine

Red wine contains flavonoids, which increase the health benefits for the heart and blood vessels. These antioxidants also aide in anti-aging. Does this mean people should drink wine like water? No. Drinking in moderation is key. The French drink their famous red wines at lunch, dinner, and sometimes in the afternoon at a café. True, some may drink wine in excess for other purposes than health benefits, but this is also the case in other societies.

red-wine

Although Americans consume wine, they place beer first, which is also promoted more heavily through advertisement than wine is. Beer doesn’t contain any health benefits, and over consumption tends to hurt the heart and the liver.

2. Savor, don’t stuff yourself

Americans eat fast and leave a restaurant as quickly as they came in. I’ve even noticed some people gulping their food down while talking on the phone or working on their laptops. So, do Americans savor their food, or do they eat it so fast that it’s become unimportant?

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“Americans are getting exactly what they want—value for their dollar, regardless of taste,” says Sheah Rarback, RD, nutritionist and professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

When you go to France, you notice that the locals savor their food, not scarf it down. Furthermore, the French spend much more time in a restaurant enjoying their food, the company they’re with, and the overall dining experience that’s never rushed.

3. Size matters

The French prefer quality over quantity. Portions are smaller, and they eat until they’re satisfied, not until they’re uncomfortably full. Naturally, there’s no need for a doggy bag, either.

paris cafe

French researchers teamed up with Penn State University to conduct a study on the weight of food portions in Paris and Philadelphia, and here’s what they discovered:

  •  The average portion size in Paris was 25% smaller than in Philadelphia (277 grams versus 346 grams).
  • Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia served dishes that were 72% larger than those in Parisian Chinese restaurants.
  • A candy bar in Philadelphia was 41% larger than the same candy bar in Paris.
  • A soft drink was 53% larger, and a hot dog was 63% larger in Philadelphia than in France.

Do we really need these extra-sized portions?

Quoting a study on the popcorn consumption habits of movie-goers in David Kessler’s “The End of Overeating,” he writes:


“People who were given a big bucket ate an average of 53% more than those given a medium size. Give them a lot, they eat a lot.”


4. Shop till you drop

Buying food is a different experience in France than in the USA. The French do their grocery shopping for every-day consumption, preferring to go to an open-air market for fresh fruits and vegetables, a fromagerie for cheese, a boulangerie for bread, and a boucherie for meat. I used to do this every day, then walk to my apartment building and climb four flights of stairs to reach my place—shopping and exercising in the same day.

food-healthy-vegetables-potatoes

Locals also care about food being fresh, clean, hormone-free, and organic. They buy less frozen products because they don’t need to, and refrigerators are also smaller to fit in limited kitchen space.

5. An apple a day keeps the doctor away

The French diet consists of many fruits and vegetables. Grapes, apples, peaches, and figs are regularly eaten at the end of a meal, providing the fiber and nutrients needed in a balanced diet and further decreasing heart-related diseases. Americans consume a lot of produce too, but all too often are they genetically engineered, which depletes the nutritional value.

fruit

The French don’t snack like Americans either. Meals provide enough calories that render it unnecessary. When the French want a snack, they tend to eat fruit.

6. Food for thought

The labeling and the provenance of food and drink are important in French culture—locals want to know where products come from. They’re also conscious of the terroir, or characteristics, of a product, be it from the influence of the environment or agricultural methods. Therefore, the French eat far less process foods in their diet.

cheese

The distinct labeling of French products can also originate in one region alone, for example champagne. For a sparkling wine to have this label, it must be produced in a particular method in the Champagne region of France. There are also 56 French cheeses out of more than 370 types that fall under the protected designation of origin (PDO), including Roquefort from Midi-Pyrénees, Camembert from Normandy, and Beaufort from Savoie.

Mealtime at home also plays an important role in French culture. It’s a time for family to gather together and catch up on daily life. It also fosters meals that are prepared with fresh food and ingredients.

7. Fit as a fiddle

When it comes to dieting, the French don’t do much of it. The amount of food they eat at a sitting is taken in moderation. If they happen to indulge one evening, they accommodate the body with simple food the next day in order to allow the body to recover from the excess.

Champs-Élysée

The French also frequent gyms, but not on the scale as many Americans do. Apart from weekend soccer games and other outdoor activities, the amount of walking the French do is enough to burn calories and stay fit. They walk everywhere they need to go, climb stairs in metro stations, and make their way by foot down long corridors to catch their connecting train—life is an exercise, and a city like Paris is a gym.

Boasting more types of bottled water than any other country, the French choose water over soft drinks. That’s not to say they don’t drink fizzy beverages; it’s just not a high amount. They consume only 52 liters of it on average annually compared to 216 liters in the United States.

French lifestyle is more than we think it is. It’s a cultural concept to live and understand.

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Other cultures also seem to “graze” more, eating a bit here and there, rather than gorging themselves on “3 squares”(or “2 squares”, as the case may be…. since breakfast here is often just some coffee and a sugary cereal). Also research has shown that starting the day with a bit of cheese or similar ‘protein’ helps maintain a “flatter” blood sugar curve, with far less ‘peaks and valleys’ later on (aka, low blood sugar ‘cravings’).

  • Great tips and a nice article. I am sure if other cultures are given the same chance like in the USA. They would probably try to eat a little more than usual. Some cultures stay thin and fit regardless of what they eat.

  • Made me wish we had access to the markets that the French do. If all was available perhaps we could follow their lead . But I can’t imagine walking or biking 60 miles a day from Deltona to Orlando and back for work lol. We don’t even have a main street. 🙁

  • As my French husband says, Americans always have an engine on their derrière … French walk. The French also eat less and the food is fresh and often local. Viva la France because no one knows cuisine better – from bread to chocolate, coffee and all of the scrumptious menu choices. Is it any wonder the best chefs in the world are often français ?

  • Just my opinion: Times have sadly changed for the worst in France. McDonald’s, KFC, Subway and Quick(Belgian) are everywhere in France now, plus local fast food places everywhere selling kenabs and burgers. Large hypermarkets with snack food courts dominate the entrance to most towns and villages. Tough economic times, especially after the conversion from the franc to the euro, has boosted everyday food items. People who would pay higher prices for local main street charcuteries, boulangeries, etc. in the past and get the highest quality items, more and more are buying mass produced food at hypermarkets to save money. Kids socialize over Chicken McNuggets and fries drinking coke now instead of over a cup of coffee, or a few drops of grenadine in fizzy water. People ate less in the past because food quality was more important than quantity and the always frugal french opted for traditional cuisine with REAL ingredients. And socializing at leisure around food was a highly valued activity. Much less of that now for the general workforce in french cities who cannot afford and have no time to go home for an old-fashioned and well-loved long lunch or sieste at home. France is still a marvelous food culture — far different and better than the US — but it is slipping fast. Bottomline, in the past only mostly senior citizens were overweight naturally, but today one sees overweight or even obese french of every age everywhere, especially kids. I’ve watched the change occur in person over 25 years. Triste!

  • Yes, this article makes a lot of sense–it seems that there are some areas in U.S. where diet and health are similar to France (like Colorado and Oregon) but far too many Americans tend to be over-weight and eat to eat rather than to enjoy.

  • Really interesting read. I’ve noticed that North America is pretty gluttonous compared to other parts of the world when it comes to eating habits. Meals in general are given much less consideration here… with detriment to health, social behaviors and the environment. Such a basic thing… eating.

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