French Women Really Don’t Get Fat

“Everything in moderation…even moderation.” ~ Julia Child

Maybe you’ve heard of the little book from 2005 that became an international best seller, French Women Don’t Get Fat. Well, I devoured it (pun intended) and couldn’t wait to get to France and myth bust the entire premise. Surely with all that bread, thought this carb-fearing girl, there could be no way that French women wouldn’t get fat.

After searching long and hard for an overweight woman on the streets of Paris, I’m here to tell you that French women really don’t get fat, and neither do the men.

This seems like a paradox when you consider what they eat – bread, butter, sugar – and that when they sit down for lunch and dinner they typically eat three courses. (Creme brûlée s’il vous plait!) Wait, what? They eat all this and stay skinny? Mais oui!

Most women I know, myself included, have deprived themselves for the sake of being thin. So with the possibility that I didn’t have to deprive myself to stay thin, I had to learn more. During my recent trip to France, I asked a few French women to tell me their secrets to eating all these supposedly naughty things and not getting fat. Here’s what they told me…

They eat only real foods. Nothing processed. Nothing with chemicals. The secret to  French bread is that it has no preservatives. A lovely young woman named Helene, who served us dinner one evening, told me that she had never eaten bread from a bag, like what you find in the U.S. grocery stores. She said she eats only fresh bread made that day. You want butter? Go for it. Just make sure it’s real butter and not the “I Can’t Believe it’s Not” stuff. And that creme brulee? Have at it. Real sugar is used in French baking, and most of the restaurants and cafes don’t offer refined sugar. What’s set on the tables is “in the raw.”

{Example of a sugar in the raw packet found on the table of a French restaurant.}

Another secret to the French physique – they walk everywhere. Even when they take the metro, they schlep up and down the stairs with their bags, briefcases, and groceries to catch the train. Trust me, I did this multiple times with luggage, it is no easy feat. On my recent trip to France, I did not exercise.  Who wants to exercise when you can walk the streets of Paris? Which is exactly what my husband and I did. We walked at least eight miles a day. In between, we’d eat bread, bread, and more bread. And yet every day, without even focusing on it, my jeans got looser.

{In Avignon. Happy after eating bread.}

Which brings us to the third secret – the French don’t obsess about food or their diets. If they want it, they eat it, and they enjoy every bite of it. They don’t feel guilty about it or dwell on it. There is something to be said about that. When you feel guilty or stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is notorious for causing your body to store fat, especially around your stomach. So smile when you look at your food. Close your eyes while you chew it. Love on every morsel of it. It’s very French to have a love affair with your food.

Having said that, the French are are all about moderation. They eat whatever they want –  in moderation. Helene told me that the French believe all food is wonderful as long as “none of it is overdone.” She told me that from the time they are babies, the French are taught that eating is an experience that must be appreciated and respected.  Sure, they order three courses, but none of them are large servings. By the time they eat all three courses, they probably have not eaten as much food as one course served in the United States.

A lovely French woman named Colette, who I met at a gallery,  shared another stay thin secret with me. She said that much of the French food is organic and locally grown. This has been a way of life for them for many, many years versus the relatively recent green movements in the United States. Much of this stems from Europe’s massive sustainability efforts. (Europe’s efforts to lessen their environmental impact on the world are worthy of their own article.)

{Organic tea bag I received at breakfast. All offerings that morning were organic.}

On my recent trip, I never got tired of seeing thin people chewing on long baguettes of bread. It’s a beautiful site to see people who have not only banished the fear of carbs, but believe in enjoying food and not depriving themselves.

Maybe the real reason why French women don’t get fat is because they are more compassionate with themselves and have a deeper love for food and the life it sustains.  So I’ll return home from my trip to France a few pounds lighter, with a new love for my body and how I choose to nourish it. After all, life is too short to not have a love affair with yourself.

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