Eating like the French: how do they stay so thin?

Do you like this entry? Click the “follow” button on the right side of the page and join my mailing list to hear about part 2 coming out in Summer 2013. 

The French have the lowest obesity rate in Europe despite the rising trend of  McDo (McDonalds) on the run or as an afternoon treat; the French are still obnoxiously slender. So why? Even before the imposing presence of the golden arches and coca-cola on the Hexagon (what French people have nicknamed their country because of its shape) French food has been known for its rich sauces, predominately meat dishes, desert at evey 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. A part of thier joi de vie

 I am certainly not a nutritionist but I do know how food effects my body and how a certain eating experience can make all the difference (having been on numerous diets myself). This is all pretty much speculation and information that I’ve gathered that is concidered common knowledge here. From eating and living with a French family, I have derived some basic rules for eating and organizing my daily food schedule that are key to how the French stay skinny but seem to eat so much.

They do not obsess over food: This is indeed a case by case situation but most of my French women friends, even when on diets, are not as insane as American 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 in their efforts to garder leur ligne, which literally means to keep the line,  and makes me think of Johnny Cash’s I walk the line.

 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. Also, things grown Boi (organic) are fair priced even sometimes less expensive then generics coming from Spain so it makes it easy for anyone to “go green”.

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 where even at McDo you order an entrée+plate+desert and provides a sit-down environment. They savor each part of a meal, eating slowly and talking. No hurry, no rush, just indulgence.

No snacking. When I was recently traveling in Britan with my mom I was SO very relived to once again find snack foods. A variety of chips, candy bars, nuts and other finger goodies that brought me back to road trips and truck stops in the states. 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 famillliar 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). 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: Appetizer in English this plat has nothing to do with the jumbo mozzarella and bacon fried mess that you order at Applebee’s to hold you over until your gargantuan meal gets there. To Americans these portions may seem like a simple tease but they are again a building block for a complete meal. 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 (which is important for smokers. Eh-hem to the French). 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 glucides that is Pastas, couscous, breads, rizotos, 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 Americans 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 ruffage 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 bro, 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.


My French lunch (minus the alcohols and bread because I haven’t got any today)

Apéro:Fruit juice

Entrée: Beets and carrot salad (extra veggies because I don’t have a side with my plate)

Plate: Cordon blue (the breading replaces the bread or starches that should be in the meal)

Cheese: (which I probably won’t eat because I have yogurt for desert)

Desert: a yogurt with real fruit in it

Digestive: instead of a sugary drink I’ll have a fruit either right after the meal or a few hours later.

A+ Emilieinparis

Questions? Didn’t find what you are looking for? Email me at and tell me what you want to read about.





About Emilie

I'm a small girl with big ambitions and very little common sense it seems. I decided after I graduated from college that I would move from my little city of Lafayette Louisiana to the raging monster city that is Paris. In 4 months of planning I have now uprooted everything I had in an amazing town to live in a truly wild place where I have no idea WHAT I am going to do. But isn't that the fun of it all. So here is cheers to getting lost, breaking hearts, starving, and many wonderful adventures that come along with finding yourself.
This entry was posted in Food and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Eating like the French: how do they stay so thin?

  1. Pingback: Great Brunch in Paris: Bechu | Emilie in Paris

What do you think about EmilieinParis?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s