This post is about how to eat like a French woman, but let me first start by explaining why I wanted to write about this topic. My fascination with French women began 20 years ago. As a teen I worked for the clothing store Express, and I used my employee discount to buy this awesome book: French Style: How to Think, Shop, and Dress Like a French Woman
I spent hours and hours poring over its pages. I fell in love with imperfect hair, red lipstick (my trademark for years), sunglasses and black ballerina flats. The book is long out of print, but available on amazon.com. And I’ve never actually been to France, but it is a goal. I have a savings account that I automatically transfer money to each month to cover my travel expenses.
But let’s talk about food for a moment.
No matter what you think of their politics or their people, no-one can dispute that the French have eating figured out.
The so-called French Paradox is the observation that the French have less obesity and heart disease despite relishing high fat foods. It has fascinated scientists and health experts for years. Actually it’s not a paradox at all because fats don’t cause heart disease, at least not the real food fats the French consume!
The real “paradox” is that French women are far less concerned with “healthy eating” and macronutrients, and far more interested in the pleasure and social aspects of food. Yet, they are less likely to be overweight and don’t suffer the anxiety and even orthorexia that can come from an obsession with healthy diets.
In her book French Women Don’t Get Fat (that’s my beloved copy above), author Mireille Guiliano tells us all about the eating habits and philosophies of les femmes.
Since reading the book and others like it, I’ve tried my best to implement these principles into my life. And so I present:
How to Eat Like a French Woman
1) Focus On Pleasure
Forget counting calories, fussing with percentages and most of all DIETS! Dieting causes your metabolism to slow down and even one diet can ruin your weight loss efforts for years. Pleasure also includes all the senses: setting a lovely table, arranging food in an attractive way, and eating it with people you love.
2) Nothing Is Forbidden
French women don’t forbid any food. Alcohol, fats, carbs (hello baguette!), sweets – these are all okay periodically. Calling certain foods “bad” leads to a cycle of craving, binge eating and feelings of failure, guilt and general pathos around eating.
3) Eat REAL Food
Real food is what your great-grandmother would recognize as food. French women don’t sweeten things with fake sweeteners. They use real butter, not fake trans fats. Eat vegetables. Eat whole grains. Eat meat. Eat full fat dairy products. Real food means shopping more frequently, finding local food providers like farmer’s markets, farmers, butchers, fishmongers. It may mean (yikes!) spending more money on food.
Interestingly, Europeans as a whole spend a lot more money on food as a percentage of income than Americans. Why do we shy away from spending more money on quality food but don’t mind dropping $5 for a fancy coffee? French families eat out far less frequently than Americans do. Perhaps we should reallocate some of the eating out and Starbucks budget on real food?
Another interesting tidbit: French woman have the highest fecundity rates of all European women and have more kids than the average American, but don’t struggle as much with retaining baby weight, because of their habits.
4) Variété Is Very Important
French mothers (and really the entire culture supports this, there are even branches of government devoted to this goal) place great emphasis on educating their children to eat a wide variety of foods. Especially vegetables. Kids are taught not to refuse anything at table.
Try experimenting with vegetables rarely eaten by average Americans: things like leeks, kohlrabi, turnips. The first time I made my children leek soup, they loved it! Strangely, I grew up eating leek soup regularly and had never thought of feeding it to my kids.
5) Eat Only At Mealtimes, Only At The Table
No eating between meals. French women do not snack randomly. The 4:30 goûter is acceptable, but mostly for children. They also do not eat in cars. They do not eat standing up, while watching TV, browsing the internet, checking email on their phones. Sit down and eat properly. Using a cloth napkin and real plate are best.
6) Eat Mindfully, Slowly. Savor!
This one is probably the hardest for me. I have always been a fast eater, so I have to remind myself every single day to slow down. One thing that works for me is to eat with my fork in my left hand, or to flip my fork upside down and eat like the French do (with my knife in my right hand, fork in my left).
I now eat pizza with a fork just so I don’t wolf it down. Eating slowly makes for better digestion and helps you stay regular too. We all know that it takes our brains 20 minutes to register satiety. Eating mindfully and slowly means you eat less and enjoy more.
7) Fat Is Good
Low fat? Bien au contraire! Low fat means fake food (see rule #3). Eating fat means you feel full and stay full longer. Low fat eating causes most of us to crave sugar, and many women are experiencing health problems due to a low fat diet (such as infertility, disappearance of libido, dry skin and hair, depression, etc).
8) Movement, Not Exercise
A French woman wouldn’t be caught dead donning yoga pants and schlepping to the gym. But she does walk (or bike) everywhere! Incorporating more movement into your life is probably less stressful and more realistic than starting or keeping up with a complicated exercise program. Walking is probably safer and cheaper too, as well as environmentally friendly. A daily walk outside will do more for your waistline and mood and happiness than an unused gym membership or goofy workout DVD.
Those are the things I’ve learned about how to eat like a French woman. Do you have any of these habits? What benefits have you noticed?
French Kids Eat Everything (I adore this book and re-read it every year just to remind myself!)
Lessons from France: Eating, Fitness, Family – another lovely read, this one is an inexpensive ebook, a collaboration of several French mothers who share their diet and exercise philosophy and recipes
French Women For All Seasons – a nice French cookbook, by the author of French Women Don’t Get Fat
My review of Bringing Up Bebe – what can we learn from French mothers?