Sunday, April 19, 2009

What I Learned in France

I just returned from an amazing trip to Paris France. Aside from all the wonderful things I saw and did, such as going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and seeing real Renoir's at the Louve, I learned some things that actually were very relevant to this blog and I want to share them with you.

I hadn't been in France long when I noticed an interesting phenomenon. There were no fat French people! Okay, maybe there were a couple chubby older ladies, but really, most of the heavier people I saw in France were Americans. It was weird. Almost everyone was thin! After talking with Emilie about this (Emilie is my cousin who has lived in France for over two years) I learned a thing or two about the french food culture and the reasons why most french people are thin. They are Intuitive Eaters!! Their food culture lends itself very well to this way of eating. I'll explain....

The above two pictures are samples of things we ate in France with almost every meal (notice how small the pastries are). Busy pastry shops are on every corner, and the french eat desserts and white bread very regularly, with almost every meal in fact. Dieting is a foreign concept to them, and even though they move their bodies everyday, they aren't generally regular exercisers. So why are they so thin?

They savor their food. Food that is made carefully and with fresh, real ingredients. They eat slowly, and their portions are much smaller.

Really? Is that all?

Yep, that's all.

The french manage food and meal times much differently than we do here in the good old U. S. of A. Above is a picture of a typical French cafe. We would be seated for lunch and two hours later, finally be wrapping up our meal. Meals really took almost two hours to eat. It was wonderful! We would sit down, be served at drink, a little later, be served bread, a little later a meal, delicious, fresh, and smaller, but totally satisfying. No one rushed us through our meal. We would talk, eat, chat, eat some more. We enjoyed the meal, every bite. Then after having plenty of time to finish our food, we would order dessert. Desserts were amazing, but much smaller than the ginormous portions we are served here in America.

At my first dinner in France I ordered chocolate fondant for dessert. Chocolate fondant was exactly like what we would call chocolate lava cake here at home. I received my cake, which was only about the size of a racket ball, but presented very beautifully. I wanted to savor every delicious bite because it was such a small cake. Then it dawned on me. This was one big reason french people are small. They start with smaller portions and savor each bite because each bite counts. As I was enjoying the most amazing dessert I had ever had, made with the finest butter, cream, chocolate, and eggs, I couldn't help thinking about the huge, head sized chocolate molten cake I'm served at Chili's restaurant back in the states. I was more satisfied, slowly enjoying my little french cake, than I ever had been rushing through that chocolate monster back home at Chili's.

The french sit down to nicely set tables to enjoy their food. They wouldn't dream of eating in the car, having lunch working at a desk, or snacking while watching television. They set the table, sit down, and enjoy themselves at meal times. Emilie said she has carefully observed her french mother and sister in law. They don't nibble as they are preparing food. When preparation is complete and it's time to eat, they put what they want on their plates, sit down, and eat a leisurely meal, not going back for seconds, because they feel so satisfied.

French people rarely, if ever, snack, because eating food quickly would be a less than optimal eating experience. I don't know if I agree with the no snacking thing because it doesn't follow Intuitive Eating very well. Intuitive Eating tells to eat when we feel hungry, which is often between meals, but maybe we should make sure even our snacking is done in an optimal setting, not standing up at the counter or driving down the road.

Here's the new book I'm reading. I'll let you know if it's good. The author was born and raised in France, went for a year long study abroad in America and gained lots of weight. After returning to France she resumed eating in the 'french' way and lost her weight, keeping it off for the rest of her life. I'm about three chapters into it and their are many of the same things advocated in it that go hand in hand with intuitive eating. Mainly, savoring what you really want to eat, stopping when full, not dieting, and not restricting certain types of foods. When I'm done I'll do a review. I'm certain there are many things we could learn from the french way of eating because french women don't get fat!


  1. I like this. I just got a book I wonder if you have read. It's called, Mindless Eating. It has so many of these principles about savoring and smaller portions. I would really like your take on it-when you get to it.

  2. overlyactive:
    Your book sounds interesting. I haven't read it, but I have heard of it. I hope you'll share what you learned with us when you're done. Heck, I'll read anything about this subject. Can't wait to have you report.

  3. I saw this woman on Oprah awhile ago. It was really interesting. Oprah was telling her that when she went to Paris she would not let herself eat a croissant until the last day of her vacation because she was too afraid she would overindulge. The woman was shocked. She said something like "you should have had one everyday and really enjoyed it." The only thing I felt was a bit ridiculous was the profile of a woman who had supposedly followed the principles of the book and had lost alot of weight. The problem with her story was that she had turned the concept into a diet, it seemed very restrictive. For lunch she would set this elaborate beautiful table with china, linens, flowers, and candles. She would eat an apple cut in half with a slice of cheese on each half and a glass of wine. I just remember thinking how silly it seemed. I just want to be at a point were food is food, not something I use to soothe my anxiety and not something that I worship either.

  4. I think we should all go on a Parisian field trip to find out for ourselves. Who's with me? :)

  5. Amy:
    I like what you said here. Food should be food. Something to enjoy but not to be worshipped. The French don't worship food to the extreme of the lady on the Oprah show but I do think they show it the respect it deserves, and enjoy it for what it is. Delicious! It's meant to be enjoyed and savored. But, yes we use food for everything other than enjoyment and nourishment.

    I think Emily is right. We all need to take a trip to Prais together and dig into this a little deeper.

  6. So I just got done reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan. I wanted to share the things I really liked about the book. There are things that I didn't agree with but some really made sense and have really helped me see food in a different light. The first of the book is a lot of research and philosophy which took me forever to read but I finally got through it. The last half got really practical and gave some great suggestions to applying the research he gave at the beginning. This book was more about how to stay healthy not about dieting.
    It analysises the Western Diet. Why are so many of cultures getting diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases so much more readily then other cultures who have not Westernized their diets? He really hits this hard with research that is eye opening.
    Eat whole foods-Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. If you can't read half of the ingredients on a package-it's not that great for you.
    Avoid Food products that make Health Claims--Don't forget that tans-fat-rich margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim it was healthier than the traditional food it replaced. Some of the claims can be true but be leary.
    Shop the Peripheries of the Supermarket and stay out of the middle
    Get out of the Supermarket whenever possible-meaning shop your farmer' markets which will give you fresher fruits and veggies and support local farmers
    Eat mostly plants, especially leaves
    Eat Meals-if we are constantly snacking and sipping while watching TV, driving, cleaning we eat unconsiously. My husband told my kids the other day, we are not cows we are humans. Meaning, our body doesn't need to graze constantly all day.
    Do ALL your eating at a table-No, a desk is not a table.
    Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.-Don't make a habit of picking up snacks at the gas station
    Try not to eat alone-Research shows that people eat more and faster when they are alone.
    Consult your gut-Instead of eating with your eyes. The larger the portion, the more we eat; the bigger the container, the more we pour; the closer the bowl of M& M's the more we eat. Food marketers are eager to sell us more food and they use this research to their advantage-don't fall for it. The French people stop eating When they feel full. The Americans on the other hand eat until their plate is clean or when I run out.
    Eat Slowly
    Cook and if you can plant a garden
    I am really trying to do these things and I have felt a huge difference in my health. I still enjoy desserts but I savor it.

  7. On my first trip to Paris, my pal made coffee in the kitchen while I went out to the bakery and got two croissants for each of us. They were so delicious, and we wound up losing weight while we were there, too, from all the walking!