Watching my waif thin French colleague freehand pour about a quarter of a bottle of olive oil on her salad, I really began to understand why people were confounded by the French physique.
Our fad diet ways of staying thin have convinced us that to be thin you should eat 1200 calories a day, or adopting a vegan/GF/other elimination diet (which, by the way, is a surefire way to developing a destructive eating disorder... so don't do it), French women have mastered the art of staying thin whilst living and eating decadently daily. Pastries, steak and red wine daily is commonplace, and seems to have no effect on the physique.
Now we can’t unequivocally put it all down to a ‘good metabolism’. There is a secret to the French way of living which, having lived in and out of Paris for the last year, I have had time to analyse (and put to the test!)
So for all of you that are curious as to how they manage it, on my covert mission to learn their secret I have uncovered 5 surprising things (and one bonus!) that french people build into their routine to build and maintain slim physiques, and that you yourself can implement today to help you on your road to being your best self inside and out. So here goes!
1. They do not diet If you’re a die hard dieter this may come as a shock to you! As someone who has struggled with disordered eating in my past, I was always on a diet. You name it, I've tried it. So living in a culture where diets were not commonplace was strange. Going from the usual Monday talks with friends from work on how we needed to eliminate everything to make up for our weekend, to seeing french women eating beef bourguignon for lunch immediately after a big weekend made my head spin. This is because this lack of diet mentality has allowed these women to build healthy relationships with food. Instead of seeing it as the enemy, they see it as a fuel source, a source of pleasure, and necessary to their day to day. This healthy relationship allows them to listen to their body and feed based on intuition, rather than a calorie app. The trust they have in their bodies to tell them what they want is repaid by their bodies craving and demanding the correct balance of food and nutrients to keep them healthy.
2. Nothing is off the table Carbs for breakfast, red meat with a glass of wine at lunch , and a three course dinner, is a daily occurrence in France. They have understood the balance between savouring food, and providing their body with correct nutrients. Have you ever experienced what I call "eating around the craving"? That means having a craving for... a Krispy Kreme, and instead of eating the Krispy Kreme for dessert, you'll have a rice cake with low fat cream cheese... Followed by some dark chocolate... Followed by some nuts... Followed by a nutrition bar... And still feel unsatisfied. Instead of just eating the Krispy Kreme! Stay with me, because I know it is very hard to think out of the control box when that is all you have done for years, but in essence the french 'nothing off the table' policy means they never feel deprived. Granted, Amelie from operations isn't having 4 croissants daily, but one with her black coffee every morning not only keeps her svelte, but allows her body to feel that whatever it asks for, it will get. The worst thing you can do when trying to slim down is bring a deprivation mindset to your ways of eating.
3. They don’t go to the gym One thing that was really hard when living in Paris was the lack of gyms. In London, you can’t turn a corner without seeing a Pure Gym or a Fitness First. In Paris the only easily accessible gym was the shoebox gym with a couple of treadmills and bikes below ground floor in the hotel (to put it in proportion, the spa next door was about 4x the size!). That is because Parisisians are way more into activity than the gym. They walk. They cycle. They salsa. They tie experiences and connection into every activity. In many ways this is a more sustainable and efficient way of living. Building activity in your lifestyle is way more useful in the long term than punishing yourself with 60 mins at the gym 5 days a week. And who wouldn’t in so beautiful a city!
4. They don’t do Fat Free Cream in the coffee, olive oil on the salad… The French don’t run away from fat. I remember getting strange looks when I asked for milk in my coffee- the waitress couldn't understand why I didn't want a pot of cream on the side instead! The french love fat. And it shows. One of the biggest misconceptions is that eating fat makes you fat, when it is in fact the opposite. Eating fat makes you more satiated, and can inspire your body to become a fat burner instead of a sugar burner. That means eating fat can literally turn your body into a fat burning machine! And the french are living proof of this. I never saw anyone forgo the steak for a chicken breast, or cut the fat off their pork, or hold the olive oil on their salad. The french are not scared of fat, and nor should you be!
5. Their social experience revolves around food As can be evidenced in all of my points above, the french have an incredible relationship with food. They don't see food as the enemy, but as something to enjoy, something to share, something to bring joy and it shows.The connotation of food is not as something that is not to be trusted, as it can be in the UK and the US. You'll never see someone deny themselves something based on the calories, but rather personal taste or current level of satiation. That positive relationship with food is the foundation to being healthy for a lifetime, and is something everyone should cultivate if they are looking for long-term weight loss, health and body confidence.
And the Bonus point? They express themselves. The French are known for being emotional, and for speaking their mind, no matter how brutal it may be. They are passionate, angry, sad, and everything along the spectrum in an incredibly expressive way.
Suppression is usually found in those who are struggling with their weight as a way to work through their feelings- anxiety, depression etc... and is a way of pushing things down. That is why health cannot just be attributed to what we put in our mouths. We are connected beings, body soul and spirit in one so it is of no surprise that pain in the soul would show up as pain in the body too. If you have tried everything, and for some reason no diet seems to stick, it might be time to try something else. I offer a free 30 minute consultation for those of you that are struggling with your next level in life. And if you have been stuck at the level of losing those last 10, 20 pounds or more, it might be time to reach out!