Many average-sized Americans describe feeling like plus-size people when they travel to France, where it seems the majority of the population is trim, with women known for being fashionable and slender, and men who are wiry and fit.
The French seem to have figured out how to maintain a healthy body size, even as they enjoy the country’s cuisine known for its rich, buttery sauces, cheeses, pastries, breads, wines and other high-calorie delights. The obesity rate in France is nowhere near the percentages of many other countries, yet low-fat foods and dieting aren’t generally embraced in the culture.
So how do they do it? What’s the secret to the French Paradox – the phenomenon that allows a country known for its fattening dietary indulgences to maintain a mainly healthy population?
Below are 5 tips borrowed from the French to help anyone lose weight without feeling deprived:
1. Eat Real Foods
Most French kids don’t grow up eating fast food or greasy, processed junk, because the bulk of meals are made and eaten at home with fresh, local meats, vegetables and other ingredients bought at smaller neighborhood stores.
The concept of driving to a giant supermarket chain and loading up the freezer with enough food to live on for 2 weeks is unfathomable to most families there, and many shop daily for ingredients to make the evening’s meal.
This traditional approach to eating is becoming popular, and weekend farmer’s markets are opening up in more cities every year. Try to find one in your area for nutritious food grown by your neighbors instead of processed or less-fresh grocery store items.
2. Control the Portion Size
In many countries, such as America, the average portion size is much larger than what is necessary for weight or health maintenance. And as the obesity rates continue to climb, so do the rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, making portion control increasingly important.
The French have this concept mastered to the point that visiting Americans are notably shocked by the smaller-sized meals delivered in restaurants. But another thing often noticed is that while the servings are smaller, the food is extremely rich and satisfying, making the diner feel as gratified as a larger but less flavorful meal might.
3. Savor Every Bite
Rapidly eating at your desk may save you some time in France, but you might lose the respect of your coworkers because they don’t believe in eating outside of a formal dining setting. The American habit of mindlessly crunching potato chips and other snacks in front of the television is an unfathomable concept.
Instead, the French prefer to slowly enjoy every meal, taking time to savor each bite and visit with family and friends for a leisurely and enjoyable experience, rather than a hurried frenzy to shove as many calories as possible into one’s face.
Eating slowly gives the stomach time to recognize fullness before overeating occurs, and allows for better digestion, so the next time you find yourself standing at the counter mindlessly eating, try to sit down and truly relish your food.
4. Skip the Snacks
The idea of “grazing” on constant snacks or eating 6 small meals a day to keep the metabolism moving has received a lot of attention in America, yet in France, snacking is a very rare occurrence generally reserved only for growing children who need the extra calories.
The French government is very strict about including warning labels on fast foods and snack products, reminding consumers that snacking between meals can cause weight gain, fruits and vegetables should be eaten daily. All meals are also eaten on regulated schedules.
If you’d like to try this style of eating, figure out a good mealtime strategy based on your life and eat all meals at a set time, slowly weaning yourself off the snacking habit. You may find that your body becomes accustomed to the new eating plan, gradually losing weight.
5. Walking Works
In Europe, especially in the cities, walking or riding a bike is often the preferred means of transportation, with many choosing to avoid traffic congestion and take in some exercise at the same time.
This can be difficult in many of the larger, more sprawling and spread-out cities found in America, but if you’re fortunate enough to live within walking or biking distance of your grocer or corner market, you might consider a daily trip to the store to buy foods for dinner. This habit will help burn off the calories of the upcoming meal before they’re even consumed, leading to weight loss.
It seems the French have figured out that structured mealtimes involving decadent foods in small servings is a great way to take in less calories without feeling deprived. If you’d like to give this lifestyle a try, remember to eat as many whole, real foods as you can find, and eat them slowly to make the experience last, and truly appreciate every bite.
Consider using the tips above to help yourself develop the healthy, positive relationship with food our French friends seem to have mastered with much success.