The French Paradox

The French Paradox

French croissant 11.13

(photo source)

There are many aspects of  French women that fascinate me, from the way they walk with confidence and poise to the way they can tie a scarf in 10 different ways. But, nothing perplexes me more than how French women (and men) can regularly eat such rich foods as buttery loaves of bread, creamy sauces over robust meat dishes, and decadent macaroons and other sweets from the local patisserie, yet they have a lower rate of heart disease than Americans not to mention, smaller waistlines. This “French Paradox” has been studied by scientists for at least 20 years, and many theories have been debated as to why the French are healthier and thinner than Americans, yet we, in the US, are perpetually dieting, consuming greater amounts of low-fat, low-calorie, and low-carb foods than the French.

Some theorists argue it is the red wine the French consume, others argue it is the great amount of olive oil they use in cooking. Another theory, stemming from a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that the French may eat more rich, high fat foods than Americans, but they eat much smaller portions than Americans, which translates into significantly fewer calories.

In the last five years alone, at least two diet books have been dedicated to the concept of the French Paradox, both trying to decipher the mystery and boil it down into a weight loss plan for Americans. The books,  The Fat Fallacy: The French Diet Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss by Will Clower and French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, make a claim that it is not only what the French eat but how they eat it that gives them the health advantage over Americans. Still, the overarching theme is that the French have a healthier relationship with food than Americans. In the US, we have a love/hate relationship with food – we love to eat great amounts of mediocre food and then hate ourselves after doing so. Americans also have a negative perception of food,  seeing rich and creamy foods as bad or forbidden, while the French welcome these dishes with open palates. Furthermore, Americans rush through meals as if the purpose of eating was to get to the destination of feeling full as quickly as possible, while the French see eating as a journey where they engage in extended meals with several courses where lively conversation is not only encouraged, but expected.

These are just a few of the theories related to the French Paradox, and I’m certain others will follow. No matter which theory is true or which you choose to believe, whatever the French are doing seems to be working for them.

Now, how do we make the French way of eating work for Americans? I’m not suggesting you sit around in a beret and eat bon bons and fois gras all day (and the French do not do this either) or take two-hour lunches (unemployment rates are already high enough). However, I think there is something to be learned from the French and their relationship with and perception of food.

By adapting a more French style of eating, we may be able to enjoy our food and life a little more, and maybe even lose a few pounds in the process.

Want to learn more about what and how the French eat?  Be sure to read my future posts that will tell you just how they do it!

à bientôt…


  1. One theory I have is: that the French are able to eat the delicious creamy fatty foods, because they chain smoke.

    Is it a coincidence that the U.S. obesity rates have increased as the quantity of smokers has decreased?

    I’d love to see some studies or blog posts if you know of any that describe the relationship between diet, obesity, and smoking. Is it a strong correlation or weak?

    Nice article.

    • Hi Sam,

      Actually, smoking rates in France (at least among women) are similar to smoking rates in America. Also, Paris has had a smoking ban for just over a year, which means we could see their smoking rates drop further.

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