The French Woman’s Diet: Eat Bread. Eat Cheese. Eat Chocolate. Repeat.

The French Woman’s Diet: Eat Bread. Eat Cheese. Eat Chocolate. Repeat.

French Bread Loaves

French Bread Loaves

In my previous post about the French Paradox, I introduced the concept that people in France, particularly French women, seem to be able to eat whatever they want while still staying in great shape. Many books and magazine articles have focused on the phenomenon of the French Paradox and even assert that the French way of eating could be the ideal diet plan for Americans. Case in point, a study from the University of Pennsylvania reported that although the French consume more fat than Americans, only 7 percent of French adults are obese, compared with 22 percent of Americans. Now that’s food for thought!

Although “French diet” articles and books, such as The Fat Fallacy: The French Diet Secrets to Permanent Weight Lossby Will Clower and French Women Don’t Get Fatby Mireille Guiliano, cover the French style of eating in detail, I believe that the French diet really involves two main principles: what the French eat and how they eat it. For the last five years, I have tried to live by these two main principles of the French diet. Although I’ve never really needed to lose weight, I find that I am eating more delicious and satisfying foods (cheese, cream soups, and chocolate souffles) – foods that I love – without gaining weight.

Eat Bread. Eat Cheese. Eat Chocolate. Repeat.

So, what do the French eat? In short, French women (and men) eat the very best food that they can afford and they eat whatever they enjoy but in moderation. Not simple enough for you? Let’s look at this principle a little closer and see how you can apply it to your lifestyle.

The French are Foodies: Not all French people are elite chefs or food experts, but the majority of the French are food snobs, opting for quality over quantity. You may think that being a “foodie” is expensive or requires eating at posh restaurants – not so. You can be a foodie without leaving your home. Being a home-based foodie simply means that you buy the best food that you can afford and prepare your meals in the most flavorful way that you can. For instance, if you can only afford pasta and sauce for dinner, opt for an imported sauce and add your own touches, like seasoning or additional veggies, when preparing the meal. Also, choose fresh pasta, found in the refrigerated section, for a more robust pasta dish. Throw in some freshly grated parmesean cheese, a French baguette loaf, and  you’re good to go.

The French Eat Real Food:  The French are fresh food fanatics. They scoff at most prepackaged, highly processed foods (what, no frozen dinners?), and relish in seasonal fresh produce and dairy, poultry, meat, and fish, much of which are purchased daily at local farmers markets. Even breads and sweets are made or purchased fresh daily. In contrast, when it comes to consumption of processed foods, Americans take the (boxed) cake.

Fresh Produce

Fresh Produce

However, this title is not something to brag about. Research shows  that people who eat great amounts of processed food don’t get the appropriate nutrients their body needs. To compensate for a lack of nutrients, they overeat, consuming more calories than intended, and eventually gain weight in the process. Break this cycle of bad eating by taking your cues from the French. When shopping, choose the freshest foods available, whether it’s choosing fresh over canned tomatoes, or fresh over frozen meat. But, that’s not to say that all prepackaged foods are the enemy. Many canned or packaged foods, like beans, pastas, and grains, are highly nutritious, can add flavor and substance to your meals, and are definitely time-savers. However, when choosing these products, opt for  packaged foods with the fewest ingredients and with ingredients you actually recognize. In other words, become your very own food snob and be selective about what you eat. Now really, do you honestly want those 5-day old cookies in the office lunch room or would you rather pick up a freshly made cupcake or petit-four from the local bakery on your way home? My hunch is the latter.

The French Do Not Eat Diet Food: Until fairly recently, French markets and grocery stores rarely stocked what Americans would consider “diet” foods. Why? My guess is that the French have been raised to eat full-fat/full-calorie foods and never really had a need for so-called diet foods. In contrast, an estimated 80 million Americans will go on a diet each year, many consuming low-fat, low-calorie, or low-carb foods. Many researchers, including Brian Wansink, author of the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, believe this is one of the major reasons Americans actually gain weight. In the book, Wansink reports that most people think that low-fat foods have 40 percent fewer calories than regular ones, but in fact it’s only 10-30 percent less. Due to this misconception, people eat more food, and consume more calories, when they think they are eating low-fat. The takeaway message is avoid eating low-fat, low-calorie, and low-carb foods, unless you really love the taste!

The French Eat What They Love, Only Less: The French consider no food forbidden. They eat whatever they enjoy, from salty cheeses and creamy soups, to oil-based

Grocery Scale

Grocery Scale

dressings and lovely dark chocolate. This style of eating may seem overindulgent or even sinful to Americans, but the key here is portion control. The French may eat whatever they want, but they eat very small portions of high quality, delicious foods, that leave them feeling both full and satisfied. In contrast, American portion sizes are out of control. The same University of Pennsylvania study reported that a candy bar sold in Philadelphia was 41 percent larger than the same in Paris, a soft drink was 52 percent larger, a hot dog was 63 percent larger, and a carton of yogurt was 82 percent larger. So, if you want to eat like the French, eat what you love in small portions, plain and simple. Love pizza? Have a slice or two with a small green salad. Enjoy pasta with cream sauce? Savor a sensible portion. And, as the French say, Let Them Eat Cake, as long as you stop after the first (small) slice.
In a French nutshell…

Before heading to your local market or grocery store, ask yourself, “What do I really love to eat? Is it your usual sodium-filled condensed soup (with a 3-year shelf life) or low-fat crackers that could double as board game pieces? I think not. Buy what you love. Eat what you love. Eat less of what you love. Repeat. Do these things without inhibition and hum yourself a French love song all the way home.

Now that we know what the French eat, find out more about how the French eat. Hint: it’s not standing at the counter, eating ice cream over the sink!


  1. Jennfer I loved your article on the French Woman’s Diet. Over the past year I have been trying to lose weight by eating low cal, low fat foods. I find I overeat as these foods are not satisfying to me. I really like the French way of thinking when it comes to food, eat what you love in small portions. I am going to make a diet change. It will be interesting to see if eating what I love, in moderation, will satisfy my taste, as well as, keep my figure trim. Thanks for the insight!

    • Cheers to you sista! Let me tell you, I’ve eaten more than a fair share of “diet” foods in my life, and I can honestly say I do not miss them. Let me know how your new French-style eating is working out for you.

  2. So, does this mean, I can eat all the bread, cheese, and chocolate I want and I’ll lose weight? That doesn’t sound right. Can you clarify for me? Thanks. Nice little blog you’re putting together.

  3. Wow, don’t we wish this was true! Actually, it means that bread, cheese, and chocolate (or sweets in general), as well as other foods that Americans often see as “forbidden”, are actually a welcome part of a French woman’s daily eating habits, yet she remains slim and healthy. A French woman will, of course, eat these foods in moderation, just like anything else she eats.

  4. Have you seen this article about the French women’s diet?

  5. I remember when living in Paris for a couple of years, that all my friends and their mothers seemed to always be on a diet. Take a good look at a super market in France and walk through the aisles and note the “regime” (diet) foods on display- low fat or no fat articles (0 Matieres Grasse). Youghurts, milk products and even bread products. Their word for it is “Legere” or light. It is true that in general they eat better than most other people but France is a society that relishes superficial beauty, and it is fair to say that most French women pay attention to calories consumed and tend to limit fats when needed.

  6. I’m French and I have to agree with most of things listed in your article:
    – French consider no food forbidden
    – French are fresh food fanatics

    The French love food, but don’t like to exercise that much. Therefore they have to control the quantity of food they eat. Lots of pressure are excerced on French women to stay slim.

    • Bonjour Mademoiselle Slimalicious (such a fun name!) – You bring a first-hand perspective to much of what I write about. Being French, have you also felt the pressure to stay thin?

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