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.
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
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.