If you spend any time trying to lose weight, then you must have heard about the French diet and how French women are skinnier than your average American women. The French diet is higher in fat and encourages wine consumption, and yet French women are less obese than American women.
The French diet consists of real food
The traditional French diet has always been built around fresh whole food with minimal processing. French women shop daily at local markets for fresh vegetables, fish, meats, fruits, and dairy products. These whole foods are usually grown by local farmers in soil that are naturally rich (what we would call organic food).
French women tend not to eat snack food, junk food, or fast food like the way we do. Their fats mostly come from monosaturated oils like olive oil, nuts, omega-3 from fish, and a small amount of saturated oils from cheese. They eat more beans and fresh fruits than we do and do not worry about food labels because whole foods do not have to food labels.
A couple generations ago, our diet consists of whole food as well. Think about all the new food products on the market. They were not available during your grandmother’s childhood. Instead, your grandmother grew up eating organic, pesticides free, hormone free, local whole food. Now we have to pay a premium for this kind of whole food. Even our definition of "fresh food" is not the same as two generations ago.
French women eat less food
Almost everyone in America benefits from you being slightly overweight (there is a huge difference in carrying an extra 10 to 15 pounds versus being morbidly obese). The US agricultural policy of subsidizing corn production has led to an overproduction of an extra 500 calories available to each person per day. This is why it is always a better value to pay an extra $0.20 for a larger version of whatever snack food or junk food that you are buying. Since the French diet consists mostly of whole food, French women do not eat the larger "better value" portions from the snack food or junk food that you are eating.
French women are slow eaters
These days you hear a lot about the slow food movement and how eating quickly causes us to unconsciously eat too much food. A lot of my friends eat meals in front of the TV or quickly in order to shuttle their kids to their next activity. The French diet talks about the pleasure of eating and enjoying the company you are with.
If you watched any of Rick Steves show on European travel, then you’ll know that many Europeans, the French included, take twice as long to eat their meals compared to Americans. Often times their meals are very social and relax with many friends and families.
I observed this firsthand myself when I went to Rome for my honeymoon with my husband. While we would take an average of 45 to 50 minutes to finish a meal at a restaurant, it would take the Italians almost 2 hours to finish same meal. There just seems to be more talking than eating at their table than ours (of course my husband and I have been together a long time so maybe we ran out of things to say but I doubt that is the case). Most of the servers seem surprise when we asked for the bill right after we finished eating because most Europeans would sit and chat over coffee after their meal.
French women walk more than we do
You do not realize how much room there is in America unto you travel to Europe. Here it is almost impossible to buy groceries went out driving, with the exception of some dense urban areas. Almost all of our small towns and suburbs are made for cars. But when you are in Europe, it is more inconvenient to drive than to walk to your local grocery store since the streets are smaller and the parking is horrendous. In addition, their denser population supports small local stores while our urban sprawl favors the big box stores.
The secret to the French diet is no secret
While there are tons of books talking about the French paradox and how the French holds the secret to weight loss with their higher fat diet and consumption of wine, it is really no secret. When you are slowly eating whole food in smaller portions and walking more you are bound to be skinnier than your average American.
Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.
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