It seems like the French can have it all.
They eat four times the butter we Americans consume, 86% of French adults get more than 30% of their calories from fat, and 96% of French people eat more than 10% of their diet in saturated fat (found in foie gras, butter, red meat).
But the French are also two and a half times less likely to die from heart disease and an average French women weighs 30lbs less than her American counterpart.
So what gives? What’s the secret that allows most French women to live a healthier AND skinnier life than us Americans, all while eating some of the richest foods on the planet?
Here are 12 ways you can adjust your eating habits to get that enviable French girl body without giving up any indulgences:
1. Use internal cues instead of external cues.
Cornell University researchers have found that French women use internal cues (no longer feeling hungry) to stop eating, while American women use external cues (the plate is clean, the beverage is finished, the movie is over).
Switch your attention to your internal cues instead of the external ones and you’ll notice a major change in your eating habits.
2. Never diet.
That which you resist persists. Particularly that pastry you passed up this morning.
If you systematically limit food from your lifestyle, you’ll only want it more. And by more, I mean more often and in a larger quantity. So do yourself a favor and indulge when you feel a craving, just do it in moderation.
3. Moderate indulgence, don’t deny it.
Enjoy a chocolate truffle after lunch, not 2 slices of cake. Sip a beer without getting wasted.
One of the great strengths of French culture is moderation. It allows the French woman to satisfy her cravings without going off the deep end. In fashion, she wants Hermes but will buy a basic black bag so that it goes with everything. After work, she wants a sweet snack so she’ll pick up one macaron.
Indulgence doesn’t need to mean excess.
4. Only accept the highest quality available.
I remember one of the first meals I cooked for myself in Paris. I’d bought a single chicken breast from a butcher because I could barely afford anything else, yet I felt I needed to have meat for dinner.
I browned some butter in a sauce pan and added some wine – just because I could! Then on went the chicken breast and the lid to the pot. A flip and some minutes later, I cut into what looked like a simple meal.
“What is this taste?!” I almost audibly exclaimed. It was as if I’d never had chicken before. And I hadn’t really. Not a cage-free chicken, not from a butcher, not freshly prepared that day, not covered in European butter.
The mere ingredients I had used turned my simple supper into something orgasmic – $5 for sublime pleasure, genetically pure, no toxins added.
This is a great French secret. Fill your body with products of the earth and not factories – your taste buds and your body will marvel at how much more bang you get for your bite.
Conversely, if you treat yourself like a garbage dump, don’t be surprised when your body looks like one, too.
5. Give eating your full attention and respect.
The main reason you find benches aside food trucks and why you won’t see many people walking while eating in France is not because this is unattractive. It’s simply just a distraction.
More and more young people in France are taking their lunches à porter (to go), but eating it en route is just as absurd to the French as trying to pee while you finish your report in the loo!
Some things are simply not meant for multi-tasking. For the French, eating is one of them.
6. Slow Down.
Give yourself time to taste your food. Not only will this be more enjoyable, but you’ll have time to recognize when you’re full.
Eating doesn’t need to be a task you rush through. Enjoy!
7. Follow big meals (even desserts) with a cheese course.
The enzymes in cheese (particularly raw cheese) help aid in digestion of almost all foods – except for cheese, which is why the French typically eat it at the end of a meal, even following dessert. Shops like the Truffle Cheese Shop in Denver will help you pick out a selection of cheese for a end-of-meal cheese plate.
If you’re lactose intolerant, you can try the same practice with fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha, which are also digestive aids.
8. Drink some wine.
Like cheese, wine has some dietary benefits as well. Red wine is not only one of the least caloric alcoholic beverages, it also helps your stomach break down food when you drink it over the course of your meal. It’s particularly helpful for cutting through fatty meats or rich butters – some of our favorite things!
Wine is most efficient when consumed slowly, starting before you eat. This allows the stomach to interact with the wine and produce a digestive acid before your food joins the party.
9. Reduce your stress.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is strongly linked to excess belly fat.
Take a cue from the French and value a de-stressed lifestyle. Take a looooong vacation. Stop the glorification of “busy.”
Your cortisol (and fat) will start to melt away.
10. Shop for produce first, meat second.
The French eat an average of 5 times the amount of fruit and vegetable servings that Americans consume. While Americans tend to focus their dishes around a particular type of meat, the French will often shop for seasonal produce first and choose their meat as an afterthought.
This ensures your dish is veggie-heavy and veggie-focused. If you picked your veggie first, you’ll be less likely to ignore it on the plate or think of it as just a “side dish.”
11. Portion yourself.
Indulge on PROportion, not portion.
Indulge yourself in a diet proportionally rich with butter, pastries, and cheese, but don’t over-portion your meals. Pace yourself, slow down, listen for your internal cues, and follow bites with some wine. You’ll find you actually eat less.
In 2003, researchers concluded that the average entrée portion size in Paris was 25% smaller than in Philadelphia. Remember this when dining out. Prepare yourself to leave some food on the plate or split an entrée with a friend.
12. Make lunch your biggest meal.
If you think about food like an energy transfer, you’ll understand why it makes sense to eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day. You want time after you eat to use that energy.
When the French truly indulge, they indulge mid-day and augment with a smaller dinner. And if you like to dine out, it turns out lunch time is the most frugal time to splurge, too.
Do your eating habits align with the French way of eating? What are your thoughts on the French diet or French physique? Let me know in the comments!