You knew this post was coming! After writing about my own French eating habits last week, and while my time in France is still fresh in my mind, it makes sense to talk about five habits I’ve observed during my three months in Paris.
There is a commonly held belief that French people do not get fat, despite eating bread, butter, cheese, fatty meats and pastries, and drinking wine, every day. There has even been a whole book written about it: French Women Don’t Get Fat.
It seems everyone has heard about this concept, except the French themselves. Every person I asked about it had never heard of the book – or even the idea. They were completely surprised that their diets were being held up around the world as a method of weight loss.
While it is difficult to make blanket statements about entire countries, I did indeed find that French people – particularly women – were much thinner than the population of countries such as England, Australia and America. Their eating habits and attitudes towards food are very similar to that of the Italians, which I wrote about here.
I think the French are able to remain thin for the following reasons:
- The French exercise portion control: For a person who is used to American-style serving sizes, sure, it won’t make much sense that they are eating all these high-fat and high-carb foods and remaining very thin. But when you realise they are eating small- to medium-sized portions, it makes sense that their overall caloric intake isn’t that high.
- They only eat when hungry and rarely snack: Most French people eat a light breakfast (something like a croissant or a slice of toast with jam), a moderate lunch (a salad or sandwich) and then a larger dinner. They never eat according to the clock, and they certainly don’t feel obliged to finish their whole meal if they are full. You rarely see a French person snacking in the middle of the afternoon, and especially not on something like a bag of chips or chocolates. You do, however, commonly see someone gnawing on a plain baguette as they stroll down the street.
- They don’t track their macros: As I wrote about recently, constantly tracking macros and calories may cause stress that can actually hinder your weight loss efforts. French people eat what they want, when they want, without beating themselves up for it. Interestingly, I’d estimate the average protein intake to be quite low. Meat is very expensive and not the main focus of every meal. As far as supplementation goes, in my three months in Paris, I only found one store that sold one type of protein powder.
- Their level of incidental exercise is very high: Although the French don’t exercise with a purpose (e.g. go out for a jog or hit the gym) very often, Parisians do walk everywhere. It’s not uncommon to walk for an hour or two a day, and it certainly wouldn’t be logged into My Fitness Pal.
- They smoke a lot: It would be remiss of me not to mention this. Yes, the French famously smoke a lot and yes, nicotine does work as an appetite suppressant. An afternoon snack or even breakfast is often skipped in favour of a coffee and a cigarette. There is nothing more French than sitting outside a cafe, people-watching and puffing away.
Embracing all of the above has definitely had an impact on my attitude towards training and nutrition. I increasingly find myself rolling my eyes while reading the latest posts in my newsfeed about IIFYM, how to get abs, carb cycling, HIIT workouts and so on.
I often ask myself: Would a French person care about any of this? The answer is almost always “no”. And you know what? I haven’t turned into an Oompa Loompa.
Have you ever been to France? What did you observe? If not, what are some common beliefs you have about the French way of life?
(PS. I’m in Marrakech at the moment, which is intense and hectic and everything I thought it would be. I have the world’s worst internet access here, so please be patient if you have emailed me. It will hopefully be better once I arrive in Rabat on Sunday!)