10 Reasons Why French Women Don’t Get Fat: Or Is It A Big Fat LIE!

Maybe you’ve heard: French Women Don’t Get Fat! But is it true and if so how does this nation of cheese eating, wine drinking people stay relatively thin? Especially the women?


french women don't get fat

French Women Don’t Get Fat! Is There Scientific Proof?

The belief that French people don’t get fat is so strong and so widely believed that some scientists have studied this phenomenon to try and understand how a nation that eats more cheese and drinks more wine per capita than the average developed nation isn’t  more overweight.

There are even recipe and diet books based on the “French Diet” including one very popular book called French Women Don’t Get Fatfrench women don't get fat( I’ve listed more books like this at the end of this post).

french women don't get fat

The answer I believe is not in the French DNA but rather in the attitudes and habits the French have with regards to food.

My Personal Experience

On any given day my husband Blake and I can take a walk around France to local shops and Bistros and find middle-aged couples leisurely walking around.  Nothing really extraordinary except for the lack of flabby limbs and pudgy waists.

The younger French people tend to be even more thin and appear very athletic. Which is even odder since the French are not known for frequenting the gym like many Americans and Canadians do.

I can literally go weeks maybe months before I spot a Fat, overweight French woman.  When I say fat, I do not mean chunky or curvy. I mean obese to the point that it may be hazardous to their health. 

First The Fat Facts

Before I go into the why,  let me first give you some facts.  In 2007, Forbes magazine published an article ranking the worlds fattest countries; 198 countries in total were ranked. The article published these numbers based on (WHO) the World Health Organization.  The report reflected the percentage of that countries population over the age of 15 that was overweight.

*NOTE: The WHO’s definitions of “overweight” and “obese” are based on an individual’s body mass index (BMI), which measures weight relative to height. Overweight is marked by a BMI greater than or equal to 25 and obese is defined as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30.

In this report, the United States was ranked 9th fattest nation out of 198. Yes 9th. (screeeeeeeeeech, record scratch). 74% of the American population is considered overweight (BMI > 25). Compare that to France which was ranked 128th fattest nation with 40% of the adult population overweight.

That’s a huge drop don’t you think?  Even more alarming is when you compare the ranking of Americans  to Asian nations.  Thailand, China and Japan all with 30% or less of their populations overweight.  The Asia diet is another story and I would love to talk about their food and culture but today we are only looking at the French diet.

Take a look at the partial table below which lists some countries in order of fat rank. It is a partial list, you can see the full list of 198 countries ranking by clicking here

 

FAT Rank
(# / 198)

Country

% Of Population
Overweight= BMI >25

#9 United States 74%
#16 Greece 69%
#19 Mexico 68%
#21 Australia 67%
#28 United Kingdom 64%
#35 Canada 61%
#83 Spain 52%
#88 Brazil 51%
#128 France 40% Why aren’t they at 75% like Americans or 61% like Canadians?
#144 Thailand 30%
#148 China 29%
#163 Japan 23%
#193 Ethiopia 6%

The French Secret To Staying Thin

Why is it that the French appear so thin and so healthy compared to other countries but especially when compared to Americans in the U.S., a nation obsessed with diets and health clubs?

If you have ever spent any length of time in France than the answer to this question may be clear to you but to everyone else, it must seem puzzling.  Once you hear the reasons you will nod your head and immediately understand how the French stay relatively thin given their diet of rich foods.

Grocery Shopping

Let’s take a look at how the average person shops for groceries. In the U.S. and in Canada, you can walk into any grocery store and be faced with aisle upon aisle of chips, soda pop, Twinkies (edit: not any more because their discontinued), sugar coated cereals and an abundance of other unhealthy snack foods.

Yes these unhealthy choices exist in France but there are two noticeable differences; Portion and Selection.

1- PORTION: Unhealthy snacks are sold in tiny servings that would probably make an American scoff and think they were getting ripped off. You don’t see huge bags of Doritos, or Costco sized coco puffs.

2- SELECTION / QUANTITY: TIn France, the selection and the quantities of flab inducing, stomach bulging foods and snacks are minuscule in comparison to the aisles upon aisles dedicated to these types of food in the U.S. and Canada. A recent trip to the UK didn’t prove any better either..

Instead of aisles dedicated to coke and pop, anther aisles dedicated to chips and another aisle dedicated to cookies, you’ll find a smaller percentage of French grocery stores dedicated to these types of unhealthy choices. In fact, it can be pretty hard to find the junk food.

Portion size and availability of unhealthy snacks only scratches the surface as to “WHY”.

10 Secrets Revealed: “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”

Through lots of reading and by living in France for several years, I’ve witnessed first hand some of the reasons why French woman are able to stay relatively thin. Below are 10 simple explanations which anyone can incorporate into their way of eating. I know they seem silly or easy but they work. Sorry, there is no magic pill to be thin either.

1- Slow Down: The French eat very slowly. You’ve probably heard that by eating more slowly, you give your brain time to catch up to your stomach.

When eating at some of the Bistros here in France, I definitely notice that people sit much longer for lunch. They stop and talk to one another in between bites. Put there fork down in between bites. Drink some wine in between bites and then talk some more in between bites. The whole meal can take up to an hour to eat easily.

One of my son’s who is 14 noticed the same thing at the French school he attends. French children are not given a mere 45 minutes to eat but close to 2 hours to eat compared to the US where they were given barely 40 minutes to eat their lunch. According to my son, on average, his friends take closer to 40 minutes to finish their meals.

2- Eat Smaller Portions: There is no super size me in France. French restaurant portions are noticeably smaller.  Meat and fish portions would be considered tiny by American standards. One easy way for you to cut your portion size is use a smaller diner plate and don’t go back for seconds.

3- Don’t snack: I know that a lot of diets in the U.S. say you should snack but here in France, snacking is virtually unheard of. No bag of chips, no granola bars in between. It’s just not common place.

4- Eat breakfast: The French usually eat 3 meals and never skip a meal not even breakfast.  Breakfast is not like a typical American or English breakfast. No stacks of piping hot pancakes, with a side of bacon and eggs. It’s juice, maybe some toast, an apple or nuts. So don’t skip breakfast just eat lighter healthier in the morning.

5- Little to no processed foods: I already mentioned that walking down the food isles in the U.S.  and Canada is like walking down a cornucopia of packaged and processed fatty foods. Not in France. Sure there are processed food but I have yet to find whole aisles dedicated to coke. So skip the process packaged foods and stock up on healthier choices.

6- More Fish, Fruits and vegetables: The French eat less meat and more fresh fruits, veggies and fish and so should you. This is just common sense, need I say more?

7- Be more active: What I find amazing is that the French stay so lean but don’t have gyms at every corner like there are in the US. Instead, the French are more active. More outdoor activities, more walking. This is good news for all you people who hate the gym. Try to be more active and walk more. Everyday if you can.

8- Drink red wind: Aaaaah Yeah!!!!!. This is what I’m talkin about. It is true that the French drink more wine. The numbers don’t lie and neither do my eyes. While dining out in France, I do notice that more people partake in a glass of wine than in the U.S. or Canada.  In the Groceries store too; I see much more people buying wine at the checkout than in the U.S. or Canada.

(wine is very inexpensive in France compared to elsewhere).

The reason why wine is good for weight loss or weight control is because it contains an antioxidant compound found in the grape skins called resveratrol. It’s not only great as an aid in weight loss but also overall good health. Cheers and you are welcome!

9- Eat yogurt: What is interesting is that in the U.S. and Canada, milk is almost forced down our children’s throats but here in France it’s not served to school children. To be honest, I don’t like milk. Growing up, I never even drank it.

My mother and step mother were both Asian and never drank it so I never did. That’s a whole other topic which would require more time.

Back to yogurt.  French children don’t get milk at school. They get cheese or yogurt. My 4 year old always eats her cheese at school. My boys tell me that their school mates always eat their cheese and yogurt. Compare that to the u.s. where a lot of kids just throw out their milk. “YES” it happens more than you think.

Yogurt and or cheese are served at every meal.  Not cheddar cheese but Brie, camembert, compte or blue cheese. And there is no Danon yogurt or that funky kiddy yogurt. It’s real yogurt. I love it

10. Hydrate: The French hydrate with water and hydrate often.  I already mentioned that the kids don’t get milk at school.  Yes they can get juice on occasion but the kids always get water. Even at the store, I see very little choices for sodas. Lots of juice and lots of different types of water.  You’ll have to look hard and long to find a six pack of coke in France. Maybe the bigger stores have canned soda pop but not at the ones I frequent in France.

Final Thoughts

If you were thinking about dieting to lose those last 10 pounds then give the French way of eating a try. The best thing about the French way of eating is it is painless and it’s yet another reason why you would love to live in France. At least, i keep telling myself that.

Books: Recipes and Diet Books About The French Way Of Eating

Below are a few books I found at Amazon concerning the French diet. I added a book about the  Japanese diet too.  Having lived in Japan for over 3 years, I have tremendous respect for the Japanese way of life and their food. Enjoy.

What do you think? Do you agree with me on my assessment into the reason why the French as a nation are so much thinner and healthier than other developed countries?

Photo Credit: Fat Woman

Sonia

We suck! Talk about bad foods put in our face each and every day. Now I have to blame “us” because we all have a choice in what we put in our mouths, but to see the major differences and what’s “forced” in our face is amazing. This really made me look at the grocery store differently and how I need to change my approach to the foods I eat. Nice post Annie!
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    Annie Andre

    Sonia,
    I agree with you, we all make our own choices about what we put in our mouths. It doesn’t help that the big companies use psychology and marketing to make us think that we need and want these horrible things that we put in our mouths. And they make us think that bigger is better. So many americans live under the mentality that if they get a litle bit rather than a lot that they are getting ripped off. This works fine for many things but not for serving sizes like McDonals Super size me.. I digress.. Thanks for your comment. Love the conversation.

Derek

Hi Annie,
I come from Europe, same applies to the whole Europe, not just France.
There are only two reasons Europeans are slimmer:
1. Better food (better quality, less quantity)
2. More walking (less driving)
Cheers
Are you in France now?
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    Annie Andre

    Hello Derek,
    Thanks for stopping by. Yes i’m living in the south of France right now..

    Interesting that you brought up the rest of europe because i was curious about that too and Yes you are right that most of Europe is not as fat as the rest of the world however France is the second Least fattest country out of all of europe. According the the study done that i listed only Romania is less fat as a nation by 1%. I’ve listed out the rankings below just because i was so curious myself..
    =======================================================================
    Germany was by far was the fattest out of all the Europeans if you don’t include the UK which is right up there after the US, Australia and Canada
    I’ve listed the rankings below…
    Germany was 43 fattest at 60% of population considered overweight
    Switzerland was 63 at 55.5%
    Czech was 81 at 52%
    Spain was 81 at 51.8%
    Sweden was 90 49.7%
    Norway was 91 at 49.1%
    Russia was 92 at 49.1%
    Poland was 98 at 47.5%
    Ireland was 103 at 46.6
    Belgium was 104 at 46.3%
    Netherlands was 106 46%
    Denmark was 108 at 45%
    Italy was 111 at 45.5%
    Ukraine was 114 44.8%
    Estonia 122 42.2%
    France 128 40.1%
    Romania 134 39.1%

Allie

Annie,

I need to correct you. Americans don’t “walk to the grocery store”. They drive there and park as close as possible to the entrance. When weather permits I ride my bike to the store and I get the funniest looks. Almost like they are thinking “why would she ride her bike, that takes too long and I have things to do like get back to my TV to watch Grey’s Anatomy.”

Damn you, now I feel the need to get up. And then throw out the bag of Cheez-Its.

~Allie

Romain

I stumbled on this post and found it interesting, especially coming from an American perspective (although you are living in France).

As a 21-year-old French man, I’ll add my grain of salt:

– A lot of mothers are really careful about feeding their children properly. I don’t know why that is. A wild guess is that France was a very rural country until the mid 20th century, so people were brought up eating fresh produce from the farm. I know that’s how my mum was brought up, and I was raised eating a lot of veggies, fish and meat.
Nowadays, even if I live alone, I’m always putting a lot of care and consideration into what I feed myself; also, I just love veggies, fish and meat (either because I’ve been eating them all my life or because they’re naturally good, I don’t know, maybe both…)

– Second, your point about French supermarkets is spot on. Snacks and sodas are indeed a bit hard to find. There is usually an aisle for cheap processed (canned) food, but the products really look unappealing. Personnally, I’d rather have a healty and good 4€/5€ meal than a 2€ unhealthy and untasty one.

– Finally, and this may play on another French cliché, but we like to seduce the other sex (and thus be attractive). France being flanked by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, a lot of young French people spend their summers at the beach, and the only point of them going there (both for men and women), is to have a romantic adventure (or just a one night stand) with a boy/girl. That’s why a lot of people like to stay fit; I’d say more than 80% French children play some sports (Football, Tennis, Biking, Swimming, Horseriding, Basketball, Handball are all very popular), so when they reach young adulthood, doing sports has been hardwired into their habits, and plus, it gives them that athletic look you were talking about, so why stop now? (you’ll find that a lot of young French men have a fairly muscular body, even though compared to Americans, we don’t hit the gym nearly as much).

Hope I’ve shed some light on this fun topic.

    Annie Andre

    Wow thank you for your input. I’m glad you agree. I really loved your take on why french people are so healthy and thin compared to other western nations. It’s especially interesting about the seduction part and the fact that 80 percent of children play sports from a young age..

    Thanks for you input, i’m glad that my assessment had some Merritt to it. It’s really interesting to get your take on this amazing phenomenon.

      Romain

      Of course, there is probably no cause and effect for the seduction part (i.e. saying that French people are thin BECAUSE they like to seduce is a long shot).

      However, I just remembered watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV show, where he tries to revolutionize American school canteen food, and everything becomes so obvious now: in the US, a lot of school serve fried things and milk (which is a lot of fat)for lunch AND breakfast to their kids, with hardly any vegetables. I find it shocking and sad that any attempt to bring healthy food in American school is met with scorn, and rejected by food-industry-backed government agencies.

      On the contrary, in France, the regulation is VERY strong when it comes to food served in school. The Government imposed healthy meals all over the country 2 or 3 decades ago, and there is very little food served in the canteens that will make you fat. Usually, you go through a cafeteria line, where you’re served meat/fish + vegetable/pasta + yogurt/fruit… And kids really do eat the things they’re served, either because they were raised well by their parents (as I was), or because they’ve been told (and forced) ever since they were little to eat their veggies (I went through it ^^ in elementary school, there was this old lady that didn’t let you leave the table if you hadn’t eaten your greens).
      Moreover, I think there’s far more of a foodie culture in France (we’re famous for that!), and people (young or old) really enjoy a great variety of (healthy) food.

      Annie Andre

      What you mentioned, the school lunch program / Canteen here in france is amazing.

      I actually talk about it a lot. And you are right, schools in the US serve crap. At some of the schools, they have Mcdonalds on site at the school, or taco bell or dominioes pizza. And when parents complain they say that it’s because it is cheap. But what they don’t realize is that these kids are getting fatter and fatter.

      There aer some schools that are healthy in the U.S. In Berkley there is a very poor area that “Alice Waters” helped create. where the kids grow their own food and even cook their own healthy lunch programs. They were hopeing to set an example for the rest of the U.S. but i have yet to see any changes.

      Plus, Physical education used to be a big part of schools. But now it’s less and less and you have to pay a lot for after school sports which makes it unaffordable for kids .

      Having said that, i grew up around a strong Asian culture, my father spent over 10 years in Asia and i am half Thai. I can say that Asians have the same love and respect for food. Maybe even more so because Most asian countries are lower on the fat scale.

      Thanks for you input. love the conversation.

      Romain

      You’re preaching to the choir. I lived in the Philippines (2 years) and Malaysia (5 years) between the age 10 and 17 years old, and I agree, Asian cuisine is one of the most healthy and extensive cuisine in the world. When I was in Southeast Asia, I seldom saw a fat person (of course, there was the odd McDonalds addict). Damn, I still miss the fresh fish and seafood. And nothing beats a strong Thai curry!

      Annie Andre

      Romain,
      I’m planning on writing up a post on the most healthy asian cuisine from around the world. All the Asian countries except the pacific islanders are by far much healthier diets. I am really interested in finding out about certain types of cancer and diseases in terms of are certain countries more prone to certain diseases due to their diet. I digress..

      But yes, rarely a fat Asian person i have seen and the ones i do see usually eat western food in abundance. I have only known one obese asian person in my entire life and she was actually born and raised American Asian so i’m not sure she counted. LOL..

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