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 women?
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 thinner and appear very athletic. Which is even odder since the French are not known for frequenting the gym as so many Americans, and Canadians do.
I can go months before I spot an obese French woman.
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 understand how a nation that eats more cheese and drinks more wine per capita than the average developed nation isn’t more overweight.
It’s “THE FRENCH PARADOX” and some scientists think the answer might be the cheese.
There are books written about the “FRENCH WAY OF EATING”, like the popular book “French Women Don’t Get Fat.”
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of French Women Don’t Get Fat offers a long-awaited collection of delicious, healthy recipes and advice on eating well without gaining weight.
There are recipes and diet books based on the “
I think the answer isn’t in the French DNA but in the attitudes and habits the French have with regards to food. This is just my subjective opinion. I grew up eating Asian food thanks to my Asian side of the family, and I was surprised at just how much cheese French people eat. My Canadian side of the family definitely does not eat nearly as much cheese as we eat in France. And portions really are larger in other western cultures.
BMI Fat vs Obese: what’s the difference?
Before I get into the why let me first give you some facts about what is considered obese.
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.
List of the worlds most obese countries (report from 2007)
In 2007, Forbes magazine published an article ranking the world’s 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 country’s population over the age of 15 that was overweight.
In this report, the United States was ranked 9th fattest nation out of 198. Yes, 9th. 74% of the American population is considered overweight (BMI > 25). Compare that to France, ranked 128th fattest nation with 40% of the adult population overweight.
That’s a huge drop. 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 Asian diet is another story, and I would love to talk about their food and culture, but today we are only looking at the
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 PoP Overweight (BMI >25)|
List of most obese countries (new report)
A more recent report put out in 2017 ranked the world’s most obese countries with a BMI greater than 30. (source)
Number one on the list is Samoa, with obese people making up 76.6% of the population.
The US is 16th on the list with 33% considered obese, while Canada is 40th with 29.4% obese, and the UK is 51st with an obesity rate of 27.8%
Switzerland is the least obese European country in 108th place, with 29.5% of its population categorized as obese, and France is (108th), with 23.6% being obese.
The French Secret To Staying Thin:
As you can see from the charts above, France as a nation isn’t nearly as thin as you might have thought but considering their diet of rich foods: cheese, bread, cream and sweet viennoiserie, you would think they would be a much fatter nation.
How do French people stay relatively thin, given their diet of rich foods?
If you’ve ever spent any length of time in France, then the answer to this question may be clear to you, but it must seem puzzling to everyone else.
Grocery shopping selection
Let’s take a look at how the average person shops for groceries.
You can walk into any grocery store in the U.S. and Canada and be faced with aisle upon aisle of chips, soda pop, and Twinkies (edit: not anymore because they’re discontinued), sugar-coated cereals and an abundance of other unhealthy snack foods.
Yes, these unhealthy choices exist in France, but Portion and Selection have two noticeable differences.
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.
SELECTION / QUANTITY:
In France, the selection and the quantities of flab inducing, stomach bulging foods and snacks are minuscule compared 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.
Instead of aisles dedicated to coke and pop and aisles dedicated to chips and another aisle dedicated to cookies, most French grocery stores dedicate less space to these types of unhealthy choices.
Portion size and availability of unhealthy snacks only scratches the surface as to “WHY.” Here are 10 more reasons.
10 Secrets Revealed: “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat.”
Through lots of reading and by actually living in France for several years, I’ve witnessed some of the reasons why French women can stay relatively thin. Below are 10 simple explanations that anyone can incorporate into their way of eating. I know they seem silly or easy, but they work.
1- Slow Down:
The French eat very slowly. You’ve probably heard that you give your brain time to catch up to your stomach by eating more slowly.
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 their 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.
My eldest son 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, his friends take closer to 40 minutes to finish their meals on average.
2- Eat Smaller Portions:
There is no supersize me in France. French restaurant portions are noticeably smaller. Meat and fish portions would be considered tiny by American standards. One easy way to cut your portion size is to use a smaller dinner plate and not go back for seconds.
3- Don’t snack:
I know that many diets in the U.S. say you should snack, but snacking is virtually unheard of here in France. No
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; 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 nowhere near as much as there is in the US and Canada. So skip the packaged and processed foods and stock up on healthier choices.
6- More Fish, Fruits and vegetables:
The French eat more fresh fruits, veggies and fish-so should you.
7- Be more active:
I find it amazing 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. Every day if you can.
8- Drink red wind:
It’s true, that the French really drink more wine. The numbers don’t lie, and neither do my eyes. While dining out in France, I notice that more people partake in a glass of wine than in the U.S. or Canada. In the Grocery store, I’ve noticed more people buying wine than in the U.S. or Canada.
(wine is very inexpensive in France compared to elsewhere).
Wine is good for weight loss or weight control because it contains resveratrol, an antioxidant compound found in the grape skins. It’s not only great as an aid in weight loss but also overall good health. Cheers, and you are welcome!
9- Eat yogourt and cheese:
Interestingly, 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- ever. Instead, schools serve cheese or yogourt with every meal, and they are served water with lunch.
I’m not talking cheddar cheese either (many French people say it’s not “real cheese”). Instead, children are served
The only time children are not served cheese is when yogourt is served. Not sugary Danon yogourt or that funky kiddy gogurt. It’s a real yogourt.
10. Hydrate with water:
The French hydrate with water and hydrate often. I already mentioned that the kids don’t get milk at school. Yes, juice is served occasionally; however, water is what’s served daily.
If you were thinking about dieting to lose those last 10 pounds, give the French way of eating a try. The best thing about the French way of eating is that it’s painless, and it’s yet another reason you would love to live in France. At least, I keep telling myself that.