It is indeed fascinating to see those mostly skinny people in Paris while we fight with our weight almost all the time. But French people too, like the rest of world are getting fat, and the reason is that they are abandoning their traditional diet and way of life. The traditional French diet is simple, far from the sophistication that you see in French restaurants outside Europe. So let me discuss some of the key elements of French diet and then you can buy a cook book to start cooking like them. But, unless you make lifestyle changes, French cooking might actually end up making you fat.
- In the traditional French diet, there are lots of fresh foods. Processed foods are not part of any traditional diet. The abundance of fresh, high-quality vegetables, herbs and fruits in Europe make their foods delicious without adding too many calories.
- The traditional French diet is also balanced. Each meal generally includes all the foods groups. The French diet is rich in good fats. It is not low-fat cuisine. It is actually quite rich in olive oil and butter. The French are not obsessed with cutting fat just for the sake of it (particularly if it means that taste has to be sacrificed) or eating margarine and other hydrogenated oils.
- The French also eat bread with their meals. The key is moderation. Usually French breads are high quality and not filled with cheap ingredients. In the US, we have corn syrup added to almost everything because it is cheap. As reported by ABC News, it is cheap because the government subsidizes it. In other words, American people are paying the corn growers so that they can get fat.
- The French also walk a lot. This is normal in Europe. It is very difficult to find parking and is very expensive. So people use public transportation a lot and they need to walk everywhere. Elevators and escalators are not everywhere either. People need to climb the stairs quite frequently and many times with heavy bags.
- The French eat in moderation too. This is perhaps the most important lesson from the French diet. The French restaurants are famous for small portions and the same is true of French kitchens. Like many countries outside the US, the portions are small.
- The French enjoy food and eating. They do not eat in a hurry; they chew their food well, and do not talk while eating. The meals are long and pleasurable. In Zen philosophy, they will call this “mindful eating.” When you are eating, you are conscious of every bite going to your mouth and you are enjoying it – not swallowing it without truly tasting it. The French take up to 2 hours lunches, and do not eat in front of the TV.
- The French eat everything; there are no forbidden foods. They eat desserts too, though in moderation. They have snack time but do not munch while doing other things.
- The French eat at home. Their favorite place to eat is at their own dinner table and meals they have prepared themselves. Every time we eat out in the US, we overeat, because the portions are huge and the fat content is also big. Even worse, in many cases, some restaurants just use frozen or processed foods. In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, they found that the portion in a Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia were 72% larger than those in a similar restaurant in Paris.
- The traditional French diet is just common sense: eat in moderation and move. You do not need to learn French cooking but certainly the underlying philosophy of the French is to enjoy life and all its little pleasures. That is the foundation of the French diet. French women get their motivation in their desire to look good.
Can you “diet” as the traditional French do or did? Yes you may; the most difficult part for us is portion control and snacking. These are definitely bad habits that Americans have. To correct bad habits is not easy, but it is possible. Many people have done and so can you. The difference in average calorie consumption in the USA and in France is not big. According to one study, in the USA our average is 3642 and in France it is 3551 calories a day. The difference is only 91 calories but it is the accumulative effect and the fact that we walk less means about 5 pounds in six months. 91 calories can be easily burned in a short but energetic workout.
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