Why you won’t get fat in France

Written by Diane on. Posted in on healthy living, on life in France

Why you won't get fat in france

France is the land of some of the most delicious pastries in the world, world-class cheeses, to-die-for bread, rich sauces, wine and that’s just the beginning. So if you’re moving to France, it’s only natural you’ll gain weight, right? Not necessarily.

Here’s why you won’t get fat in France. Go!

Will I gain weight in France?

No! Well, hold on. Let me clarify what I mean when I say you won’t get fat in France. If you’re a health-conscious individual who has an active lifestyle, moving to France won’t be a biggie when it comes to eating and weight.

But I know someone will comment saying that they gained 10 pounds after they moved to France, etc. Yes, I get it. Of course some people will gain weight in France. It’s simple math — if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.

Indulging in everything around you is part of the fun, so maybe you will initially gain a few pounds. But remember, moderation is key and so is staying active. If you consume more calories than you burn, the excess will result in weight gain — one pound for every 3,500 extra calories.

But I think you’ll find yourself walking more, snacking less.

First, consider this fundamental attitude that illustrates the difference between French and American food culture:

The French are also less anxious about food than Americans … Americans tend to associate food with health, not with pleasure, and worry more about food than people in any other nation surveyed. When shown a picture of a chocolate cake, the most frequent responses from Americans were ‘guilt’, and ‘calories’. The French response: ‘celebration’ and ‘pleasure’. The French associated a picture of ‘heavy cream’ with the word ‘whipped’, whereas the Americans described it as ‘unhealthy’.

 

Does your response to chocolate cake fall more in line with the French or American survey results?

 

Why you won’t get fat in France

1. When in France, act French!

french bicycle
  • The French don’t snack. Or rarely. If you look hard enough you can of course find French snackers, but in general, it’s not part of the culture to pop open a bag of chips an hour after lunch. Aside from mealtimes, the French don’t nibble on snacks throughout the day (well except for the gouter which consists of something sweet around 4pm or so, who can resist?).
  • The French are active and like to walk/bike everywhere. In suburban USA-land, hopping in the car is commonplace to go everywhere but not here. If you live in a town in France where you can run errands on foot, do it. Even if you have a car, leave it at home and head into town with your wicker basket for the marché and other errands. All those steps add up. It’s also normal where I live to see adults on bikes with baskets everywhere just cruising around running errands. Even the mailman’s preferred mode of transport is a bike! In New Jersey, if you’re on a bike, it’s because you’re exercising in the park or part of a cycling club. Not so in France! (those exist as well though)
  • French portions are smaller. Have a little of everything you want but the key here is a LITTLE. There are no doggie bags in restaurants so portions tend to be manageable when you’re out. After a French meal, you’ll feel satiated but not uncomfortably stuffed.
  • The French take their time and eat at the table. A Sunday lunch in France isn’t rushed — it’s enjoyed. You’ll leisurely sip your wine while each course is served and enjoy good conversation and laughs, while savoring each bite. Well, it does depend on your family, but again, generally speaking, the French enjoy mealtime and don’t rush through it. The more relaxed pace helps you focus on the food in front of you, and instead of inhaling everything in five minutes, your body will have time to process when it’s full. Overeating avoided!
  • They eat dessert! Often! It’s rare to go out to eat and NOT get dessert. A dessert is included in the prix fixe menu and at least in my family, dessert is just as obligatory as the cheese course. By not denying yourself that chocolate cake, your taste buds are satisfied and are less likely to binge on something else later. Granted, you don’t get a HUGE slice of cake, but it’s enough to feel satisfied and not wreck your diet.
  • Their coffee is black. In a cafe, if you ask for a coffee, you’ll get a little espresso cup of black coffee with a sugar cube. If you want milk, you have to ask for it. And if you want an American-size coffee, you should make it a grand cafe. Along with that, coffee culture is a bit lacking here and the French don’t get coffee shops in the same way Americans do. There’s no takeout coffee in cups. Big, high-calorie sugar bombs aren’t commonplace either, so drinking your calories at smoothie bars and Starbucks isn’t an issue where I live.

2. Not as many preservatives in French foods.

French food seems to be more natural than what you’d find in an American grocery store. Sure, junk food exists, but in general, there are fewer preservatives in foods and many French people opt out of processed foods entirely. High fructose corn syrup isn’t widely used in packaged foods, meat and chicken tastes delicious and fresh pastries and cakes might be an indulgence, but at least it’s all natural sugar, butter and cream without all the extra garbage. And when it comes to health, I just feel better consuming European meat and milk. Did you know that the European Union has banned U.S. meat because it’s treated with synthetic hormones? American milk is also banned to protect citizens from IGF-1 dangers. American dairy farmers inject rBGH to dairy cows to up milk production. I definitely don’t want any “extras” in my food.

french-croissant

3. You will get tired of croissants.

Ok, maybe you won’t, but the allure will wear off, and you’ll be able to resist popping in to your neighborhood boulangerie every time you pass by. And if it doesn’t wear off completely, you’ll be able to exercise restraint more easily in time. Croissants are good but I just don’t feel like grabbing one more often than once every other month or so.

***

So if you’re wondering, “Will I gain weight in France,” I personally think the answer is no. Stay active, try everything in moderation and enjoy yourself.

Do you adapt to the local culture and habits when visiting and living abroad?

       

Photo credit: wEnDaLicious / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Photo credit: erickgonzalez50 / Foter.com / CC BY-ND Photo credit: wenzday01 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
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Comments (27)

  • Cosette

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    I’ve always heard this about the French. What are the regular meals like in France? Do they have a small or large breakfast? Is lunch the main meal of the day and dinner a smaller affair?

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Cosette… gonna try to answer this based on my experiences. I feel like in France, breakfasts are usually sweet and a croissant or pain au chocolate with juice or coffee is a perfectly acceptable breakfast. Nutella is also big. The French wouldn’t “get” sausage and eggs as a breakfast food really (although my husband likes American breakfasts now a lot!).

      For lunch, it’s almost always hot unless you’re on the go and have to grab a quick sandwich at the bakery. Kids in school go to the cafeteria and are served a full lunch with an entree, side, cheese and dessert of course. Also, whenever we’re at my in-laws’, lunch is always roast beef, or chicken or fish — never just a simple salad or sandwich. I think the French do mealtime right in many regards. Just a little different than what I’m used to.

      Where I live, there are no “health food” restaurants. Getting steamed chicken and vegetables from a Chinese place with sauce on the side would be weird. If you want just steamed plain vegetables at a restaurant, you might get a weird look. The French like to indulge in moderation and not deny themselves. And it seems to be working for them. The biggest change for me is adapting to “When in France, act French!” Although eating sugar for breakfast will never fly with me. 😉

      Reply

  • Sara Louise

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    When I first moved to France I did gain weight, but that’s because I was still eating as I always had (I was a grazer) plus like the French (big ass meals) so I was basically eating twice as much, but now, I’m almost fully transitioned into a non-snacking French woman and some of the weight I put on, has come off naturally 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Sara, thanks for sharing your experience. Lots to get used to over here when it comes to food. Hope your summer is off to a good start!

      Reply

  • Charu

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    Small portions are key! Americans just don’t get that!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Exactly! I’ll eat whatever you put in front of me. I read somewhere that it takes our brains 20 minutes to recognize the feeling of being full, so if you eat less and take your time, the problem is solved! Thanks for checking out my post!

      Reply

  • Jess @UsedYorkCity

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    These are great! I’m kinda obsessed with books like “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”, and even though I don’t live there, try to adopt their eating habits into my American lifestyle;-)

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Cool, I think some of them can really make a difference, both for health and overall happiness — like eating slowly and enjoying the meal and not depriving yourself of dessert. Bonne continuation!

      Reply

  • Liv

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    I love insightful posts like this. Thanks for sharing. I dispute the tiring of croissants thought however. Not me!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      To each his own! I think I had a croissant daily for the first few months I lived here and then I got “sick” of them. But I go through phases like that. 😉 Thanks for checking out the post!

      Reply

  • Monica

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    I love it that the French eat dessert! some good tips here for my healthy new year’s resolutions.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      The always have dessert thing (even fruit or yogurt) is one of my favorite parts of French culture. Can’t resist. But the portions are reasonable and the selection is out of this world. Really fuels my baking addiction!

      Reply

  • Tracy

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    Great article Diane! My husband, Alan, and I always try to adapt to the local culture and we have found over the last year we’ve been in France that by walking nearly everywhere and eating “like a local” that we’re both losing weight and feeling healthier . . . well, and we walked the 800 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago last year, that helped with weight loss too! =)

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Excellent! So happy to hear you keep active — so much to do!

      Reply

  • Kathy

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    I have a shop over an hour away where I can have a croissant that is identical to the one in this post! I’m heading there next week! Yum!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh that’ll be a nice treat, Kathy! I had a very special French bakery not far from where I lived in NJ (only 10 min away though) and always looked forward to getting a little fix of France from there. Enjoy!

      Reply

  • Nussaibah

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    We inherited French desserts from our colonial history so I’m glad I don’t go crazy as much when in France. But I’m guilty of snacking oops!
    Nussaibah recently posted…Nicosia: Beyond the Green LineMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Nothing wrong with snacking! I go through phases but I think I like snacking (healthy of course) phases better

      Reply

  • Eve

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    Hello from France! We cook a lot and love healthy food and vegetables. We don’t eat snaks because we don’t want to put weight on. We practice sport and walk a lot. Eve from Lyon. I’m French.

    Reply

  • Deborah

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    We just returned from France. We both indulged, ate like the French, walked, took the metro when in Paris and both my husband and I lost weight. Most interesting, I never had a hot flash while I was there! After we returned to California, we went to a wonderful dinner and he next day – hot flashes once again. The French were smart to ban US meats and dairy that uses hormones. They are not good. I’ve switched to organic milk and organic meats and no more hot flashes. Viola! Thank you France.

    Reply

    • Joella

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      In response to Deboah, I ´d like to inform whoever hasen’t read about farm animals that are given hormones,o g m , antibiotics and so on …. Well , by eating non organic meat , you also feed yourself of the ingredients mentioned above and therefore it is harmful to your endocrinian system . Scientifiques say that is why some children show early manifestations of puberty. And that makes sense , doen’t it? So inevitably it also has an impact on adults too ! So far US meat is banned but go long , there ´s a transatlantic treaty pending signatures from EU governments , people around me who are aware of the negative impact it would have , have signed pétitions to our head of state against the free exchange treaty. . Be warned ,. Large food indutries want to make money in anyway they can. Go for organic food !!

      Reply

  • Maria

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    Hello, I have traveled to France many times as my husband worked for a French company. I think the city a person lives in plays a role in their health and activity level. I saw much more snacking in Paris and heavier people than I saw in Montpellier, Lyon, Avignon , and Lourdes. I do love how the food is fresh provided one stays out of Quick. I live in the southern part of the U.S. And walking or biking is out of the question on the gulf coast unless it is winter. The heat and humidity will make a person wringing wet. Europe is set up for this and the weather is cooler except in August on the metros. I was there in May of 2015. Love my time in France.

    Reply

  • scar

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    I can’t believe you wrote a whole paragraph about preservatives and didn’t mention condoms once 😉
    scar recently posted…DFRWS EU – RecapMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hahha totally different ball game!

      Reply

  • Joelle

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    Hi everyone
    Very interesting to read what american people think of France . On the whole the replies from people ´s experiences are true . The question about snacking made me wonder for instance ” why don’t I snack?”
    and came out with this : our lifestyle that is breakfast ( Breaking the fast from the last meal taken 12 Hours earlier ) is usually black coffee in large amount and bread ´n’ butter .( If one lives too far away from a bakery for Fresh and warm baguette, we freeze baguettes and once defrosted on a warm oven and its like fresh.) more coffee mid- morning and a proper warm meal for lunch usually at 12.30. The majority of working people have 1 hour to lunch which brings us to a small gouter of coffee & biscuits around 4 as Diane rightly said . The working day usually ends around pm
    Then its travelling back home after 1/2 h shopping for dinner ( à warm meal around 8pm.and à chat around what ´s been going on throughout the day during the meal so it often ens late ….in fact we don’t feel the need for snacks and I would say above all we don’t have the time . There is no breaks at work only for smokers who are allowed to smokers outside 5mins twice a day and that’s why you see many smokers outside doors !!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you for your input, Joelle! I think it depends on the person and even sometimes the day. And one’s job re: breaks. Thanks again!

      Reply

  • AmericanInFrance

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    When I was in France for several months, I was certain I was gaining wait with all the pain au chocolate for breakfast and desserts; however, when I finally weighed myself, I had lost weight. After returning to the US, despite not starting to snack again, I struggled to keep weight off. I tried to keep many of my French eating habits and still had trouble – I’m beginning to sincerely believe it is all of the extra garbage in US food as switching to all organic helped reverse some of the US weight gain (despite eating basically the same types of meals). Happy to be back in France now where it isn’t such an effort to be healthy!

    Reply

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