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.
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!
- 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.
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?