Lately, I have heard more and more people talking about the French diet, included students in nutrition. You can find videos on YouTube as well as blog posts.
At first, I was really interested (being French myself). I wanted to know, “What is the French diet? Can I learn something??” I quickly realized, obviously, that it’s all about the way the French, themselves, as well as French food habits. I was born and raised with these principles, so everything made sense to me.
Learning that people are curious and interested in this diet really made me want to share it with you, and give you the not-so-secret way French people stay so thin despite having access to so much great food (Like my French best friend asked me: What is the diet? Eating salami, cheese and wine all day?? My answer? Yep, pretty much!).
“Je fais juste attention” (I am just being careful) : Go ask most French woman how they stay thin and what diet they are on, and they will tell you they are not on a diet. They eat anything they want. They are simply careful to avoid overeating, eating when they are full, snacking, eating too much sugar, etc. The French Diet is all about balance and knowing when you really NEED to eat or when you just WANT to eat.
Avoid Take-Out: In France, eating out is an event only for special occasions. We have dinner with friends and family in restaurants on the weekends occasionally, but definitely not every week. We usually pick a good restaurant where we will sit for two or three hours and have at least a three-courses meal with wine (and forget about to-go boxes). Take-out food is very rare. Don’t give me wrong. Paris, like every other big city, gets very busy. People work 10-hour days, then commute home, so some may go for take-out once in a while. For lunchtime, however, people usually have a full hour to have lunch, and they sit and eat in a “brasserie,” or restaurant to have lunch. When I worked in Paris, I went to a salad bar every day for lunch (Cojean was the best). Salad bars are a big hit! During lunchtime, people like to go for something fresh and light. In France, salad usually don’t contain meat, whereas in the U.S., it’s impossible to find a salad without chicken.
Fresh ingredients are a must: Like I mentioned previously, the french love their salads with fruits and veggies, fresh and raw. Sauces and seasoning aren’t super popular. With just a little vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper, they’re good to go.
Avoid snacking: The french typically don’t snack. They have breakfast, a full lunch, and what is called a “gouté” at 4pm (there isn’t a direct translation for this, but it’s closest to a form of snack) Gouté can be bread (or viennoiserie), yogurt, fruit or something else. Then, the french eat dinner. Since each meal is a real meal, people usually don’t feel hungry in between, which leaves about four hours to digest food every time. This helps the body process food and not create extra fat by burning calories as it goes.
Using high-quality produce: If you want to eat butter (and the French DO want butter), use a high-quality butter. The taste is such an improvement compared to a cheaper/low-quality option, and it’s been processed in a more natural way. It also won’t have any additives or preservatives. This will make your dishes taste amazing compared to cheap, overly-processed butter! I apply this rule with veggies, fruits, and meat. I remember buying meat from a butcher called Desnoyer in Paris once. It was extremely expensive (they supply the Ritz and the President for instance), but DAMN, that was the best Lamb rack I ever had in my life. There was no need extra seasoning or a fancy side dish. French food is all-in-all simplicity and high-quality.
Avoid packaged and processed food: It’s pretty rare that french eat already-made food from the store. They prefer to make it themselves.
Cooking food is part of the pleasure: To go with the two previous tips, people usually love to cook and talk about how they cook. Cooking is part of the pleasure and it might sound silly and cliché, but food DOES taste better when it’s made with love, I swear! There is a show called “Un diner presque parfait” that aired for almost ten years. In the show, people organize seated dinners at their homes and then give each other a scores. The show is actually pretty funny, you can check it out here!
Take the time to eat: As I mentioned previously, people sit for an hour to have lunch during weekdays, and they do sit for four hours or so to have lunch with family on the weekends. Pepe finds it amazing every time we go. I love and miss it since I live in California. This way of dining is actually recognized as a “world intangible heritage” by UNESCO. You can read more about it here.
People don’t exercise often, but they do walk a lot: Working out isn’t the most popular thing in France (I still have never set foot in a gym!), but they do walk a lot as cities are more dense, metro transfer is very wide in Paris (you can walk up to fifteen minutes to transfer from a metro to another), and there are less parking lots, so you usually have to park very far and then walk the whole day. At the end of the day, someone living in this scenario has likely had more than the 30 minutes of exercise recommended by American physicians.
“Diet-food” is a scam: Yes there are diet-products in France, but people don’t buy into them as often as they do in America! As far as I remember, the most commun low-fat products are milk, crème fraiche (a kind of sour cream), whipping cream, and maybe butter, but I can’t remember seeing other ones. Anyways, “light” or “diet” products are loaded with chemicals to give them the same texture as full-fat ones, so again… No one eats them.
The phrase “A glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away,” is true. However: It has been proven that a glass of wine a day is not bad for health, as it dilates blood vessels and allows blood to run through more efficiently. However, people should always consume alcohol in moderation. The other big factor is related to the quality of the wine. In France, winemakers take pride (and there are also many laws to regulate this) to make wine the most natural way possible without adding any chemicals. Other countries (like the US, or Australia) allow the use of chemicals that will help the wine get it’s balance and reach the expected taste, alcoholic concentration, etc. Winemakers are also not mandated to mention the chemicals they use. The result is a wine that can give you headaches a lot stronger than you would receive from natural wine. My French friends would tell me they only like French wine, and I thought they were just snobby, but after living in Australia, US, and Latino America, I realized that the only wine that would not make me feel sick is the French (or natural) one.
Cut out sugar: “How can you live in France and not eat all those patisseries all the time?” Patisseries do look good in the window when buying bread, but you get over it. I would have a pastry once in a while when we had guests staying with us, and we would usually make it ourselves (see my previous post about cravings). In the same way, we were never allowed to drink soda when we were kids, and I still only drink water.
Kids eat the same foods as adults: Every time we go into an American restaurant with Emi, we order two or three dishes to share amongst the three of us. The waiter always asks if want to see the kid’s menu. I find it bizarre that servers always offer the kid’s menu, because my kid will eat my anchovies pizza and Pepe’s mushroom ravioli! Is that weird?? I know they ask to be polite, but in France, this question doesn’t happen. Even after five years of living in California, I am still surprised by this. This anecdote is important because it’s part of the food education. I have been raised eating the same thing adults eat, so it really developed my taste for quality food, and kept me away from “easy peasy” food.
Don’t think about food too much: Food is life and love. Eat what you want and enjoy it. If you eat too many croissants one day, oh well, just eat less the following day! As long as you’re happy and the food is good, everything will be fine 🙂
Let me know what you think in the comments below and if you would like to adopt a French Diet!