My time is France has been a bit of an anthropological study. I find the daily habits of other cultures incredibly fascinating, particularly the relationship people have with food. During my time in France, living with my French boyfriend and getting to know his family and friends, I have come to realise that the eating habits between Australians and French is vastly different.
The French have a reputation for eating copious amounts of butter, cream and cheese, whilst simultaneously managing to stay slim and cellulite free. This reputation did not pop out of thin air. In many of France’s regions and even in Paris, diets do contain a large amount of these foods and yet the obesity rates remain low. I think my parents have a heart attack and gain 20kg from just hearing about the average meals I eat each week here. Like all stereotypes, there are of course, exceptions to this rule, for example, those from the south of France have much more of a Mediterranean diet, whilst a large portion of the younger generations are starting to cook less and opt for takeaway which is resulting in some serious food babies and thunder thighs. However, I do believe that if you adhere to a few traditional French rules when it comes to eating it is quite easy to eat delicious creamy sauces, cheese platters and desserts every night without gaining weight.
A typical day’s food intake might look something like this:
As you can see, there are no dietary restrictions; no anti-carb, anti-sugar, anti-dairy business here. You essentially eat whatever you like. However, to eat like this and not gain weight, these rules must be followed:
Do Not Snack
This is the most important rule. Children learn this at a young age and actually accept it and adhere to it. I once had a 4 year old tell me that I could not eat my cookie because it was not 4pm, i.e. the only acceptable time to snack. A typical 4pm snack might be a small piece of cake, fruit, biscuits or a crêpe; nothing too large but enough to get you by until dinner time, which is usually served at around 8pm.
Reduce Your Portion Size
I think that in Australia our portion sizes are getting out of control! Your meal should not consume your entire plate. The French have a tendency to place a small amount of food on their plate, sit down, eat it slowly and then go back for more only if they are still really hungry. If you place everything on your plate all at once, you’re more likely to eat far more than what you actually need. Take pizza for example. If you were to place four slices on your plate, you would not take your time and appreciate each slice. Instead you would eat the four slices before you brain would have time to register that you are full and you would more than likely go back for another slice. Try placing one slice on your plate, eating it slowly, having some sips of water or wine and then go back for more only if you are still hungry. Not only does this method allow you to eat what you want and not gain weight, but you consume less and save money. Because you ate less, you will have leftovers that can be a meal the next day.
Take Your Time
Eating is not a race. Consuming a meal at lightning speed increases the amount you eat and does not allow your body to properly digest the food. Slow down, take your time, relax and appreciate your food.
Sit Down To Eat
This is related to the above rule. It isn’t really possible to slow down and enjoy your meal if you are eating on the go. Whenever I return to Australia after spending a few months in France, I am always shocked by the amount of people walking around eating; I’ve seen burgers, sushi, chips, you name it! It seems a little strange, and quite frankly I don’t understand how they do it. Lunch breaks can be short, but at least find a park bench and sit down to eat. This rule even applies even to coffee here. You will not see the French walking around sipping a latté, if you want a coffee, you sit at a café and drink it (unless you are near a park and in that case it is ok to drink it sitting in a park).
Stop Eating Preserved and Pre-made Food and Learn to Cook
Sure you can eat creamy and buttery sauces, just make sure that you cook it yourself. Premade foods often contain low quality ingredients and a lot of salt and preservatives. One thing that I have noticed in France is that most meals are made from scratch and it is not as time consuming as you think. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks I’ll post some super quick French recipes that require minimal ingredients to give you a few ideas.
Learn that It’s Okay to be Hungry
Learning this was quite a revelation for me. I have never once stopped and thought that it is ok to be hungry. Like most people, my automatic thought is to have a snack, but this is not really socially acceptable here. The general mentality is that if you’re hungry, it’s ok, just wait for you next meal. This is something you get used to and eventually you will no longer be as hungry between meals (I must admit that I am not quite there yet, it’s 11am and I’m starving!). I think this mentality stems from France’s long history of wars, famines and economic hardship. People learnt a long time ago that just because you are hungry doesn’t mean that you can eat. Food is really valued here and should not be consumed when it isn’t really necessary.
These rules may seem incredibly basic, but they are also incredibly easy to break. We all have days where all we want to do is be a slob and spend the day with our head in the fridge, but it is important to keep coming back to these 6 simple rules and reinforce them into our daily routines. I should finish by noting that I am by no means a nutritionist or doctor and this approach may not be suitable for everyone. These are simply my personal observations and recommendations that have worked for me.
So tell me readers, how do these eating habits compare to your eating habits and what is common where you come from? Is snacking promoted? Is food really valued? Do you think this is a healthy approach to eating? Leave a comment and let me know!