Why the French don’t get (quite) so fat!
If you are new to France, you are possibly thinking about croissants, pain au chocolat, gouter (the afternoon snack), apero (pre-dinner drinkies and nibbles) and lashings of wine and wondering ‘How do they stay so slim?’
France has one of the lowest obesity rates in Europe
France still has one of the lowest obesity rates in Europe, though like many countries it is very dependent which area of the country you are living in. The ‘Petits Parisians’ and Parisian suburbs have an obesity rate of around 10% while further North, the rates of obesity are comparable to the UK and Ireland.
Three golden rules to help you manage your weight in France
So how do the French manage to balance gastronomy and weight more successfully than other European countries? How can you nibble on a croissant and daintily sip a glass of wine without your waistline expanding? In my opinion, it comes down to three ‘golden’ rules:
Respect the meal times
The French meal plan is based around three meals a day with a small snack in the afternoon, called a ‘gouter’ if you are a child and a ‘collation’ if you are an adult. The French tend to eat late in the evening, having supper at 8pm so a small snack becomes essential if you are to last from lunchtime through to supper without getting ravenous! The breakfast, is based around a tartine (a slice of bread or piece of baguette), a yoghurt and a fruit or fruit juice. The pain au chocolat and the croissants tend to be reserved for the weekends.
Lunch which is eaten between midday and 2 pm, tends to be the main meal of the day, often composed of 3 courses – entrée (starter), plat (main meal) and dessert (needs no translation!). The evening meal is lighter, a soup or salad with some cheese or yoghurt.
Eating outside of these meal times tends to be frowned upon and many restaurants shut at 2.30 pm and open again at 7 pm in the evening. This has its advantages and disadvantages! I’ve lost count of the number of times where I’ve been too late to have lunch. Equally, I’ve queued outside of restaurants from 6 pm in the evening, desperate to get a meal for my hungry and tired children. The solution was moving from English time to French time and letting my children have a longer siesta and an afternoon snack!
Another mistake many expats make (myself included!) is to eat both a big lunch and then an even bigger supper. The evening meal should be ‘light’ or at the very least, you should eat less than at lunchtime.
No snacking between meals
Traditionally the French do not snack between meals. While this is slowly changing as France, like many other countries becomes a 24/7 ‘snackathon’, there is less of a tendency to eat between meals and far fewer people eating while walking around or on public transport.
This is a ‘must have’ French habit to cultivate! All the evidence shows that snacking is bad news for our waistlines. The snack foods tend to be high in energy and don’t do a particularly good job of filling us up,so we tend to eat just as much at the next meal.
‘Lurve’ your water
In the UK you have aisles dedicated to fizzy drinks, whereas in France you have aisles dedicated to different mineral water! And, it’s not rocket science. Fizzy drinks tend to be high in energy and sugar while water is a natural ‘ 0 calorie’ drink. Everyone tends to drink water in France as opposed to soda and fruit juices and there’s less of a tendency to use squashes or cordials to flavour water, so children get used to the taste of…..natural water!
While bottled mineral waters tend to be promoted in restaurants, it is fine to drink tap water. A French restaurant will give you a ‘une carafe d’eau’, a jug of tap water at no charge and will top it up for you as requested. In France, a meal is not complete without having water on the table.
Water is good both for our wallets and our waist lines, so don’t hesitate to adopt this fabulous French habit!
In a nutshell, they snack less, respect their meal times and drink less fizzy drinks
Blog by: Charlotte Debeugny RNutr, MSc Nutrition