Since writing my book Losing It in France: Les Secrets of the French Diet, I’ve often been asked how French women eat all that rich food and still stay slim. From my observation, structured eating habits are established at a very young age in France, and most women inherently enjoy a balanced relationship with food that helps them stay slim pleasurably. For foreigners, I believe it’s never too late to learn how to be a naturally thin eater.
French women inherently understand that satisfaction is qualitative not quantitative. Discerning palates are encouraged and cultivated. In France, there is an emphasis on eating a wide variety of foods—fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry, fish, bread and cheese—without overdoing any one thing. Food groups like beef, dairy, fat or carbs are not labeled “bad.” After all, a little baguette and brie won’t make you fat, but eating too much will.
Petite isn’t just a dress size either; serving sizes are appropriately small, especially rich desserts, charcuterie and cheese. Decadent foods are treated like a delicacy, eaten only after a meal and in small amounts. French women would rather have a slither of silky smooth mousse cake than a whole slab of fat-free cake that doesn’t thrill the taste buds.
It’s true that Bordeaux and Beaujolais are staples, but French women usually drink them with their meals—no guzzling one or two glasses at the bar before dinner. Wine is used more as an accent to a meal than to quench thirst. Also, glasses in France are only partially filled and sipped slowly, a clever way to drink less without feeling deprived.
French women know that guilt is not a tasty side dish. Everyone strays and overindulges occasionally, but a French woman would quickly return to a balanced eating routine the next day.
If you want to eat the foods you love and still look spectacular in your YSL jeans, try adopting some wise habits from French women.
• Always choose real, high-quality fresh food, not synthetic, unsatisfying diet food.
• Eat only when seated, at the table, preferably with cutlery and a napkin.
• Take small bites; chew slowly and swirl the food around on your tongue—sensuously!
• Eat what you really love and savor the best bits first; enough is as good as a feast.
• Eat protein-rich meals in courses; leave the table satisfied so you don’t need to snack.
• Find something you enjoy more than eating—and do it regularly.
• Replace commercial salad dressings with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and vinegar.
• Make most of your drinking calorie free, except for some wine with dinner.
• Immediately correct weight gain with a day of conscious, lighter eating
• Buy yourself nonfood gifts regularly. There are so many good rewards other than food.
Learning to say yes and no to food in just the right balance is a practiced art. I lost 25 pounds 10 years ago while living in Paris with a French family and have never regained it. For more about my story, and delicious recipes, check out my book Losing It in France: Les Secrets of the French Diet.
Try these delicious, simple recipes to start eating like a slim French woman.
This chicken stew is a French classic that was actually invented in a Paris restaurant and has nothing to do with the Basque region of France. I love it because it’s a one-pot wonder, and the whole family enjoys it. I like to serve it with crunchy buttered green beans or a leafy green salad.
2 tablespoons olive oil
500 grams (1 pound) chicken thigh fillets
2 green peppers
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 slices of Virginia ham, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon vegetable stock powder
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed casserole dish and brown the chicken on all sides.
2. Slice the green peppers into large strips. Add the peppers, diced onion, minced garlic and diced ham to the Dutch oven and cook for about 10 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and stock powder, and season well with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes more.
4. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.
Lemon Yogurt Cake
This is a delicious cake, rich in protein and calcium, which I learned to make while living in Paris. I love it because it has the texture of a light cheesecake, with the tartness and lightness of the yogurt and lemon. You can serve it with poached fruit like rhubarb or plums or perhaps a raspberry coulis.
4 eggs, separated
1/3 cup castor (superfine) sugar
3 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
1¾ cups Greek yogurt
grated zest of 1 lemon (preferably unwaxed)
juice of 1 lemon
confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F). Grease and line a 22-cm (8½-inch) springform pan with parchment paper.
2. Beat the egg yolks with the castor sugar to a thick, pale cream. Beat in the flour, then the yogurt, lemon zest and lemon juice until it is thoroughly blended.
3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the yogurt mixture in two batches.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes.
5. Let the cake cool before releasing it from the springform pan and sliding it onto a serving plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve wedges with poached fruit.
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