This probably isn't the first time, and likely it won't be the last time you hear rumors that the notoriously "fatty" and richly decadent French cuisine is the way to go. From Mireille Guiliano's infamous book, "French Women Don't Get Fat," to the up-&-coming neuroscientist, Will Clower, MD's previous publication, "The Fat Fallacy-How the French Stay Thin," and his most recent release, "The French Don't Diet," it seems people everywhere are beginning to believe in the power of the French culinary arts: cheese, bread, fine wines, liqueurs, and oh yes, chocolate!
Guiliano's book takes a psychological, and aesthetic approach to the French cuisine, arguing the main reason the French are thinner and healthier is because they don't eat to survive, they eat to live; a basis of the French's psychology for a happy healthy life revolves around truly enjoying your food. Dr. Clower further introduces biological and chemical statistical evidence when accounting for the major differences between the American and French diets, when accounting for reasons behind the American's intense struggle with obesity, diet, and other health conditions. Still, like Guiliano, Dr. Clower also argues the French "enjoy" their food far more than most Americans- and this is one of the main behaviors that directly affects the difference in the way an average American eats versus the average French person.
Proudly boasting one of the riches cuisines in the world, that the French are able to consume some of the most "scary" foods and still remain slim and healthy, especially compared to Americans, has doctors, dieticians, and nutritionists alike on the prowl for the "key" behind what keeps the French from getting "fat." In truth the statistics are astounding. In general, only 8-11% of the French population is deemed overweight or obese whereas 40-50% of the American population is at least 30 pounds or more overweight. Also, far more Americans suffer from heart disease and other health-related medical conditions than compared with the French. Through years of research and "tried and true" testimonials, many have started praising the indulgent way the French "diet."
But before we can start thinking- and eating- like the French, perhaps, first and foremost, we should do away with the word "diet" altogether. In short, the French don't diet. They live, and enjoying their food is a primary way they fulfill their lives and break from the daily grind.
So if you thought you had to spend the rest of your life dieting on raw vegetables, high water-content fruits, tons of fiber, and substituting all potentially tasty carbs for anything "Atkins" look no further. Below are a few of the French's "favorite" tricks that allow them to thoroughly enjoy those allegedly "sinful" culinary treats while still maintaining a healthy, svelte physique.
1) THE QUALITY FACTOR: FATS DON'T MAKE YOU FAT
It's time Americans wise up and realize that "Fat-free" diets are the culprit- they're what is making America fat! Though the French frequently indulge in rich wines, red sauces, and bread and butter, it's safe to say that overall their food is much fresher, more "natural," and not "processed." Whereas they snack on a fresh baguette, Americans turn to the over-processed, chemically infused Oreos, Goldfish, and Fruit Roll-Ups. We eat chemicals; empty food; empty calories- we deprive our body of fat- good fat included- and instead fill it with over-processed sugars that tend to metabolize into fatty deposits.
Literally your fat-free snacks are making their way to your hips because the average American consumes too many (low calorie) high sugar products and don't burn off the ingredients. Sugar is just as much a victim of the American obesity epidemic as is "fat." In general, the Americans simply have poor dietary habits. We need to switch to healthier foods: fresh breads and cheeses that aren't processed (like string cheese and other cheeses loaded with trans fats and hydrogenated oils), and filled with preservatives and other unhealthy additives. Think French and start eating decadent and indulgent on healthy, fresh alternatives: yes, that includes bread and butter!
2) THE QUANTITY FACTOR: STOP OVEREATING
Still supporting the reason the chocolate and fat-filled French diet produces thinner "followers" than the average American diet is the little trick known as "portion control." Sure the French eat bread and butter, but in general they eat far less of their rich, indulgent foods than Americans will of their over-processed entrees; thus the French still tend to consume, in general, far fewer calories than Americans on a daily basis. So if you prefer rich meats with fine sauces, delicious after-dinner liqueurs, and indulgent desserts, as the French do, dig in. Just remember not to eat the whole thing!
Try and always keep in mind the "2 Bite" rule: 2 bites of anything and everything is good for you, as long as it's just two bites (this rule is especially good for people who tend to lie to themselves about how much of that brownie they just ate). The French would rather enjoy two or three good bites of an éclair than quickly stuff the whole thing down their throat before their minds, or taste buds, have had the proper time to note how delicious the pastry actually was- which leads me to tip number 3.
3) THE LIQUID FACTOR: HYDRATE
Another reason the French are able to eat richly, but not calorie-high, is because they don't tend to binge on products like soda and Starbucks (and, or any other high-calorie coffee drink) that are often staples of an American's diet. Instead, the French drink lots of water, and regularly enjoy a glass or two of wine (but not three, four, or five- like Americans have been known to do), which has also been shown to lower the risk for heart disease and improve blood pressure levels, particularly in men. In fact, Dr. Clower recommends drinking one glass of wine with meals, particularly dinner. He also suggests finishing a meal with a strong cup of coffee which will provide the right amount of caffeine to boost your metabolism's thermogenic fat burning ability, while also acting as a natural dietary suppressant - which helps curb cravings and allows you to avoid overeating in-between meals and throughout the day.
4) THE TIMING FACTOR: SLOW DOWN
Its been noted that it takes at least 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your stomach to gauge whether or not you are full. Rather than "stuffing" their faces, which is the way most Americans tend to eat, the French take their time when dining. The French don't go on autopilot and merely imbibe the required meal for the moment, and then proceed with whatever it was they were previously engaged with before their meal. Rather, the French turn the meal itself into an experience, and a social one at that. In general the French will take at least a half hour, if not one hour or more, to enjoy their meals. Over time they will indulge in rich cheeses, bread and butter, wine, and chocolate. But, rather than eating plates full of each, they will snack and sample their way through the dining process, allowing each different piece of food to fully give off its potential flavor.
Rather than chewing their soft foods, particularly chocolate and desserts, as the Americans would, the French prefer to extend what Dr. Clower dubs "pleasure time," letting their food melt in their mouth, effectively covering all of their taste buds to enhance the taste and delay the haste with which the food is eaten. The effect: longer lasting taste, and greater fulfillment out of smaller portions of food. Additionally this method helps to trigger a particular hormone that tells the brain, "hey, I've had enough" - that way you feel satisfied after one piece of (thoroughly enjoyed) chocolate, rather than five pieces of quickly chewed chocolate.
Also, Dr. Clower recommends subscribing to what he calls "The Ender." Always let yourself indulge in a small sweet treat after lunch and dinner- not much, just enough to satisfy the palate and feel content after the meal. Not only does it make the overall dining experience more enjoyable, it also helps curb unnecessary snacking between meals.
5) THE MYTHIC FACTOR: "SVELTE" SMOKERS
Though most Americans contribute the thin French frame to the daily habit of smoking, both Clower and Guiliano debunk the myth that "smoking keeps you thin." Though I don't think either would deny that smoking is still an epidemic in both countries, the statistics show that whereas the French report that 21% of their female and 33% of their male population smokes, the American statistics still show that 20% of our female and 25% of our male population smokes. The numbers between both sexes, particularly the females, are far too close to validate that "smoking" is the primary cause for a thinner French population. Supporting this claim is Michael Thun, head of the Cancer Society's epidemiological research, who states, "I don't think any weight differences between the U.S. and France can be attributed to smoking."
Also, it's obvious that smoking doesn't promote good health, and yet the French population is generally deemed statistically healthier as well. So no matter what excuses one might try to make when accounting for their frames overly plump proportions, they can't excuse the French's penchant for cigarettes as a reason to stay thin, because, as it seems, the overweight American is just as addicted. Which, Michael Thun goes one step further to debunk yet another myth surrounding smoking and the average American where he states, "A very small portion of the recent weight gain in America can be attributed to decreases in smoking." So it seems it's not cigarettes keeping the weight off after all.
~A few other last minute tips from Dr. Clower's most recent book are to always remember to fully finish chewing each bite, and don't take another until you've completely swallowed the first bite. Also, Guiliano supports the theory of "breaking" between bites, which allows you to stall time so that your stomach can more readily gauge its potential "fullness," and allows you to better enjoy your meal with whomever your dining with, even if solo. Lastly, always try to incorporate some amount of dairy fat and/or good oil (olive or canola) into each meal.
*To learn more about Dr. Clower or Guiliano's ideas about the favorable "French" diet pick up a copy of their works at your local bookstore:
Guiliano, Mireille: French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure
Dr. Will Clower: The "Fat Fallacy": The French Diet- Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss
Dr. Will Clower: The French Don't Diet Plan: 10 Simple Steps to Stay Thin for Life