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Why Aren’t French Women Fat?

Why Aren’t French Women Fat?

When I was a junior in college, I studied in France at the Université Lyon III for a year. Months passed of eating dinners of bouchon which consisted of sausages in rich sauces followed by a chocolate tart from any number of nearby pâtisseries. On the weekends, my fellow students and I would pack bread, cheese, and plenty of red wine on our excursions outside of the city. Needless to say, I thought I’d eaten my weight in French delicacies, especially considering how thin all of the natives were around me. But once the year had passed and I had arrived back in the states, it turned out I hadn’t gained weight – but lost 10 pounds. 

Naturally, almost as soon as I’d gotten back home, the 10 pounds came back – but why? I had no shortage of bread or cheese that I craved from my time abroad, yet something had changed about my lifestyle. Mireille Guiliano experienced a similar situation as a teenager upon moving to the US, after discovering brownies and bagels, putting on 20 pounds during an exchange to a Boston suburb.

After returning to France, gaining more weight, and shuffling past every mirror, her mother took her to the family doctor who gave her not only a “miracle” leek soup to detox her, but taught her to master both her “willpower” and her “pleasures.” Even still, Guiliano manages to dine out most days of the year – while sipping a glass of champagne – and remain thin. 

Her advice is simple, and not so different from what we hear from American dieticians, although she has a way of explaining it in a much more digestible format (no pun intended). It’s not about deprivation, but learning to make trade-offs: if you want a second glass of wine with dinner, skip the baked potato or don’t eat the bread. Go for a walk after meals and keep a food journal to cut out the processed junk. Forget the crash diets and practice slowly changing your eating habits in order to be effective. 

After all, one of the biggest differentiators between American and French women, says Guiliano, is that “French women take pleasure in staying thin by eating well, while American women see it as a conflict and obsess over it.” As Americans, we often eat in front of the TV, without paying attention to our food, while the French tend to make a habit of setting the table and making time to focus on the meal alone. We eat portions that are too large and too bland, while French women focus on “flavor and variety over quantity and, therefore, are more satisfied with less.”

Instead of constantly being a topic of conversation, Guiliano believes that health is a series of small choices that we make – granted the willpower to stick to those healthy choices is a struggle in and of itself. Nonetheless, she recommends taking a stroll around the market, breathing in the smell of fresh herbs, eating a good dinner “with all five senses,” and, of course, having a glass of wine or champagne with meals – just remember to sip it slowly. 

Check out her site here: and don’t forget the book that started it all: French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

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