How the French Stay Slim
An American dietitian explores the 'French Paradox': staying slim on a no-deprivation diet.
On a recent trip to France, my mission was to eat like a French woman - or
at least to find out just how they stay so slim.
This is a country where on one corner, you find a boulangerie with
mouth-watering pastries, and on the next, a café where Parisians linger for
hours. It's a place known for rich desserts, baguettes made from refined flour,
foie gras, fatty meats, and wine. Yet most inhabitants seem to have little
trouble maintaining a healthy
It's been called the French Paradox, and I was determined to get to the
bottom of it. My journey started in Paris and ended up in beautiful, sunny
One of my first observations was that the French are not all thin.
The percentage of overweight people is not nearly as high as in the
United States, but they are catching up to us.
In part, the French blame the infiltration of fast food, french fries (now
that's a paradox), and super-premium ice cream for their increasing girth,
according to French diet
expert David Benchetrit, MD.
Still, says Benchetrit, many French women have a mindset that helps them
"French women refuse to accept being overweight," says David
Benchetrit, director of the Clinique du Poids weight
loss clinic in Paris. "It is no secret that they want to be beautiful,
in love, and take care of themselves so they look good."
Indeed, Benchetrit says that two-thirds of the women he sees at his clinic
have a body
mass index (BMI) of less than 23, which is in the normal range of
Another thing I observed is that the French and American ways of life are
very different. Eating is a leisurely experience. In the United States, we
often wolf down meals in record time or eat while driving or sitting at our
desks. But the French appear to have all the time in the world to sit around
"We sit down and eat for pleasure, using all of our senses,"
Mireille Guiliano, author of the best-selling book French Women Don't Get
Fat, has said.
In America, low-carb diets have many of us saying no to white foods like
bread and pasta, but in France, everyone seems to be toting a fresh baguette to
"You need to eat a large volume of bread or pasta for the calories to
add up, and most of the time, French meals are quite light and portions are
small," says David Benchetrit.
Duck confit, foie gras, and many other fatty foods are enjoyed occasionally
- maybe once in two weeks, he says. Wine is enjoyed regularly, but in limited
portions. And you won't find artificial sweeteners in sherbet-colored packets
on every table. That's because the French prefer small portions of the real
stuff, like sugar and butter, according to Guiliano.