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Popular Diets of the World: The French Diet

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WebMD Feature

Forget low-fat, low-carb, low-taste, and low-calorie -- the French diet is full of flavor and high in satisfaction. Here's how eating la manière Française (the French way) can keep you slim and healthy.

Portion control. The French diet can be summed up in one sentence: eat small portions of high-quality foods less often. "American-sized servings are substantially larger than their Parisian counterparts," says Paul Rozin, PhD, a psychologist with the University of Pennsylvania. In one study, Rozin and colleagues found that a carton of yogurt in Philadelphia was 82% larger than a Paris yogurt; a soft drink was 52% larger, a hot dog 63% larger, and a candy bar 41% larger. Does size matter? Yes, say University of Pennsylvania researchers, who found that when given individual servings of snack foods, subjects tended to eat the same number of servings, no matter how big they were.

Think quality, not quantity. How is it that French dieters are satisfied with less? The difference is in how they regard food and eating, says Will Clower, PhD, CEO of Mediterranean Wellness, director of The PATH Healthy Eating Curriculum, and author of The French Don't Diet Plan: 10 Simple Steps to Stay Thin for Life. The French love their food, he says, but not the way Americans love food. "In America, we confuse enjoyment of food with over-consumption." The result: only 39% of Americans claim to greatly enjoy eating, compared to 90% of people in France.

Savor the flavor. The French sit down to three leisurely meals each day. Even their fast-food meals are lengthy compared to the typical American's. A study in Psychological Science found that Parisians who dined at McDonald's spent an average of 22 minutes eating, while Philadelphian McDonald's-goers were in and out in just 14 minutes. Our culture reinforces speed-eating, just as it encourages rushing through everything else. The problem is that faster eating leads to eating more. It takes an average of 15 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is full, which means that eating slowly makes it more likely you'll stop at a point where you're "satisfied" as opposed to "stuffed."

Get real. It's easier to eat slowly when your meal actually tastes good, so the French diet shuns processed foods in favor of anything fresh and real. Breakfast is small: bread, cereal, or yogurt with fruit and granola, and coffee. Lunch and dinner include small portions of meat, vegetables, and some type of starch, with a piece of cheese and coffee to finish off the meal. Foods that are a staple of the French diet include full-fat cheese and yogurt, butter, bread, fresh fruits and vegetables (often grilled or sautéed), small portions of meat (more often fish or chicken than red meat), wine, and dark chocolate.

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