French Secrets to Staying Slim
U.S. and French Portion Sizes Vary Vastly
WebMD News Archive
August 22, 2003 -- How can the French stay so slim, with all
those luscious croissants, cheeses, pastries, and sauces?
A new study brings home what's known as "the French
Paradox." Despite France's rich cuisine, the French are decidedly slimmer
than Americans. Only 7% of French people are obese, compared with 30% of
A group of scientists set out to investigate this phenomenon --
comparing French and American foods, restaurants, cookbook recipes, even eating
styles. The French secrets to staying slim provide lessons to Americans on
Sizing Things Up
Researchers weighed portions at 11 similar eateries in Paris
and Philadelphia -- fast-food outlets, pizzerias, ice cream parlors, and ethnic
- The average portion size in Paris was 25% smaller than in Philly.
- Chinese restaurants in Philly served meals that were 72% bigger than
Parisian Chinese restaurants.
They looked at foods sold in supermarkets:
- A candy bar in Philadelphia was 41% larger than the same candy bar sold in
- A soft drink was 52% larger, and a hot dog was 63% larger.
- A carton of yogurt was 82% larger.
Even American cookbook recipes -- from The Joy of
Cooking -- produced larger portions than the French cookbook, Je sais
cuisiner. Larger meat and soup portions, and smaller vegetable portions,
were in the American cookbook than the French.
Also, Parisians spent 22 minutes on average dining at their
McDonald's, compared with the 14 minutes that Philadelphians spent on their
burgers, fries, and soft drinks.
"The results suggest ... that if served somewhat less than
they would normally eat, people may be satisfied," reports lead researcher
Paul Rozin, PhD, a psychologist with the University of Pennsylvania. His study
appears in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science.
Savor, Don't Stuff
Indeed, it's a cultural issue. Americans are getting exactly
what they want -- value for their dollar, regardless of taste, says Sheah
Rarback, RD, nutritionist and professor at the University of Miami School of
They'll never lose weight that way.
The portions that are served in France -- people in this
country wouldn't buy them," she tells WebMD. "People here wouldn't be
It's time either to start cooking more at home, or at least eat
smaller portions when dining out, Rarback says. "We need to get back to
savoring the food we're eating, demanding foods that are flavorful. We need to
enjoy the food and the company, instead of just wolfing the food down and
barely even noticing the taste."
One suggestion: Ask for a take-out box when your meal arrives.
Put half the dinner away immediately, even before your fork hits the plate. You
can lose weight, one meal at a time.