The French paradox, or "French Women Don't Get Fat"

14 posts / 0 new
Last post
The French paradox, or "French Women Don't Get Fat"



So, last weekend, I had a long, boring GO bus trip ahead of me, stopped in at a drug store to browse and wait (and keep warm) while waiting for the bus (I catch it at an outdoor stop in Mississauga). And I was looking through their bookshelves, and a book leapt out at me: "French Women Don't Get Fat".

I think I thought it was a novel or something because it was in with all the chick lit, and it's the first time I've ever bought a book because of its cover, without really knowing what it was about.

So I buy it for the trip and leave, and then as I'm waiting in the bus stop, I start reading the introduction and realized it was a DIET BOOK. Sigh. But oh well, I bought it, and it was actually quite interesting. By the time I was through the first chapter, I had revised my opinion - it's not really a diet book, it's more like a living book. It's the only diet book I've ever read (and, fat chick here, I've read LOTS) that actually made good sense to me.

It's pretty common sense, so common sense that it seems mundane to spell it out, but with all the fad stuff out there (low carb, low fat, etc.) it is kind of a counter to all that. It's kind of like the anti-diet book while still telling North Americans a few hard truths about what it is about our culture that's making so many of us so obese.

It's breezy (although perhaps tilts a little too much into the "confidential-girl-chatter" tone), and the woman who wrote it is a CEO with Veuve Cliquot, so she does have a bit of an aristocratic air. And she does generalize about French women - you get the idea from her that they're all thin, and all glamorous, even though she does make the obligatory disclaimers here and there that there are exceptions. But if you can get past that (and I found it easy to because it was a light, fun read, had some good tips and insights and wasn't snotty in tone), it's interesting.

Anyhow, just wondering if anyone else has read this book, and what you think about it if you have. Here's an excerpt where she outlines the main points in the book:


It would be contrary to French sensibilities to attempt to summaraize or reduce a whole philosophy to a discrete set of principles. Any real design for living is more than the sum of its parts. But I'm an American, too, and being a CEO, have a particular weakness for bullts and power points. Besides, what book could call itself French if it didn't at least flirt with deconstructing itself? So with careful appreciation for the slipperiness of generalizations, the American in me feels compelled to observe that

[LIST]French women typically think about good things to eat. American women typically worry about bad things to eat.
French women eat smaller portions of more things. American women eat larger portions of fewer things.
French women eat more vegetables.
French women eat a lot more fruit.
French women have bread and would never consider a life without carbs.
French women don't eat "fat-free," "sugar-free," or anything artificially stripped of natural flavour. They go for the real thing in moderation.
French women love chocolate, especially the dark, slightly bitter, silky stuff with its nutty aroma.
French women eat with all five senses, allowing less to seem like more.
French women balance their food, drink, and movement on a week-by-week basis.
French women do stray, but they always come back, believing there are only detours and no dead ends.
French women don't often weigh themselves, preferring to keep track with their hands, eyes, and clothes: "zipper syndrome".
French women eat three meals a day.
French women don't snack all the time.
French women never let themselves be hungry.
French women train their taste buds, and those of their young, from an early age.
French women honour mealtime rituals and never eat standing up or on the run. Or in front of the TV.
French women don't watch much TV.
French women don't have much TV to watch.
French women eat and serve what's in season, for maximum flavour and value, and know availability does not equal quality.
French women love to discover new flavours and are always experimenting with herbs, spices, and citrus juices to make a familiar dish seem new.
French women eschew extreme temperatures in what they consume, and enjoy fruits and vegetables bursting with flavour at room temperature, at which the prefer their water, too.
French women don't care for hard liquor.
French women do enjoy wine regularly, but with meals and only a glass (or maybe two).
French women get a kick from Champagne, as an aperitif or with food, and don't need a special occasion to open a bottle.
French women drink water all day long.
French women choose their own indulgences and compensations. They understand that little things count, both additions and subtractions, and that as an adult, everyone is the keeper of her own equilibrium.
French women enjoy going to market.
French women plan meals in advance and think in terms of menus (a list of little dishes) even at home.
French women think dining in is as sexy as dining out.
French women love to entertain at home.
French women care enormously about the presentation of food. It matters to them how you look at it.
French women walk everywhere they can.
French women take the stairs whenever possible.
French women will dress to take out the garbage (you never know).
French women are stubborn individuals and don't follow mass movements.
French women adore fashion.
French women know one can go far with a great haircut, a bottle of Champagne, and a divine perfume.
French women know [i]l'amour fait maigrir[/i] (love is slimming).
French women avoid anything that demands too much effort for too little pleasure.
French women love to sit at a cafe and do nothing but enjoy the moment.
French women love to laugh.
French women eat for pleasure.
French women don't diet.
French women don't get fat.[/LIST]

Sven Sven's picture

It is a lifestyle. They have incorporated, in essence, two key factors in their lifestyle:

"They go for the real thing in moderation." For the most part, fat, sugar, carbs, alcohol are all harmless (or virually so) in moderation.

And, they combine moderation with physical exercise.


I watched a documentary the other day that said, in effect, that French women do get fat! Obesity levels are rising in France, apparently. I don't have time to find the statistics but someone else might want to do it .....



French women eat smaller portions of more things. American women eat larger portions of fewer things.

All joking aside, if I had a dime for every time one of my European colleagues said "I keep forgetting how big American portions are..."

I suspect this is perhaps the real issue. Don't know.


Yes, most European people are not as heavy as North Americans of the same genetic baggage. But it is ludicrous and classist to assume that "French women don't get fat". What rot.

I have lived in France; indeed, at restaurants of the sort Mireille whatsherface (also of Italian origin, I take it) would go to, I feel like a cow, and I'm not a particularly large person. Not at all the case in more working-class districts (though the severe obesity one often sees in North America is rare in poorer areas as well).

After lunch with the social x-rays in Le Marais, I noticed that the overwhelmingly middle-aged Quйbйcois francophone women on the flight back home (who are obviously not, on the whole, minimum wage workers or welfare recipients) were a good 20 lb heavier than Frenchwomen of the same age and relative social status (assuming they are working or retired teachers, civil servants etc) and an almost identical genetic background.

Middle-class people here eat fairly well, but the problem is the extreme temps in winter - I know I get rather sedentary in the winter here, not in France (though it is not "warm" in northern France in the winter). I force myself to walk here in the winter for health, but it is torture. I am always cold.

But a lot of what she writes is ludicrous stereotypes, and archetypes of a life now destroyed by global capitalism. There is a lot of crap in French supermarkets as well, and a lot of people don't take the time to prepare fresh salads, veg, fruit and a small amount of animal protein. (By the way, Michelle, although there is a lot of meat eating in the Germany of your ancestors, it is also friendlier than most of France is to vegetarian menus. I advise vegetarian friends visiting Paris to rent a furnished apartment where they can prepare food, as there is such wonderful produce and cheese (and good vegan protein foods in supermarkets and health-food shops) but restaurants are a minefield.

And what nonsense about the virtuous Frenchwomen who only have a glass of wine with supper. When you are there living, you are working hard and not overindulging every night (duh) , but I can assure you that while British style binge drinking is uncommon, we have enjoyed many a "bien arrosй" supper, that is, with copious and good wines.


Heh. I was really hoping you'd come in and comment, lagatta, because I had no idea how you would take this. I thought you might find some of the ideas palatable, like the gourmand thing about doing quality over quantity, having a much wider variety, and having wine regularly, from what I've seen of your awesome foodie posts over the years.

But I thought maybe the excessive stereotyping might be a bit much, and of course you're right, it is. I also felt while I was reading it that it was a pretty bougie book, and I was betting that the "French women don't get fat" thing probably didn't apply as much to working class French women.

I have no idea whether she has Italian ancestry. She's married to an American, so maybe she took her husband's name. She says she was born in France, to French parents.


Well, we have also discussed the phenom of losing weight while travelling, as I always to when over there, despite what seems like more fancy meals and certainly more wine!

And indeed some of the "slow food" ideas are worthy, and in France not restricted to the upper class - people eat greens and fruit daily, and not much dessert - nor do they usually get plastered the way the Brits might do. And at least until recently, portions of meat were smaller.

People are eating more crap in France too, though. I remember getting out of the mйtro (Chвteau-Rouge, in a poor immigrant neighbourhood) and finding myself in front of a neon-lit Kentucky Fried Chicken of all things. [img]eek.gif" border="0[/img]

More sugary drinks too. If wine consumption has diminished somewhat, alas it is not always in favour of water, but of all kinds of chemical beverages.

But she is really talking from the standpoint of a very privileged social class. In France, the title of the book was changed as the original one would not have been credible - I think it was "Ces Franзaises qui ne grossissent pas" (admitting that some do).

There is a whole cottage industry about selling the secrets of those magical Frenchwomen to Brits and Americans...


I figured as much re: France (like everywhere else) falling prey to the fast food vultures.

I guess this book is really a prescription for how to be as thin and fashionable as the French elite, not the French. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]


[url= Battles a Problem that Grows and Grows: Fat[/url]


[url=]Scientists take important step toward the proverbial fountain of youth[/url]


Going back for a second dessert after your holiday meal might not be the best strategy for living a long, cancer-free life say researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That's because they've shown exactly how restricted calorie diets -- specifically in the form of restricted glucose -- help human cells live longer. This discovery, published online in The FASEB Journal could help lead to drugs and treatments that slow human aging and prevent cancer.

Polly B Polly B's picture

Fidel wrote:

[url=]Scientists take important step toward the proverbial fountain of youth[/url]


That's because they've shown exactly how restricted calorie diets -- specifically in the form of restricted glucose -- help human cells live longer. This discovery, published online in The FASEB Journal could help lead to drugs and treatments that slow human aging and prevent cancer.

I find it interesting that they have discovered that restricting calories may help humans live longer, so their first thought it "how do we make a drug treatment" for this.  How about, just restrict calories?


French women will dress to take out the garbage (you never know).


This is only slightly exaggerated. French women (and males too) put a lot of thought into their clothes, and try to look good all the time, it seems. For one thing, you don't see anyone wearing sweatpants in public. They think Americans (us too, I guess, but they don't know Canada exists) dress like children, with their T-shirts and short trousers.


French women probably walk and stand more.

US urban planning is in effect a subsidy for automakers.