One question I am asked a lot on account of spending time in France is, “How do the French stay thin?”

And in light of my most recent Francophile food-related posts about delicious food in Paris, French bread and French cheese, I wanted to enlighten my mom readers on how the French indulge in good food but manage to stay trim regardless. When I first got to France I wondered, “How is everyone eating white bread and brie all day and looking better than Kate Moss?”

After three summers of fastidious research, here is how the French stay thin.

How the French stay thin

Small portions

As Mireille Guiliano famously noted in her best-selling book, French Women Don't Get Fat, the French eat in small portions. They savor their food and eat slowly, using proper table manners.

Food in France is also more of an event. The French rarely eat standing up, and usually set a beautiful table and then sit down to eat a slow, leisurely meal. They put more thought into the preparation and consumption of the meal.

Fresh, organic food

Apricots

When I am working as an au pair in France I shop for the family's groceries at the farmer's market twice a week. While not all the produce is local, the overall quality of the food is quite high: fat, leafy lettuce, coiled-up homemade sausages, tiny red groseilles berries… in short, wholesome, delicious ingredients.

The French and Europeans in general have a greater appreciation for seasonal food. Black cherries in June are sweet and juicy, but in February? Not so much. As anyone who has tasted a Honeycrisp apple in October knows, when produce is in season it tastes worlds better.

And there's no fake stuff- no Stevia, no diet soda, no I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. Eating a natural diet is just better for you.

Indulging

Baguette

On any given day in France last summer, I treated myself to buttered toast, baguette and Nutella, platters of cheese, meat cooked in butter and chocolate. Despite this, I managed to come back a few pounds thinner.

This is because of the way the French would rather enjoy a small quantity of something scrumptious than a bulk serving of something mediocre. In other words, it's better to eat a few pieces of high-quality dark chocolate than two whole Hershey's bars.

Indulge in a small, high-quality serving of something naughty and you will be much more satisfied.

Damage control

Another way the French stay thin? Carefully monitored damage control.

The French, especially French women, carefully regulate their weight. If they gain a few kilos they cut back for a while to lose them.

Also, if the French order crème brûlée during one meal, they eat a light salad the next. It's all about checks and balances, like balancing a bank account.

Soup and salad

Salad

The French fill up on low-calorie but high-volume foods like soup and salad. Lunch is often a soup or salad, while dinner is a heavier meal. These foods fill you up but don't make you gain weight.

Active lifestyle

Most French people I know never intentionally exercise- I remember people making fun of former president Sarkozy for his jogging habit. And while they aren't sweating it out on the elliptical, they still use their bodies. The French are very active by walking everywhere regularly and engaging in light recreation like hiking or tennis.

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For more on French life, check out these posts!

The 10 Best Books to Read Before Visiting Paris

The Art of French Cheese Eating

The Ultimate French Bread Guide

The 10 Most Crazy Delicious Foods You Must Eat in Paris

What I Miss (And Don’t Miss) About Living in France

Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Uganda. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Colorado. She's been to forty countries but somehow still gets lost in her home town. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour magazine.
Ashley Fleckenstein
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