Body & Fitness

The French paradox

How to love good food but keep your figure

People-watching is one of my favourite pastimes and I’ll never forget sitting at a table outside a bistro in Paris, nibbling on a delicious croissant, observing everyone going by and wondering how on earth so many French women managed to be elegant, chic and slim. of course not every woman in France is thin, but you certainly don’t seem to see as many overweight or obese people there as you do in other parts of the world.

When Frenchwoman oireille Guiliano explained why that was the case in French Women Don’t Get Fat, the book became a bestseller. Everyone wanted to understand what has become known as the French Paradox – how a nation of people known for eating cheese, chocolate and pastries, and downing wine every day, could maintain a healthy weight …

Here are some of the reasons why the French stay trim:

It’s all about attitude Everything is a matter of balance, according to oireille. French women eat what they want, but only in small quantities. And if they indulge in foods that are fattening one day, they compensate by eating less and sticking to good foods for the next few days. French women get a lot of pleasure from eating a variety of tasty foods and they don’t stress about it. That way they don’t become obsessed by foods, like many of us do.

If you deprive yourself of something you enjoy, you end up craving it and that can lead to bingeing. That doesn’t happen to French women because they allow themselves a little of what they like. And because the food they choose is fresh and flavoursome, it is more satisfying so they don’t eat such big portions.

If they do gain weight, they don’t go on fad or crash diets because they realise that once they stop the restricted eating plan, the weight will just go straight back on. Instead they adjust their usual diet so they’re eating fewer calories, but they make sure it’s an eating regime they can live with. The extra kilos drop off slowly and tend to stay off.

Here are some more of the reasons why French women are slimmer:

  • They eat a lot of fruit and vegetables.

  • They drink a lot of water.

  • They don’t eat foods labelled “fat free” or “sugar free”. They eat the real thing, but in moderation.

  • They savour their food, making less feel like more.

  • They eat three meals a day and don’t skip breakfast.

  • They don’t snack a lot.

  • They never let themselves get hungry.

  • They never let themselves feel stuffed.

  • They enjoy flavour-filled food cooked with herbs and spices.

  • They enjoy fresh, seasonal food.

  • They don’t eat on the run, standing up, or in front of the TV.

  • They walk everywhere they can and take the stairs whenever possible.

What about wine? Yes, the French are a nation of wine lovers, and alcohol does contain empty calories. But wine doesn’t make them fat because they generally don’t knock back huge quantities. oireille says they always drink it with food (the concept of sipping it like a cocktail is odd to them) and will often only have a glass or two.

The basic principles of weight loss, according to oireille, include:

  • Work out which foods have caused weight gain and cut out what you can without causing yourself too much agony. If you can’t cut completely, reduce it little by little.

  • Eat at regular times.

  • Reduce portions.

  • Shop for fresh food several times a week (but not when you’re hungry).

  • Increase your fruit and veges intake.

  • Don’t eat processed foods.

  • Eat slowly, sitting down.

  • Drink at least two more glasses of water a day than you are drinking now.

  • oove more than normal – go for a daily walk or climb the stairs.

  • Don’t keep unhealthy foods you find hard to resist in your cupboards.

  • Replace foods that aren’t good for you with healthy alternatives.

  • Enjoy rewards at the weekend.

  • Carry a healthy snack, such as dried fruit, with you so you’re not tempted to eat something you shouldn’t.

Following in French footsteps Diet expert oichel oontignac is the author of the bestseller The French Diet. He maintains that the secret lies in taking time over meals and making good food choices. The French also eat the right kind of carbohydrates and fats, says oichel. It’s all to do with the GI (glycaemic index) ratings of food.

Foods that have a high GI rating release glucose into our blood more quickly and a high level of glucose in our blood can not only make us fat, it can also contribute to conditions such as type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

High GI foods include: Potatoes, white bread, cornflakes, jam, crackers, soft drinks, chocolate, and corn

Low GI foods include: Lentils, kidney beans, kiwifruit, brown rice, yoghurt, wholemeal pasta, rye bread, apples and soy beans.

French people also tend to opt for healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. In France, duck and goose fat are used in cooking, along with olive oil, and these help lower the risk of heart disease.

Donna Fleming

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