When I took a trip to Paris with my daughter I noticed right away that there’s far less obesity in France than there is here in the United States. That may seem surprising in the land of wine, cheese and baguettes, but there appears to be a whole different mindset about food in France. Food is much more about the pleasure of eating high quality foods, rich with flavor than it is about quick, fried consumption as it is here in the United States.
I jotted down my observations about the healthier lifestyle habits of the French so I could share my discoveries. Here’s what I found:
Culturally, I think there’s a shift in mindset in France. Food is not to be consumed fast as it is here; food is to be savored. I didn’t see anyone eating on the go in Paris. People savor the food and the experience of eating out, conversing with friends and family and eating slowly. Food is to be enjoyed, not to be picked up in a bag at a drive-through lane.
Skip the cycle of beating yourself up. French women aren’t big on guilt and shame. While many American women have a tendency to beat themselves up if they “slip up” and give in to temptation food, French women don’t view or label food as good or bad. Instead of denying themselves food like wine, bread, and chocolate, they indulge, but in moderation and small amounts. They keep their portions in check—and eating slower allows them to enjoy the food fully.
Eat whole, fresh foods. Fresh, wholesome and seasonal foods are available in street markets, restaurants and cafes. Many Parisians have diets filled with the rainbow colors of many fruits and veggies, cheeses and breads. Packaged food is not nearly as prevalent in Paris. If you eat fewer foods that come in a box or have a label, you will be eating closer to the French way of life.
Mix up the types of food you eat and incorporate herbs and spices. The saying, variety is the spice of life holds true in Paris. Parisians don’t eat the same things over and over. They try new recipes and mix up what they eat, adding fresh herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of what they prepare.
Eat yogurt. A little bit of research here, but yogurt is popular in Paris and most Parisians eat about one to two servings of yogurt every day, full of protein and calcium.
Satisfy cravings. Craving something you normally feel guilty about? Enjoy just a few bites of it and then store it away. You can enjoy it without blowing your calorie count for the day. Plus, if you get a little taste, you can enjoy your favorite foods without giving up your healthy eating altogether for over-indulgences. If you have trouble reducing your portions, do it slowly over time, reducing a little bit more each time. My daughter and I ordered a dessert—two scoops of homemade ice cream. It was delicious, just two, small cute scoops. It wasn’t a ginormous overflowing bowl of ice cream like you’d typically find in the United States; it was the perfect amount to enjoy a treat without overindulging. Again, many people in Paris enjoy dessert, local bakeries or wine, but the portions are small.
Don’t drink your calories on the go. I didn’t see anyone walking around with soda or other drinks. Parisians take nothing on the go. You can barely get a cup of coffee to go, except at Starbucks. They eat and drink while sitting—imagine that!
Be mindful. Not just in France, but in most of Europe, there’s a culture of enjoying the present. Meals are leisurely and more focused on the downtime, savoring the food and the conversation.
Don’t smoke. Don’t emulate Parisians here. Unfortunately lots of Parisians smoke. Let’s stick with the American trend here—where people, restaurants and cities are eliminating smoking. It’s the number one thing you can do for your health. While smoking used to be a glamorous cultural indulgence (think Mad Men era), there’s NOTHING glamorous about its known, damaging effects on your health.
Move more. While many American cities and towns aren’t conducive to walking, there’s much more of an emphasis in Paris to walk or bike. Parisians seem to have this concept of living an active lifestyle down naturally. Everywhere people are strolling or taking their bikes to get to they need to go. In what ways can you leave the car at home and venture out on your own two feet?
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