Despite a diet stuffed with cream, butter, cheese and meat, just 9 per cent of French adults are obese, compared with our 23 per cent, and America’s colossal 31 per cent. The French live longer too, and have lower death rates from coronary heart disease – in spite of those artery-clogging feasts of cholesterol and saturated fat. This curious observation, dubbed ‘the French paradox’, has baffled scientists for more than a decade. And it leaves us diet-obsessed Brits smarting.
So how do they do it ?
Forget diets, they are no fun and don’t work. I have never known a French woman on a diet
Eat sitting down. In France, 76 per cent eat meals they have prepared at home; the favourite place to eat both lunch and dinner is in the home, with 75 per cent eating at the family table. In the UK, by contrast, we like to eat our meals (a) standing up, (b) in front of the television, (c) at a desk while catching up on emails or (d) by the side of the M25.
Take your time. Whereas the French typically spend two hours over lunch, we bolt down our food in the time it would take them to butter a petit pain.
French food is real food – prepared in the kitchen, with time taken to choose, buy and prepare meals. In England, we eat more pre-prepared foods and ready-meals; we eat fast food both in and outside the home.
Food experience. Compare our ‘food experience’ to that of the French: the time that the average British family takes to prepare a meal has shrunk from two hours to 15 minutes in the past few years.
Seasonal food. The French will only eat seasonal food. There was once an outcry at the school when the school lunch had a tomato starter in January.
Lay off the processed foods. The UK has aisles and aisles of processed ready meals. These just don’t exist in France.
Smaller portion sizes. French people, exercise strict portion control. A croissant in Paris is one ounce, while in America it’s two.
Quality not quantity. After every meal a French woman will restrict herself to one square of very good chocolate with an impossibly high cocoa percentage. Sugar laden chocolate bars don’t exist in France.
Stop snacking! The UK snack industry is worth £9 billion a year, with speedy growth in such crazy sectors as ‘hand-held snacks’, ’snacks on the go’ and ’snack kits’ to service our new grazing, table-less culture. This snacking culture just does not exist in France. One reason for this is that their fat-rich diet stimulates the production of cholecystokinin, a satiety signal which promotes an extended sense of satisfaction after eating even small amounts of high-fat foods. Brie-eaters stay fuller longer.
Good knickers. If all else fails buy some good supportive knickers. In Paris there are almost as many lingerie shops as boulangeries!