Eating Like the French
by Pat Barone, CPCC, MCC
“America’s Weight Loss Catalyst”
For years, I’ve taught a class on choice in my weight management course. This class reminds students that choice is always available when it’s time to eat. So many people watching their weight feel they don’t have the power of choice because they (1) feel compelled to eat certain foods (“cravings”) or (2) they think they must stay on highly restricted “diets.”
In remembering that we have choice, I explain how the French, the culture with the most densely caloric, highest-fat and richest cuisine in the world are also the thinnest people living in any industrialized country in the world.
By the way, the French started dieting at about the same time we did (1920s) but quickly abandoned it as destructive and unproductive. Interesting.
I was reminded of this when a friend of mine, Lygia, a French native, and I recently discussed restaurants. Imagine a heavy, alluring French accent as she said, “Oooooouh! I cannot go to many American restaurants. If I ate that much food, I would be huuuuuge! Pat, why do they give you so much food?”
It was a serious question! I did my best to explain the complicated nature of American eating styles: in our heads, more = better. It doesn’t matter if the food is completely wasted (made into fat on our hips) as long as we think we “got a good deal” on our meal. Restaurants that are more successful in our country feature large amounts of food to make you think you’re getting your money’s worth – even if most of the food they overfeed you (rice, potatoes, chips, french fries) costs almost nothing!
I asked Lygia to share her eating style with us:
1. Never drink soda. She drinks approximately 3 liters of water a day and coffee. If she feels a lull in energy in the afternoon, she’ll have a little coffee. Her theory: if you eat to stay awake, pretty soon you’re eating all the time.
2. Never eat while doing something else. This means never. I’ve never seen her eat popcorn at a movie, eat her lunch while working at her desk, etc. In other words, she pays attention to her food.
3. Eat only whole grain cereals, breads and, occasionally, a whole grain cracker.
4. Limit highly glycemic carbs like potatoes or rice to 1/2 serving at a time.
5. Never snack. Occasionally, if she delays dinner (late dinners are OK, by the way), she will have a snack of fruit. She considers fruit the only acceptable snack.
6. Have a fruit or a vegetable at every meal.
7. Eat desert! Yes! But only in small portions. As with any rich, calorie-dense food, the French believe in respecting calories and they fully enjoy their sweets — but in very small portions.
8. Eat only fresh food, never processed. In fact, she doesn’t believe in food that comes out of a package. This means everything she eats has lots of vitamins and minerals intact. And she never eats things like chips, prepared snacks or sweets. Her comment: “You can just taste the chemicals in that stuff!”
This brings up a good point. Many scientists believe it is the chemicals in our over-processed fast food that causes Americans’ weight problems. In fact, most additives that give good “shelf life” are starches, filler and carbohydrates. Think of the “junk” you may be ingesting every day!
Another chemical issue: Today, in the U.S., we use lots of hormones and chemicals to fatten up cows, chickens and other animals raised for food. What are those same chemicals doing to your body when you eat them?
What do you think of those 8 simple rules my French friend honors in her relationship to food? Do you think you could teach yourself to eat like this? It sounds a lot more enjoyable than the latest fad diet. In fact, it sounds easy, sensible and adaptable for the rest of your life. And isn’t that the point?
My suggestion is that you adopt these rules slowly, focusing on one at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Identify your change and integrate it into your life fully before you move on to the next one.
You might start with making sure every meal has a fruit or vegetable involved.
Or drop soda from your life. If you’re drinking the diet variety, the aspartame is probably thwarting your efforts to lose weight anyway.
Bon appetit! Remember, enjoying what you eat will lead to more satisfaction. However, eating is not entertainment!
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