This is the first in an occasional series on the French diet/lifestyle, and the reasons that the French are trim and healthy. Photo: The French do it better. A little statue spotted in an Italian restaurant.
If you live in France, you will quickly learn that there are things the French do very well (public transportation, wine, bakeries) and things they do so badly they will make you crazy (bureaucracy, customer service). The thing they may do best of all--and they have much to teach us here-- is eating for maximum pleasure, while at the same time for maximum health.
To begin to understand how the French stay thin, stop by a French café mid-afternoon and see what the French are drinking and eating. The most common drink on the table will be a Perrier with lemon. Or a small expresso, no cream. You’ll see the occasional beer, in a tiny bottle that holds not much more than that expresso cup. A soda, which also comes in a miniature bottle, will be very rare indeed. If there’s ice cream, it will be dished out with a scoop that Americans would consider a mere spoonful.
Portion size is only one of the many differences in French eating and American over-eating (the Brits seem to have joined the US party as well). Living here, it’s easy to see the huge differences between the French and the Anglos in eating habits, attitudes toward food and pleasure, lifestyle, and, it must be said, discipline.
The Americans I’ve known who’ve moved here—and this includes yours truly—invariably put on weight when they first get here. All those pastries! The wine and food! The restaurants! The cheese! We jump right in without a thought to restraint. At some point reality hits: We must eat like the French, or we will be enormous.
It's been fascinating to view food and diet through the eyes of the French. They are obsessed with food: they love to discuss it, analyze it, and debate it, but out of pure pleasure. They are the original foodies, and they practiced Slow Food long before it was a movement. Photo: The French revel in the pleasures of the table, but they keep a balance.
I finally understood the famous French aversion to snacking, for example, when I saw how they treat each and every meal as a splendid occasion to look forward to. It’s not that they don’t like snacks; they simply have a horror of destroying their appetite, of sitting down to a meal without being properly and deliciously hungry. They won’t even drink coffee within two hours of a meal; it might lessen their pleasure à table. They will nibble on nuts but they wouldn’t eat cheese and crackers with their pre-dinner wine. Quel horreur, they might commence a meal without that glow of anticipation that hunger brings. And they wouldn’t waste a calorie on something that wasn’t delicious. That “automatic” eating so common in America (mindless munching in front of the TV, or eating way past the point of being full) is not practiced here.
You won’t hear the French carping about carbs, counting calories, or discussing the latest fad diets. And yet, they adhere to a regime that is intelligent, thoughtful, disciplined, perhaps even rigid; but governed by the pleasure of eating well, to feed body and soul. We've made an attempt to soak up their habits.
Here is an interesting phenomena, true for us and for other Americans we know here. Now that we’ve all carefully adopted the French rhythm of eating, the tables have turned on us. Despite living in the region that is the gastronomic capital of France--and being in a group of foodie friends where wine, dining out and entertaining is a major preoccupation-- when we go back to the states for a short OR an extended stay, we always gain weight!
And now, Dear Readers, what are your observations on those skinny French?
Next in this series: The Daily Dozen: 12 ways the French Stay Trim and Healthy
Since we’re speaking of healthy eating, here’s a French meringue cookie that’s a nice light dessert.
RECIPE: Chocolate Pecan Meringue Cookies
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
- pinch salt
- 2 oz. (56 gr) semi-sweet chocolate
- 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
- 3 egg whites at room temperature
Pre-heat oven to 225F (100 C). In small bowl, combine dry ingredients, except nuts. Melt chocolate and set aside to cool.
In medium bowl, beat egg whites until they just enter the very soft peaks stage. Slowly and steadily add dry ingredients, taking about a half a minute to add them. Beat until mixture is glossy and peaks are very stiff. Gently fold in chocolate and nuts
Drop by teaspoonfuls (or pipe them) onto a cookie sheet (greased, on parchment paper, or a Silpat), you’ll have about three dozen. Bake for an hour in center of oven. Turn off oven and leave them there for another hour with the door closed. Remove from oven and cool.
PHOTO: What’s that we’re reading with those chocolate meringues? Burning is one of the fun Diane Johnson novels. Her novel Le Divorce was of course set in Paris and made into a film too. Click on the links for info.
In the Comments this past week: Thanks for your comments on our friends who "call the world their neighborhood", as Mark says. A big welcome to Dee, who lives in the northern part of Burgundy, and to Zee and Mary Jane. And to a very OLD friend, Clyde.
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