Well, it’s almost 2014, and I can guarantee that most of us have “lose weight” as one of the bullet points on our New Year’s resolutions drafts, especially those of us who might, ahem, have a wedding coming up in a few months! However, I’ve never been a fan of the “diet”–this extreme Puritanical form of punishment that almost always results in a backlash of weight gain.. or at the very least an unsustainable lifestyle.
I learned quickly when I lived in France that these women just did things differently. The portion sizes were different, and it was enforced! In America, we’re very all-accepting, even when it can be negative. However, it became clear that just a few principles allowed these French women to be thin without ever dieting or exercising! Of course, when I say “exercise” I mean suiting up for a run, hitting the gym, taking a Zumba class. Instead, you’ll see what they stick to in the principles below!
I read Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat and it reinforced everything I’d perceived as the “secret” to losing weight (and then maintaining a thin physique) by way of lifestyle. I’d recommend reading it to anyone who cares at all about eating for pleasure and staying thin. Here, I’ll outline the principles of this “French woman diet”, although the word ‘diet’ is a terrible misnomer. Instead, think of it as a lifestyle you’ll quickly learn to adore.
You can learn more about my own personal “thin lifestyle” principles by clicking on the link.
Despite really just an incremental gain–probably due to bloating or other not-too-serious causes–I think I’ve gotten a little slack with the principles of French Women Don’t Get Fat. So I’ve made a list of the most important aspects of lifestyle to remind myself, hopefully identifying and optimizing what works for me.
1. Reduce Portions
Americans often tend to confuse “French women don’t get fat” with, I can just eat French food.. and not get fat! This is not the case. Instead, I believe that the most important principle of the “French woman diet” is eating small portions of rich food they love. Yes, this means fried chicken and steak! You can eat just about anything you want as long as you keep the portions small and you balance indulgent meals with less rich alternatives the day or two after.
2. Slow down your meals
By slowing down your meals, you allow your mind to catch up with your stomach when it signals satisfaction. If you wolf down your food in just a few minutes, you’ll certainly overeat and, possibly more importantly, you won’t be able to enjoy your food nearly as well. This is absolutely key in the “French woman diet” — eat for pleasure and savor your food fully. If you do this, you simply won’t have to eat as much.
3. Commit to walking everyday
Most cities and towns in France are arranged in such a way that you can walk everywhere everyday — it makes sense, given the history. We tend to not be so lucky in America. If you’re a New Yorker, you might be able to burn a hefty amount of calories just by hustling to the subway and to work from your station, but if you live in a more car-driven city, you’ll have to make more of a conscious effort to actually walk. This might mean taking a walk everyday after dinner for you. Taking regular walks not only helps boost your metabolism, but can be such a pleasant way to clear your mind and reflect on the day. Try taking a walk with your hubs or family, too! What a great way to connect in an otherwise hyper-smartphoned world.
I also have a little trick I like to use when I’m parking to shop or make a meeting.. I park as far as way as possible from the entrance. I’m working on a catchier name for this principle, other than “parking really far from stuff”, but it works! It’s more likely to mimic what a French woman would be doing in her daily grind.
If you really love to exercise (and I mean actually love), like my future hubs loves to run, then that’s fine, whatever. Sounds great! But if, like most of us, don’t, just try being more active. Walking definitely counts.
4. Eat breakfast
Mireille insists that a proper breakfast is necessary for a thin French lifestyle, and I understand why. No Nutrigrain bars on the go, no Slimfast shakes, no McDonalds on your lap in the car — yuck! Instead, sit down and eat a varied, delicious breakfast to begin your day. No TV, no responding to emails, nothing. Learn to truly enjoy your food. Your food should, indeed, be the main event, rather than needing a distraction from the action! I’m bad about this in all respects — I just find it weird to eat by myself with nothing to do during lunch, but it can be nice for breakfast. I pull out my to-do list and set the day in order. However, I don’t usually get too hungry in the early morning, so I listen to my body instead. Refine and optimize!
5. Refine and optimize
The most important part of the French woman diet is to watch your own body and lifestyle, continue to do the things that work, tweak the things that don’t, and perfect the process for your own self. As you continue with the “French woman diet”, really make an effort to notice what helps you feel thinner and what seems to be a waste. Continue to refine the lifestyle and optimize it for yourself for the rest of your life, and you’ll most likely find yourself thin and happy, from all that eating for pleasure!
If you indulge one night, don’t stress. Instead, simply balance out the next meal or two with smaller portions or a lighter dish. This is a principle you can continue for the rest of your life and truly is one of the most critical aspects of the French lifestyle. Mireille suggests it’s preferable to “make up” for an indulgent meal after the fact, rather than in anticipation, but I’ve found eating a bit lighter and less in anticipation of a big meal works for me, as well.
7. Don’t eat until you’re “full”, eat until you’re “not hungry”
This semantic difference is actually critical in the French culture. In France, parents ask their children if they’re “not hungry”, rather than if they’re “full”, and it establishes a healthy relationship with food right off the bat. I won’t go into the incredible food they serve children at public daycares (“crèches”) and schools! Either way, you can apply this small change in mindset to your own approach to eating. Instead of eating until you feel full, simply eat until you’re no longer hungry. Your body will tell you when this is! You will find yourself “satisfied”, rather than stuffed, and you’ll be amazed at how much extra you’ve been eating for no reason.
8. Carefully watch weekday dessert portions
I simply love how the portions are the key to weekday desserts, rather than eliminating them. Who can do that for long?! Mireille suggests you take one day where you can simply eat what you want and not worry too much about portions or richness, and many other French women give themselves the weekend for this. However, that’s not to say you can’t indulge in rich food and dessert during the week, just watch the portions. If you take your time and truly savor the food, you’ll find that you don’t need much to satisfy your sweet tooth. Keep in mind that your mind plays a huge part here, as the Cartesian-based French society knows well. You might feel you need more than a few bites of rich dessert during the week, but don’t be afraid to play mind over matter! Give yourself a limit so you can reach your weight goal and maintain it, and it will get easier with time.
9. Drink a full 64+ oz. of water
Drinking plenty of water is key to feeling full and to flushing out toxins from our bodies. In her book, Mireille insists that drinking a full 64 ounces (or more) of water is critical to losing weight and maintaining a thin figure. Instead of getting up each time you drain a glass, try filling up a large juice jar or pitcher so you’re more likely to meet your daily requirements on the h2o front.
10. Add 1 serving natural yogurt everyday
Mireille is adamant about eating plain natural yogurt each day, and I can understand it. The probiotics help digestion, which helps bloating.. especially when you can eat so much dang bread (in moderation, of course). I’m awful about doing this, but I notice such a different when I make the effort. Regular ole Yoplait won’t cut it here; find a variety with natural [good] bacteria and probiotics. If you need, flavor the yogurt with a bit of honey or jam, but buying processed, pre-flavored crap won’t do you any favors.14