Since starting this blog many people have asked how the French can eat as they do and not have big problems with obesity. If you scroll through the recipes on our blog you will notice that the French ones aren’t exactly calorie-counting, diet dishes. So, how do the French not get fat?
First of all, French eating habits are very different to British habits:
- The French eat 3 meals a day and don’t snack between meals. French children eat 4 meals a day as they have goûter at around 4pm before having dinner at around 8pm.
- There is one key word that sums up French eating: Moderation. The French tend to eat whatever they want, but in moderation. So they will let themselves have cheese and cakes, but in moderation: a couple of small pieces of cheese, a thin slice of cake.
- There are no vending machines in offices in France. There are no sandwich vans doing deliveries to French offices. When I worked in an office in France there was nothing for me to snack on, unless I brought it with me. Therefore the temptation to snack is not there.
- The French don’t really eat crisps out of a packet; crisps might be served as part of an aperitif but they are never really eaten in the same way we do in the UK.
- It is very hard to get served in a restaurant in France outside of “traditional” mealtime hours i.e. before 12pm, after 3pm, before 7pm etc. so you can never smell food cooking outside of mealtimes, again taking away temptation.
- There isn’t the same pub culture; if you’re going out with friends of an evening it is more likely to be to a restaurant than a pub, with wine being consumed in moderation, along with the meal. It is incredibly rare for the French to go to the pub during the day. There are no kebab and burger vans for late night post-pub snacks.
- The French tend to drink alcohol with meals, in moderation again. Binge drinking doesn’t really exist in France in the same way that it does in the UK.
- French portion sizes tend to be smaller than in the UK.
What is my personal experience of France vs UK eating habits?
I moved to France from the UK in 1998, when I was 22, I had just finished my finals at university, and I would say I had typical eating and drinking habits of my peers: going out to the pub with friends, drinking all evening and then having a post-pub snack (cheese toastie/kebab/chips).
A few months after moving to France I started to develop the French eating and drinking habits mentioned above. In a couple of months I lost a massive 12 kg (nearly 2 stone)!
(The pictures don’t really do it justice, but these were the best I could find all these years later.)
So is it possible to eat like the French in the UK?
Yes, but it is harder. You need to have stronger willpower as you will be confronted by temptation all the time.
- Allow yourself alcohol, but moderate it to a glass a day with your main meal. If you have a night out, have more to drink by all means, but then try and abstain a few days before and/or after.
- Allow yourself cheese and patisseries, but in moderation, after a moderately sized main course.
- Up the quantity of vegetables on your plate, reducing slightly the portion size of the carbs and proteins.
- Limit yourself to 3 meals a day, drinking lots of water so you don’t confuse thirst with hunger.
- Brace yourself for temptation when you are bored, in between meals, or other people are snacking around you. Have something to snack on (in French this is called en-cas which literally means “in case” i.e. in case you get hungry), such as raisins, seeds or almonds.
- Enjoy your food, savour every bite, and don’t race through it. Eating as a family, at the dinner table helps too.
Good luck! I moved back to the UK nearly 4 years ago and it is harder here than in France, but eating the French way and not piling on the kilos/pounds is doable.