Some think that other cultures have all the answers. Take the French for instance. Despite a diet stuffed with cream, butter, cheese and meat, just 10 per cent of French adults are obese, compared with Australia topping the world in obesity at a colossal 60 percent or more, America’s 33 per cent, and the UK at 22 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 few decades. And it leaves the rest of us diet-obsessed mortals smarting.
A recent survey conducted by the French government’s Committee for Health Education (CFES) found that eating is still very closely linked to a national heritage of consuming good food for pleasure, for the joy of the company of friends, and taking plenty of time to do it.
Nutritionist Dr Francoise L’Hermite believes that the French secret is to sit down with friends or family for a meal, and to eat three times a day at regular intervals. She points out that the French don’t eat in front of the television, and they eat slowly, enjoying both the food and the company. How very civilised. ‘For France, a meal is a very particular moment, in which you share pleasure, the food as well as the conversation,’ says L’Hermite. ‘From an Anglo-Saxon point of view, food is just fuel to give energy to your muscles. If you have no pleasure in it, you are breaking all the rules of eating.‘
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. 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 (as they slowly spread a smidgeon of butter scraped across the half-sized roll). Dr Andrew Hill, senior lecturer in behavioural sciences at Leeds University, agrees with L’Hermite. ‘I suspect that the French paradox has something to do with our differing core attitudes to food and eating. French food is real food – prepared in the kitchen, with time taken to choose, buy and prepare meals. In other words, there’s space for food in the daily routine.‘
Eating in France is a social activity.
According to Mireille Guiliano in “French Women Don’t Get Fat”, the French woman doesn’t waste time and emotional energy with fads; she is definitely committed to joyful and mindful eating, mainly because she is trained from birth on living a life of joy. If you read Guiliano’s book you’ll understand what she says about eating: it is all about pleasure in France. She combines reasonable thoughts about nutrition, lifestyle and moderation, with a general endorsement of joie de vivre. Her secret lies . . . in eating the way French women do, taking time, savoring and enjoying the pleasures of food, rather than obsessing over it, feeling guilty about it and shoveling it in as quickly as possible. Her recommendations? Eat. Eat well. Eat slowly . . . It’s really about a state of mind.
Staying On The Move
Now enjoyment is a crucial aspect of making the most of your food …there is no doubt. And it’s also crucial in making the most of your work; your relationships; your finances; your life. Of course it impacts how you feel about yourself, if you enjoy something – you produce ‘feel-good’ hormones and so how you feel about what you are doing to your body affects it. If you are willing to live with a hefty dose of the same take-care-of-yourself quality-of-life ethos as what one person called “this very wealthy, privileged woman living a rareified life – with, by the way, no kids to mess up the orchids or the trips to Paris” does, you too can receive the same benefits.
In her delightful tale, Guiliano does unlock the simple secrets of this “French paradox” – how to enjoy food and stay slim and healthy. Emphasizing the virtues of freshness, variety, balance, and always pleasure, Mireille shows how virtually anyone can learn to eat, drink, and move like a French woman. Most encouraging of all, she suggests that climbing a few flights on your way to work or walking to the water cooler in expensive shoes is at least as good for you as going to the gym, and doesn’t require one to change into unattractive clothes.
Even Anne Barone, who wrote the “Chic and Slim” series agrees that the secret is not about counting calories, carbs, points or fat grams – counting seems too much like a job, which simply robs you of the joy of eating. So what’s the answer to eternal slimness French style? In Chic and Slim: How Those French Women Eat all that Rich Food and Still Stay Slim, Anne Barone seeks to unravel the puzzle. As it turns out, according to her it’s all about knickers. ‘Never underestimate the power of a black lace garter belt,‘ she writes. ‘Even French women’s lingerie helps to keep them slim, a constant reminder to make choices that pay off in slimness. Their belief in this principle is demonstrated by the fact that there are almost as many lingerie shops in Paris as bakeries.’
Vanity, it seems, is a very useful vice if you want to fight the flab. And making sure that movement is part of your daily routine is the simple answer, when you take everything else we’ve spoken about into consideration. Movement, it’s something that most of us in city life no longer incorporate into our daily lives. As Dr Ross Walker says, “It a matter of not just one or two choices, it’s the accumulation of hundreds of our daily decisions. It’s about taking the stairs instead of that escalator or lift, it’s having a handful (not the whole packet) of nuts instead of that biscuit, or a piece of fruit instead of that cake. It’s about gradually changing hundreds of choices every day, that takes our bodies in the direction of good health instead of an early demise.”
So what do we do? Where do we go?
It’s About Choices
Sally Asher’s book, “Losing It in France – Les Secrets of the French Diet” says the real secret is not to pursue restrictive diets as a lifetime choice in the first place. It’s about changing our daily choices. There are more and more weight loss books coming out, new magic diets, revolutionary strategies, blaming it on your genes, your body shape, blood type, metabolism and they all are selling one or more parts to the puzzle. Look at the Palaeolithic or ”caveman” diet, which is based on the premise ”if the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t, either”. The elimination of packaged foods, sugar and too many grains (paleo enthusiasts say eliminate ALL grains) from your diet, and by increasing the amount of movement you get, making sure your detox pathways are open and functioning well and adding some basic supplementation to your daily regime will have your weight gradually improve.
I rather like the Paleo theory as a general way of living. The ‘diet’ consists of primal foods such as meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, without any of the newcomers such as refined sugar, preservatives and grain-based foods. It’s also automatically a gluten-free diet, which is great for coeliacs or those who are sensitive to grains. The meal plan includes three meals and two snacks daily, which actually aligns itself with my version of the French women philosophy of eating three good meals and reducing in-between snacking, if necessary have 5 or 6 nuts (which you are to carry with you at all times). Dr Cordain claims that all processed foods, sugar, salt, grains, legumes and dairy have created a detrimental effect on our system.
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that after only 10 days on a paleo diet, subjects had physiological and metabolic benefits that included reduced blood pressure, lower levels of total cholesterol and lower insulin secretion after ingestion of glucose. If continued it would reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In another three-month study, the paleo diet improved glycaemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in subjects with type 2 diabetes, compared with a conventional diabetes diet. The diet also has anti-inflammatory benefits thanks to high levels of mono-unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
If you’re thinking about giving this a go, approach it as a lifestyle makeover. Eat vegetables, meat, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep your food intake at a level that supports plenty of exercise. It’s important to note that the paleo diet is not a zero-carb diet. You get ample amounts every day from fresh fruit and vegetables.
Although most diets are seductive with their promises, they are often impossible to stick to long term, so what the Savvy Team can help you with, is first of all some initial understanding of the factors influencing your weight. Then we support as you do something about making some changes and regaining your desired shape and a long term solution to looking and feeling great.
Meanwhile here’s Sally Asher’s list of top 10 reasons why French Women Don’t Get Fat and how you can imitate them too – with my additions in brackets;
- Eat smaller portions of the foods you love and that really satisfy you (use smaller plates)
- Walk everywhere you can, use the stairs and use everyday activities to keep you fit, like shopping, chores, gardening, dog walking
- Eat three meals a day which include a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat –it eliminates the need to snack (protein at every meal, and eliminate grains)
- Keep hydrated and refreshed by drinking lots of water and herbal teas all through the day – when it comes to coffee -choose an espresso over a large syrupy (milk laden) cappuccino (or choose short/long blacks with cream)
- Eat without distractions, turn off all electronica and just focus on thoroughly tasting every bite (develop your taste buds, enjoy flavour and texture – and you will feel fuller, faster)
- Buy food that is in season for better value and taste, and cook at home often (fresh, seasonal, locally grown foods are always best)
- Find satisfaction in quality rather than quantity ie. choose a small square of exceptional chocolate over a whole block of a mediocre brand (become a connoisseur of fine foods / drinks. Enjoyment creates satiation.)
- Use wine as an accent to the meal – sip it for pleasure and enhancement of the food, not to get drunk (Make half a glass last)
- Don’t make any foods illegal, just have less of it – in France an entire cheese course is the size of two dice! (This is the secret of French Women – small quantities)
- Always stay in the pleasure zone with eating – eating until you are uncomfortably full is considered pure body abuse
Most of all learn to eat without guilt – because when guilt is no longer a factor in your eating, somehow common sense prevails. Remember the 80/20 Rule!
So, while the jury’s still out in the general public as to what ‘diet’ is best long-term – we do have a free Life-style Maintenance program and recipes available, just send us your details so we can get it to you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plus I’d love to hear your comments below 🙂