This Secret (and Surprising) Habit Is How the French Stay Slim

Think about the last meal you ate. Did you wolf it down until you felt full enough to return to work, or did you savor every last morsel in the comfort of your home?

When it comes to French diets, Americans are a little obsessed. And it’s true that the French seem to have us beat when it comes to their health — in fact, France ranks among the world’s healthiest countries. And since the French are famous for their wine and cheese (and saying “Oui!” to dessert), it’s understandable that Americans are a little envious.

The typical French diet is the stuff dreams are made of

A glass of wine and cheese on a wooden table.

Wine lovers can’t resist a good pairing of wine and delicious cheese. | Derkien/iStock/Getty Images

One of the reasons Americans are so obsessed with the French diet is because it seems to contradict everything we’ve been told about what is healthy. The phenomenon is often referred to as the French Paradox.

Red meat, fancy cheese, baguettes, chocolate, and red wine are all French staples, and not just on special occasions — many of them have a glass or two of wine every day. They also indulge in full-fat milk and cream. The main beverages consumed are water, coffee, and wine. Sugary soft drinks are rare treats, and most children don’t drink much juice.

French women (and men) don’t often get fat

A woman takes a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Their figures are just as enviable as their selection of fine chocolates. | Encrier/iStock/Getty Images

The paradox is that despite these daily indulgences, the French have much lower rates of obesity than we do in the U.S. Author Michel Montignac delves into great detail in his book, The French Diet: Why French Women Don’t Get Fat. According to Montignac’s research, French have the lowest average body weight per capita in the Western world, despite their unapologetic love of food.

The secret: They savor

A woman enjoying a glass of wine and food.

You won’t catch a French woman eating on the run. | Romrodinka/iStock/Getty Images

The truth is, several factors play into the reasons the French are able to stay slim. But what matters most isn’t the food itself, but the way it is eaten. While many of us rush through a quick breakfast in the morning and wolf down lunch at our desks, the French tend to eat slowly and methodically, savoring every bite. You won’t find a bigger group of foodies anywhere.

Dr. Jean-Michel Cohen, author of the book The Parisian Diet, claims mindless eating is a classic American mistake that leads to obesity. “It’s the sights, it’s the smell and the flavor, you need to enjoy,” Cohen said. It takes us a full 10 minutes to even realize that we’re full, so if we don’t ever pause between bites, it’s easy to overeat.

 The importance of customs

Two friends enjoying an outdoor lunch together.

French people don’t scroll through Instagram while eating lunch. | Encrier/iStock/Getty Images

Health blogger and raw food advocate Frederic Patenaude paid close attention when he spent time in France. He noticed that the French have some food traditions. For example, in France, snacking is not common and is often frowned upon. This goes against the common American advice of eating small meals and snacks every two hours to stay full, further proof that there is no foolproof method to dieting.

Patenaude also noticed the custom of social eating. Even if the food we’re eating is high in calories and fat (and washed down with wine), the joy of conversation and being social often distracts us from eating too much. So not only do the French savor their food, they often savor it with those they love.

Quality matters

French bread loaves on a black shelf.

The french are known for enjoying high-quality food. | Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

The French might dine on rich cheeses and fresh baguettes, but you won’t find a lot of cheap, processed foods in their diet. If you ever go to France, you’ll find the food to be high in quality and exploding with flavor.

This may be one of the reasons the French consume fewer calories than we do in America. When the food isn’t as flavorful, we need to eat more of it to feel satisfied. But a scoop of full-fat chocolate ice cream that is made from real cream and cocoa will satisfy us more than an enormous bowl of the imitation stuff.

Other French secrets to staying slim

Steak fillet of red fish salmon on a white plate.

Eating (and savoring) a decent lunch is important in French culture. | Maria Lapina/iStock/Getty Images

So French people savor every bite of their meals, choose flavorful foods, and dine with others. But that’s not all — when they eat matters, too. They tend to eat a small breakfast, a large lunch (their biggest meal of the day), and a reasonable dinner.

This is part of the reason snacking in France is frowned upon — eating this way helps them avoid the “afternoon slump” so many of us feel from low blood sugar. While we’re inclined to have dinner be our largest meal of the day here in America, evidence suggests that getting the bulk of our calories earlier can lead to long-term weight loss.

So, can we eat like the French here and still lose weight?

Cheese with holes on a wooden board.

You don’t need to deprive yourself from some good cheese. | Olha Afanasieva/iStock/Getty Images

In short, the answer is yes … probably.

Tonya Leigh, a nurse, recently shared how adopting eating habits of the French helped her lose 75 pounds. A trip to Paris taught her that enjoying life, not rushing through it, is the key to happiness. Instead of downing donuts and fries in between her shifts, she now shops at Farmers Markets for fresh eggs, produce, and other staples.

But don’t just dive into a life of bread and cheese and expect to lose weight right away. Adopting a French lifestyle takes time. Tackle a few of these suggestions at a time, and eventually you’ll find that your entire outlook on eating has changed.