Before we say anything else, we want to point out that our title for this FitBriefing is a bit of a joke. We at Green Mountain, as well as many other experts, have advised for years that eating well – not dieting – is key to not only achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, but also to living well. Although we and others may argue with many points made in the bestselling book French Women Don’t Get Fat, there’s one thing we don’t argue with: It advises the same thing — eating well – but does it with a hook that has obviously appealed to the masses.
What do French women know that Americans don’t?
Perhaps author Mireille Guiliano best describes the differences like this. “French women take pleasure in…eating well, while American women see it as a conflict and obsess over it. French women typically think about good things to eat. American women typically worry about bad things to eat”.
Unfortunately, this rings true for too many of us. The results of our New Year’s survey “What You Said about Your Body Size” point to the reason: Americans are still caught up in a definition of eating well that is set forth by weight-loss diets –some foods off-limits and others that we don’t think of as particularly tasty, well, they’re the ones we’re told to eat more than anything else.
”French women take pleasure in…eating well, while American women see it as a conflict and obsess over it.
When human nature sends us to those tasty foods, we feel guilty that we’re somehow deficient – why can’t we just stop eating those foods? We can quickly fall into a negative cycle of low self-esteem that only adds to eating and weight problems just because we can’t do what a diet tells us to do.
So how can we get away from this kind of negative thinking, stay off the diet cycle, start to feel good about ourselves and enjoy eating well?
Let’s compare how we eat with the philosophy of eating in Europe. The French actually don’t ‘own’ the philosophy of eating well that’s espoused in the popular book. And the European way of eating well is really not so different from what we teach and practice at Green Mountain.
Do You See Yourself Here?
Check the statements that apply to you:
- I don’t prepare many of the meals I eat – I either eat out or bring prepared food home.
- I eat too fast – gulping down my meal in mere minutes.I generally do something else when eating, instead of focusing on my meal, such as reading the paper or watching television.
- I rarely follow my cues for hunger and satiety – I really belong to the clean plate club, eating what’s set in front of me regardless whether I’m hungry and how stuffed I feel after.
- I rarely go anywhere on foot. My car is one of my best friends.
If you checked most of these statements, you might qualify as a typical American eater.
How Europeans Do It
The more typical European lifestyle includes walking to the market to buy fresh ingredients to cook a good dinner. Featuring fresh herbs and spices, meals are very flavorful – but served in small portions. Europeans eat leisurely, enjoying a glass of nice wine with dinner; the French often top off meals with a small but delicious piece of dark chocolate. In other countries, dessert is often fresh fruit dressed up with a little sweetness (see our recipe Fresh Strawberries – Italian Style). Europeans rarely snack, and they eat more fruits than Americans. But they don’t give up their breads and pastries.
It’s not possible for all of us to move to Europe, but here are some ideas for emulating the healthy European lifestyle.
Do in Rome as The Romans Do
- Rethink what healthy eating means for you. Instead of ‘diet and weight loss,’ think ‘well-being.’ Read our FitBriefing “Redefining Healthy Eating” for more information.
- Use your internal cues for hunger and satiety to tell you when to start and stop eating. For more help, read about mindful eating and portion sizes.
- Get and stay active – every day. Rethink a negative attitude about physical activity with our FitBriefing “Exercise is not a Four-Letter Word.”
Here are some quotes from French Women Don’t Get Fat that we think speak to the issue, too. They echo what we’ve been saying at Green Mountain for years.
- “Deprivation is the mother of failure.”
- “Feed your body reasonably and on schedule.”
- “Less is more.…a single piece of fine dark chocolate can be as enjoyable as a dozen Snickers bars.”
- “Slow and steady. There is no lasting glory in rapid weight loss. Diets offer a round of misery for temporary results.”
- “Gastronomic boredom leads to unhealthy eating. Try new food and flavors. Choose quality over quantity.”
- Eat ritually. “Eat only at the table sitting down. Use real plates…. Do not watch TV or read the paper. Think about what you are eating, smelling and savoring every bite. Describe to yourself the flavors and textures in your mouth.”
- “Learn portion control slowly. Cut back gently. You won’t notice the change in satisfaction, but bodily change will astound you.”
- “Working out” seems a great, joyless effort. American women have two modes — sitting or spinning. French women prefer gentler, more regular varieties of all-day movement. They see exertion as an integral part of the day. They walk a lot (3x more than the average American woman.) They walk up and down stairs vs. the elevator.”
- “The mind is the ultimate firewall against [unhealthy weights]. American women associate eating with sin and guilt. French women enjoy lots of different pleasures – not too much focus on one pleasure such as food.