Posted by: kathandroger | February 19, 2011

Eat and stay thin!

We recently saw a report on the tele claiming that the French are officially the thinnest nation in Europe. Whilst British women’s BMIs have ballooned over the past couple of decades, French women have managed to maintain theirs at the same level.

And yet we always seem to be eating, this weekend being a case in point. On thursday there was a meal after our dance lesson – the full works of aperitif, entrée, meat, cheese and dessert – and lots of if. Yesterday we were invited by our friends Claude and Gilles in the village, Claude being a fabulous cook. We sat down for the apero at 19.30 and had just about finished off pud by 1 am. Tomorrow it is the cycling club annual meal, a 5 course affair lasting all afternoon. This is not atypical – so how on earth do they stay so thin?  

I think the first reason is that the french appreciate good food and they understand how to buy it, grow it and cook it properly to produce wonderful flavours. Thus, they have much less desire to eat cheap, mass-produced rubbish than people in other nations. Food is part of the culture here, not just a cheap fuel to fill you up. People talk about it all the time, both women and men; usually the men do the growing, picking and preparing (vegetables, fruit, wine, oils, meat…) and the women, on the whole but not exclusively, the cooking. Understanding good food and how to make it is handed down through the generations, also something that has been lost from the Anglo-Saxon culture (I am generalising here of course).

The portion size is also a factor; in the UK people generally feel they have value for money if they leave a pub or restaurant absolutely stuffed; here, value for money quite clearly relates to the quality of the produce and the realisation of the meal. One recent example for us was our local Indian restaurant in Chatellerault. It is pretty much exactly the same as a UK Indian, except that rather than struggle through an enormous mound of rice, nan bread and curry and then complain about how full we were, we just about ate enough to satisfy our hunger (I reckon we had about 60-70% of the amount we’d have had in the UK). That is not unusual here and even though one might eat 5 courses over 5 hours, the total amount of food is probably no more than one whopping great ‘pub grub’ plate of scran.

The timescale is probably another good reason – eating slowly, tasting the food, appreciating it and allowing it to digest. I for one am guilty of bolting my food down – as Roger constantly reminds me – and I’m sure this is born out of lifestyle of always rushing around and not setting aside proper time to eat.

As far as exercise is concerned, I’m not sure your average Frenchman/woman really does much more than other nations (perhaps less?), but they do probably walk more, and appreciate nature and their surroundings  (the weather helps).

I’m sure there are more reasons, but these are the things we have observed. Very slowly some of these characteristics of french life are being eroded as France falls in to line with the cultures and lifestyles of the Anglo-saxon world. Amongst children obesity is on the rise here too. It’s a shame the Americans, Brits etc can’t become a bit more like the French in their eating habits, rather than the reverse; it would certainly save a lot of money in healthcare!


  1. I entirely agree with your article, one point you didn’t mention though was the relative predominance of tobacco as a slimming aid compared to the UK. France as I am sure you are aware are becoming stricter about the evil weed but are a bit behind the Uk. Thanks for the post. Colin

    • Thanks for pointing this out Colin – you are right! Hopefully it is the other factors that make the difference??

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