Why French People Are Thin

Monday Apr 20 | BY |
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oI recently spent a few weeks with French people while on a trip to the South Pacific. Even though French is my first language, I am not French. I am Canadian French or French Canadian, depending how you want to look at it.

In Quebec, we’re an odd bunch. We speak French… sort of. All of my education was done in French and my social life is mostly in French, yet I live on a continent in which the vast majority of people speak English. French Canadians are more typically North Americans who happen to speak French. Although we share some similar customs to French people, our lifestyle is very North American.

French culture is not as close to my culture as you might think. In fact, when I go to France, I feel much more like I’m in a foreign country than when I go to the United States. Even though I can understand the language and speak it, I try to camouflage my French Canadian accent so they actually understand me. I still feel like this is a completely different type of culture and way of seeing the world.

When I was traveling in French Polynesia, I met a lot of French people who were on vacation or living there. I got to spend time with them, which was great because usually when I travel I tend to meet Americans, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis or Europeans, but not a lot of French people. But French people tend to travel to French-speaking countries.

What struck me was how thin all of the French people were, and this was in contrast to the Tahitian population who is, let’s say, well built.

In general, French people are thin. France has the lowest obesity rates in all of Europe — by a wide margin. The women are thin. The men are thin. It’s just the norm to see thin people. They’re not thin the way Americans are thin. The Americans who consider themselves thin are generally just average, and “skinny” for an American is normal in France. Obviously food and weight are related, and we know that French people don’t eat necessarily the lightest diet in the world (think of all that baguette and butter!)

How come French people tend to be so thin?

French people don't do this

French people don’t do this

I think I’ve figured it out. It’s not about the French paradox of red wine, because when I was traveling in French Polynesia there was no wine and very little alcohol available. It wasn’t French cuisine either. They were eating the local foods based on fish, coconut products, and fruits— not typical of a French diet.

But they followed the French custom of eating two or three meals a day and no snacks. That was the difference. When you go to Hawaii or Miami and you see a bunch of Americans or Canadians walking in the morning, they’re doing it with a giant latte from Starbucks and perhaps a muffin in hand.

French people sit down and have breakfast: a small coffee and some fruit, a little bit of bread buttered with jam, maybe, or a croissant. That’s it! They eat two or three meals a day and they don’t snack. Typically it’s 8am for breakfast, 12pm for lunch and 7pm for dinner. They don’t eat anything between lunch and dinner — a good 7 hour wait.

Lunch is simple, at least when they’re traveling or at work. A more traditional French lunch can be dragged out for a couple of hours and includes wine, cheese, etc., but that’s not really the norm anymore. Lunch might be simple salads or a sandwich.

Dinner, nowadays, tends to be a more important meal. It may include wine, but the cliché of the wine-drinking French is not as true anymore.

Kids don’t snack. They’re not encouraged to snack. Adults definitely don’t snack.

French people are not necessarily thinner because of their food choices, but rather because of their habits. 

This is a cultural thing and it kind of goes against the notion that the nutritionists in America have ingrained in us. The notion: we must eat every two or three hours to keep our blood sugar “stable.” Obviously this is not working.

Other countries, like France, don’t follow these customs. They eat two or three meals a day and don’t eat outside of that. They take their time to eat and don’t worry so much about macronutrients, fats, or carbohydrates. They don’t even care about gluten, yet they remain thin and for the most part, long-lived.

This is something to keep in mind, and I think it takes a lot of practice to break these habits. When I was traveling, I often stayed in places where three meals a day were included, at 8am, 12pm and 7pm. I had to follow the schedule. There was no other food available. I discovered that I’m a snacker too.

In the last couple weeks I’ve been training myself to eat only three meals a day. I realize that my body was used to regular snacking. It’s only by observing French people that I saw how this worked.

Try eating only in the morning, at 12pm, and at 6 or 7pm; no evening snacking and no snacking between meals. If you feel like you want something, have a glass of water or an herbal tea.

You will find that perhaps you’re not eating enough in your lunch so that you’re hungry for dinner. Maybe you’re not eating enough for dinner so you’re ravenously hungry for breakfast. When you restrict yourself to two or three meals a day, you figure out the proper quantities in order to maintain your energy.

Other Reasons

Of course, there are other reasons why French people are thin (and I’m also aware that there’s a growing obesity problem in France — but isn’t that the case everywhere on the planet?)

They have a reference for food, but keep portions small. They tend to walk a lot, and tend to have a more balanced approach to life (and food). And yes, they don’t tend to guzzle a lot of soda or eat junk food every day. But overall, I think it has a lot more to do with how they eat rather than what they eat.

Your thoughts? 

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

51 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Thea Walker says:

    Thanks for this article, as I have always wondered why French men and women are relatively thin. I have also observed (from friends who have toured in France) that French food choices are relatively simple, and there is a much lower quantity of processed foods in France as well, and that the heavy advertising related to processed foods and foods shows in the U.S. just does not seem to occur to the same extent in France.

    Contrast this to the flood of ‘food and cooking shows’ that host (in some cases) elaborate recipies and food preparation tasks in the U.S. during the last few years. One has to wonder if the profit motive in trying to sell consumers on a steady diet of eating unhealthful foods and unhealthful eating habits too often is more important that the financial and social impacts of illnesses that obesity and other lifestyle choices seem to proliferate.

    I am grateful that here in America, we still exercise freedom of choice and can be encouraged by our counterparts in other countries that have health and life formulas that tend to generate better health outcomes. For me personally, this is encouragement to knock of the snacking and move to an even higher level of health. Thanks, again for sharing.

  2. Elaine says:

    I totally agree with you. I have always thought our recommendation to eat every couple of hours is ludicrous. We didn’t do that when I grew up and because of it, you were pleasantly hungry when meal time came and you ATE YOUR FOOD, unlike some kids today. To me, it’s just common sense.

  3. Kimberly says:

    Great article, thanks Frederic! A french boyfriend and chef also told me that they dont consume as much bread
    as is thought and the emphasis is on fruit and vegetables, with the evening meal typically being the lightest, often
    soup and salad. In my work with the elderly community, Ive observed that the longest lived people are those who
    eat very lightly, regardless of what they eat!

  4. Brian says:

    The French *do* snack. It’s just that when they do, the snack is small and typically something like a piece of fruit. Americans eat junk for snacks. But I think you’re correct that lifestyle has a lot to do with this. The French reverence for food helps them eat more mindfully. They typically live at a much slower pace than Americans and (like many Europeans) value family and free time more than work. The rise in obesity in France can probably be traced back to the influx of American food (McDonalds, junk foods, prepared foods, etc) and having to compete in the global economy. It’s really unfortunate.

    • carina says:

      i agree,Brian.Mindfullness while eating is the key.
      To stuff food in mouth without thinking that it’s not gonna land on the hips is foolish.
      The french are apparently not foolish ab eating.

  5. Mary says:

    I totally agree with your observations Frederic and thanks for publishing them. I’ve noticed that I personally feel so much better when my circumstances have forced me to eat three meals without snacking. I have sensed that my digestive system has appreciated the rest it gets in between meals. Keep it simple is always a good rule!

  6. Claudia says:

    This is a very interesting article. I have made a policy that when I’m walking, I’m not eating or carrying food in my hands (can’t walk and eat at the same time anyway). But as a diabetic, I was told to eat three meals a day and 2 snacks. I am taking an oral medication (Metformin) so that is part of the reasoning because I may have blood sugar drops. Of course, I don’t loose any weight and I’m hungry all the time.

    I’ve discovered that it is what you eat for a snack that can keep your blood sugar stable. Don’t eat sugary sweets or empty carbs. Eat a protein item (a handful of nuts) and a whole grain cracker. Apparently the protein and the whole carb complement each other and don’t affect your blood sugar much – hence stability. It would be nice not to have eat a snack but at this point in my life I think it is necessary. My heartiest meal is breakfast with a whole grain english muffin, egg, sliced tomatoes, and vegan bacon. Lunch is usually a salad with whole grain cracker and 1 small fruit. Dinner is usually cooked vegetables and some whole grain rice and tofu. I eat my snacks in the morning and afternoon. No snack before bed.

    I would love to be skinny like the French, however, I am a big strapping girl – large bones, 5’8″ tall with big feet and hands – not a small person, so genetically I’ll never be skinny but at least I could be solid with not much fat. But at 70 years old – I don’t think I can make much more changes than I have. I’m afraid to try your supplements because of how they may interfere with my medications. Also exercise is difficult for me because of my arthritis – I use recombinent bike and seated yoga – 2 time a week for bike and everyday for yoga. Lift dumbbells 3 times a week.

    Help!

    I wish you could give me some thoughts on how I can improve on this.

    • Eddie says:

      I would suggest a good quality saturated fat would be an ideal addition to your diet. Virgin organic coconut oil, one table spoon a day will do some great things for your body.

    • Tom says:

      I find that eating more veggies and salads makes the eating experience last longer and I feel better. I eat rice occasionally but no wheat and I’m losing weight. Morning exercise is a must as well.

    • Alan says:

      Claudia. try eating a serving or two of legumes each day. They help to stabilize your blood sugar very well. Also i suggest you give up all animal foods. Studies show that they are a big reason for diabetes. Also walking after a meal helps to stabilize blood sugar very well. After doing these things for a while you may try eliminating the snacks.

  7. Jackie says:

    Love it. Thanks for the article. I recently read 2 books about French culture – “French Kids Eat Everything”, and “Bringing Up Bebe”. They were both written by American women who moved to France (one for a year, the other permanently). Everything you mentioned was right on, according to both women. I would highly recommend both books, as I believe that if we Americans embraced and incorporated some of their culture, we would be much healthier and happier. 🙂

    • Deane Alban says:

      Jackie, I read both of those books and enjoyed them immensely. It made me wish I could have a “do over” as far as raising my family! Their whole attitude I love that the French teach their kids to wait be it for food, attention when mom is on the phone, or to be attended to in the night. It seems to make for happier and healthier kids and adults.

  8. Josh says:

    I think you’re wrong Frederic, with the greatest respect.

    Of course walking and less snacking helps, but the main reason is that food is valued there for its flavour and quality, which you only get with the small farmers making food with love and most importantly, according to age old traditions, which calls for NO chemicals.

    Americans have an industrial food system that has been designed since Nixon to produce maximum calories per dollar, without regard to nutrition and flavour. Flavour there is chemically added. Oh, and America demonises fat ever since Ansel Keys fudged the data to make it look like fat was bad for you. No fat, no flavour… gotta add more of that artificial stuff!

    French don’t CRAVE for food after their three little meals because their meals are densely full of flavour, fat and nutrients. Americans have hollow calories so their bodies constantly tell them they’re hungry even though they’ve just stuffed themselves.

    Then you have all the chemicals that Americans use on their crops. Monsanto’s roundup ready crops mean tonnes of it goes into American food. And it’s fattening apparently. Then there’s antibiotics in the livestock food. Makes them fat quicker. Makes YOU fat quicker. And even Americans have chemicals in their couches that are fattening, and aren’t allowed in Europe: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/04/16/flame-retardants.aspx

    Sorry Frederick, but you’re way off.

  9. Mary Kay says:

    I’m believing what you say because you are well travelled. Way more than I! Thanks

  10. Faith says:

    Hi

    I’ve been to France and no Frech people habits are not healthy.

    They don’t eat much but they smoke a lot ( I don’t see people smoking like that in US).

    They smoke and then don’t eat much food.

    Yes they walk more than Americans but I don’t think they are very healthy either.

  11. Karolina says:

    I live in France since more than 10 years and I can tell that French people snack a LOT!!! they very often have another sandwich at 4 or 5 o’clock. Children have always their “gouter” after school and mothers do that along with them.
    French people eat small meals but they snack a few times a day often in a very secret way! (in the car, in the supermarket, etc.). Diet is simple, that true, but dinner is often rich in calories (pasta with butter and cheese..) butter is there everywhere…
    I think that slim French people simply do take care of their calorie intake and try to eat healthy. A huge part of the population is overweight nowadays and a French slim silhouette is a myth today…
    Hopefully there is a lot of organic produce available even if being vegan (even worst for a raw vegan) is still seen as crazy here…
    But it’s a very nice country anyway 🙂

  12. Jan says:

    Loved the article! It does make sense to just eat 3 meals and no snacks. I do think that the quality of there food is much better with allot less chemicals added. It would be interesting to see how their meats are raised and slaughtered too.
    I think I will start practicing No Snacking!
    Thank you

  13. liya says:

    It seems in the USA, that snacks are necessary, mandatory or normal to maintain normal blood sugar through out the day. Even in an x-French colony in N Africa they snacked. What you said was a revelation…who knew you didn’t require or need snacks?

  14. Sally says:

    Hi Fred, I liked this one particularly as it addresses some of the key reasons as you very aptly wrote why Americans have it all wrong.. I’ll take it a bit further, and add the notion of eating ONLY when truly hungry..which in my experience personally and professionally, (25 years Massage Therapist/15 Colon Hydrotherapist no longer practicing CT) the average person has no idea what true hunger is..I”ve been right in there along wlth the majority of people until I went off on a path to try and figure out why I had chronic constipation and the myriad of other issues that came along with it!. I believe compulsive and chronic overeating, eating too much cooked starch and cooked food in general, and as you said…people giving power over to Nutritionists trained by Mainstream medicine..the information NOT scientific or based on anything that makes sense. There is a good book written called The Fast Diet by Dr Michael Mosely that is an easy read, and offers different options for people around “intermittent fasting”..I know it works for me..and I know I often, especially living in New England with the long cold winters sometimes struggle with eating out of habit, boredom and just the love of eating..But awareness and not liking that feeling of 10 extra lbs at winters end helps keep me on track usually..The fanaticism and focus on dietary purity and all the extreme things I’ve done like the 23 day water fast the year after you did in Costa Rica, did way more harm on so many levels than good.. The other thing it seems like the French from France and I think the Swiss and Italians do as well, is enjoy eating and don’t look at food as the devil…I guess our gargantuan portions here in the US, and the fact that junk foods, white flour products and McDonalds are alot more affordable.. If more people were open to this idea of skipping meals and even fasting one day a week for 24-36 hours I think they would be amazed at how doable it is, AND that they may even feel alot better and not need to exercise like it’s a part-time job….Thanks for all your work, sharing and insight…You surely are a seeker Fred..

  15. Natasa says:

    I feel great when I eat clean plant-based diet (Eat to Live) with no snacks. I find that my alertness is much higher and feeling of vitality is higher. I get more done.

    Thank you for your interesting articles.

  16. Leigh says:

    Hey Fred,

    As someone who grew up with a French mother, lived in France for 10 years, and spends many summers and other holidays in France, I can agree with some of what you say, but not all of it.

    When you go to the countryside, you see people who are heavier. They are hardly obese however, but they are definitely stockier than what you see alot in the cities and more urban areas.

    Secondly “gouter” or a mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon snack is quite common for children, not so much for adults. It’s often a piece of bread with chocolate, that’s a classic but just as often a piece of seasonal fruit.

    Finally, food is grown, prepared and presented with great care and delight, and pride too, and so it is eaten in the same manner. The produce in general, is truly superior in France — it’s flavorful, beautiful, smells good, etc… Why ruin a good thing?

    Just thought I’d chime in …

    Enjoy your articles and work!

  17. Leigh says:

    Oh, and one more thing — gluten intolerance is a growing issue, there are many people now trying to avoid it
    and experiencing health issues related to gluten. Unfortunately, wheat grown on the commercial farms there is causing the same problems for the Europeans that it is for the rest of us….

  18. Laurie says:

    My husband is French. It took me years to get “skinny” the way he has always been. Most of my mid-age (not childhood–I was REALLY “skinny” then) was trying to figure out the right diet for ME. It took until I was 60 years old to figure it out. In the meantime I vascillated between 104 and 183 lbs until I finally got to a wonderful weight between 96-99 lbs (I’m very short with a tiny frame) that I have no problem maintaining, eating a wonderfully healthy vegetarian diet, with just a very small amount of seafood and cheese–vegan aside from that.
    But now, back to my husband. He sometimes goes long periods without eating, and I do see him snack when he’s hungry–usually a tuna with mayo on an English muffin or some organic ice cream or chocolate, peanut butter & jelly, and he has a fair amount of coffee throughout the day. He is a sugar addict. He’s also a milk addict…when he moved out to CA and discovered Mrs. Straus’ organic milk he became a huge fan and drinks at least 6 cups a day of their whole milk. He eats lots of their ice cream and butter too, and 1-2 English Muffins/day since he doesn’t like most of the store-bought French bread here. Dinner is meat, potatoes and a salad, although if he downs even 3 ounces of meat at a meal that would be a lot for him. He drinks almost no alcohol. Maybe a drink if we’re out 1x month max.
    He never eats very much at once, and (except for all of the sugar that comes in the high-quality products that he buys) doesn’t eat much of what you would call “junk” food. He’s extraordinarily active and fit–almost 65 years old, he used to be a professional dancer and remains active by doing physical work around the house and a building that we have….NOT “exercise” for the sake of “exercise”…ever! He can still do triple pirouettes on the dance floor and vault a 5′ fence with a single hand….loves to climb in the mountains when he has a chance, a little tennis a few times a year. He’s 5’11”, about 115-118 lbs. His strength relative to his weight is beyond comprehension, and he can outrun most fit 20-year-olds.
    I worry about his health because he’s a smoker, and because the sugar is destroying his teeth and he’s getting “implants”, one by one. I cut sugar out of my diet over 10 years ago (I’m a big fan of xylitol) and never looked back.
    He is the spitting image of his mom’s father, who was also skinny, smoked, and lived until his mid’90s (I think he died probably in the early ’60s). I can only hope that my husband does the same.
    As I said, I can’t quite figure it out, but I’ve never met an American man who has those same attributes at age 65!
    Is that very “French” or is it just him? And of course, yes, French food is his favorite and what he likes to eat out.

    • carina says:

      Laurie.Your husband at 65 and mine at 72 should have a fitness contest.
      My hubby ,when he goes downstairs to switch on the geyser in the early hours (to save electricity) runs down and back up the stairs 2 steps at the time IN THE DARKNESS (does not bother with light then) back to bed and is not in the least breathless.As I said he smokes a packet a day and works full time 6 days/week..But like yours his teeth are also rather stained and he has implants on some of them.He never eats too much and I have counted him chewing his food even 60 times or more/mouthful on occasions,not always though.he is a thinking man,an atheist and intellectual.I have never met another person as active as he is,both mentally and physically,man or woman.

  19. Lawrence says:

    I dont buy what you are saying ..sorry.
    So they eat 3 meals a day no snacking in between and thats why they stay thin?
    Must have been a slow news day..lol
    Cafes are filled in France late night after dinner,with thin and overweight people eating snacks,munching on bread.butter.wine..cheese..sugary pastries,sandwiches..etc.
    The French snack on food like everyone else does.

  20. I have been to France a few times. What you say about the French not snacking is very true. Also heart attacks are not listed on their death certificates. Therefore, they really plug the red wine thing. The French probably have as much heart disease as the USA.

  21. John says:

    The quality of the food is very important; nutrient density, and that includes satiating saturated fats. If you can’t go long periods of time without snacking you’re probably not eating enough slow burning sat fats. The French eat a lot of sat fat.

    BUT, the main reason the French are thin is the same reason I am and always have been despite what I eat: GENETICS. Most French people probably sport the naturally thin ectomorph body type. Not only are ectomorphs “hard-gainers” that have faster metabolisms that don’t retain much body fat but they have smaller bones and joints which give them the appearance of an even more slender figure on top of very low body fat. Ectomorphs can get fatter if they go full coach potato and binge on junk food but they will still look slender in clothes because of their smaller bone structure. This is what is known as being “skinny fat”.

    Most westerners are mesomorphs or endomorphs which retain body fat much easier AND have larger bones and joints, which give an appearance of being larger to begin with. You can also have a combination of body types but perhaps the French population has more true ectomorphs like myself. FWIW, I think I’m 20-30% french. I’ve always eaten pretty well and I’ve always weighed between 125lbs and 140lbs at 5’11”. Ectomorphs don’t have to lift much weights to look cut or do crunches to get six pack abs because of such low body fat.

  22. Erika Shaw says:

    French People are thin because they eat small portions, much smaller than people in North America.

  23. Sarah says:

    That has been my observation as well. I attended a week long cooking class in the heart of France and you are correct, they do not snack. And yes, the portions are smaller. And, they take a long time to eat and digest, savoring every bite. They eat real fod. BUt they are not all thin: at all the Farmer’s markets we went to, the middle-aged and older people were often “Stocky”. But this is healthy.

  24. Jane says:

    Not only French people … in Asia countries people eat normal 3 meals; no dessert, no snacks. They might have an afternoon tea. They walk or bike everywhere, the bank, post office, department stores, groceries, schools etc. We just eat too much in this country; food becomes a “comfort” for all our problems. Thanks for this article to remind us to change our habit.

  25. Deane Alban says:

    When I went to Paris I ate as you described and was very surprised that I actually lost weight – in spite of croissants for breakfast and dessert at dinner. I figured out that snacking was the problem for me too. If I want to drop a few pounds I quit snacking and that’s all it takes.

  26. carina says:

    True about no snacking and slimness.
    Frederic,my husband is very slim and energetic for a 72 year old.Can step up on a waist high chair to change light bulb just by one step of one foot,it’s amazing.I could not do it.

    For the last 35 years he trained himself NOT TO eat ANYTHING during the day,not even a snack.perhaps once in a blue moon he has a cup (ONE) of black coffee with sugar in it during day.But that is not at all frequent.He is also usually so busy working during the day that he has no time to even think of food.He is in a service industry.

    For breakfast he has an italin roll with VERY THIN slice of prosciutto or GOOD salami on both halves,as in open sandwich,with thin spread of butter plus one cup of black coffee with sugar.This sounds very much like the french breakfast to me.

    Supper is ‘normal’ meat and vegs.He is fond of wine and beer too and has at least one of each daily.So minimum one glass of wine and one pint of beer.But more usually.Especially on weekends.
    I don’t know how he does it.He would dread becoming a vegetarian or vegan.
    But he is also thin as a rake with ribs showing.But has hardly any ‘age problems’ at all.Looks good in clothes,makes women laugh and generally is very jolly and witty.He has NO FEAR of bacteria or germs ever.Hates the insect killing spray and the disinfectant commercials on TV.
    Yes he does walk every day to catch bus to work,and back home at night about 2km daily.He always parks the car far,far away from the place he ‘s going just to have both the space and the exercise.

  27. carina says:

    Oh and I forgot to mention he smokes a pack of cigs a day.

  28. Leonora says:

    Ooh, I beg to differ. I live in France, am married into a French family, have a sister-in-law who is a nutritionist and … fat. Many French people are fat especially in the countryside. Meal times are a burden to me. Everything is soaked in butter and cream, portions are certainly not small, meals can go on for hours on end and when one finally gets up from the table, one feels lethargic, bloated and I feel ready to vomit. The French get into a state of panic when they don’t have their baguette at mealtimes and my sister-in-law believes that it should be the basis of a proper meal. White flour, huh? When I arrived in France years and years ago I immediately put on 10kg. I’m back to my original weight, but I really had to battle to get them understand that I was not going to follow their way. I crave “simple” food. The concept of 5 fruits and vegetables or more a day does not really exist here. A vegetarian must find it pretty hard I suppose. Maybe not in the big cities, but surely in the countryside. My husband is fortunately not too difficult a customer and accepts the way I prepare the mealtimes. For breakfast each of us does his own thing. I eat oats and organic yoghurt. He drinks coffee and eat cookies! I have, by the way, never seen a French person eat fruit for breakfast. After a big meal yes! Imagine the fermentation going on in the stomach. Fruit mixed with starch! Grrr. Anyway, lunch time for us comprises of salads and a big portion of protein and same concept for dinner time – three quarters of vegetables and one quarter of protein. (Something that won’t be acceptable to the in-laws.) To that husband adds baguette and cheese with every meal and I skip that part. He has sinus problems all the time and I have when I eat cheese. What does that tell you ? Maybe the reason why French people often have bad smelling breath? As for snacking – yes I do (healthy snacking – ex: almonds and husband doesn’t, simply because he’s at work) Over weekends however, he “snacks” on wine!

  29. charlotte says:

    As a french, I have to agree. But the way you put things kind of sounds like it´s a good thing. Survey have shown that 70% of french women are year round on diet. Meaning they restrict all the time or better said under eat. In my opinion, a croissant in the morning, a sandwich at lunch and a salad in the evening isn´t healthy. People who eat healthy don´t need to restrict and under eat. I´m also not pro eating fruit until bursting and not being able to move, but that´s another story. Being thin doesn´t mean being healthy. You can´t be overweight and healthy, but you can be thin the wrong way, thus being unhealthy. And as for eating 2-3 meals a day and no snacking, eating fresh whole fruits, if I want to eat the right amount of calories in a day, being quite active, I can´t shove more than 500-750 calories at a meal (actually the only meal I succeed to get 750 calories is morning datorade or banana smoothie), so I need to eat 4 meals…

  30. christina says:

    I wonder if it’s also got something to do with other habits than eating habits, culture… I would think of it as how do they fill in the gaps between meals 😉 (which is already a specific starting point… for some people it’s more like they have to interrupt what they do to feed themselves) I’m really not fat at all (and am Belgian), but feel I might eat against boredom… because I have no family/community-life, not much structure ? always many layers to any question 😉

  31. carina says:

    I am in no way ‘advocating’ french or any other diet with animal products,no way!
    For me personally vegan is tops and even if it did not do the things it has for me personally (healing many ailments) I would still be vegan just for the sake of environment and especially all the animals that deserve a better life.Plus uncomplicated catering at mealtimes.Also for the fresh body odor that cannot be bought with no amount of money,natural or chemical.Clear,soft skin.Non-smelling stools.No constipation ever.The benefits of vegan foods are priceless.But not everyone cares about smells and such things necessarily,I quite understand.But there is also the taste,which most people ARE NOT AWARE OF.Like my husband who used to not enjoy cooked vegs too much now likes them raw very well.That was quite a surprise to me.Sometimes I spice them a lot,other times he eats them au naturel with his supper.So there are lots of merits for raw food,sometimes even for die-hard meat eaters too,if one persists to offer them to people who otherwise have ‘questionable’ eating habits from vegan perspective.

  32. DM says:

    The main reason this timing of eating works is because it balances the master hormone of the body, leptin. One of the many functions of leptin is to let us know when we have eaten enough. So when leptin levels are healthy, it causes a person to eat what they need instead of more than what they need which is what happens when someone becomes leptin resistant. Eating snacks will cause leptin problems because the triglycerides do not clear out of the blood and that clogs up leptin receptors on the brain. There are several good books on this subject.

    It would do Americans well to do the same and to stop promoting snacking. The whole idea is a myth.

  33. I like what yiu say. Feels like a combination of what, when and how the French eat. Having ibe croissant with butter and jam is dufferent from gorging on several slices of bread -‘ ususlly made with denature d flour — then a salad for lubch made of actual food rather than loafing up on empty-calorie carbs makes a huge difference. In the U.S.overweight people are called curvy, big, large, while Halle Berry, an actual curvy woman is called ? She and women like her are at a good — not thin — weight. I am 80-90% raw vegan and eat heakthy breakfast, lunch and dinner with plenty of Kangen water -‘ http://www.goddessheartwater.com — also some healthy munchies in between when I choose to. I also walk and exe rcise. Many Americans are literally sddicted to white sugar, whether in pssta, breads, cakes, cookies or other more hidden fake foods. Advertisements cater to this. Time to wake up, which many are doing. Overeating is as much an addiction as drugs. When peopk e eat for emotional or other inappropriate reasons — and I am expert here — oftentines, they will know it inside yet justify it outside until they choose to deal with their issues, ad we all must do. People adjed me to write some of my story as a former food sugar “addict” ibto an incredibly healthy woman. Now VIM VIGOR VITALITY VEGAN! is debuting as pdf and CD.

  34. Teresa says:

    I found out when I ate 2 meals a day and not after dinner I was able to maintain my weight. When I went back to eating more my weight did start to climb. As children we weren’t eating all the time and didn’t need to.

  35. tereza says:

    In Brazil, like the French, we eat 3 meals a day. Breakfast is like the French, big meal at lunch and small leftover supper. When Brazilians do snack in the end of the afternoon it becomes supper. I am eating mostly vegan now again, after many years of not being a vegetarian. I noticed I feel better with more energy. I am not hungry between meals. I can easily eat 3 meals a day and already lost 15 pounds. Now my husband who is trying to follow the vegan diet with me is hungry all the time, still craving his steaks. I am providing him with healthy snacks but it’s not helping. He does work in a stressful environment. I’m thinking that’s probably what is triggering his “hunger”. Any suggestions?? I’m from Brazil and used to a whole food diet although I strayed when I moved to the US. He enjoys whole food but likes the eating out junk food too.

  36. mk says:

    I live in France and agree that french people tend not to snack between meals. However in the last 10 years I have seen more and more fast food places and more and more overweight people.

  37. Sylvie says:

    I find your observation of French eating habits very spot-on and I never thought of that. I am French and I have been living in the United-States for several years now (all my family still lives in France) . I struggled a lot at the beginning as everything seemed so different. The first thing that comes to my mind is drinking or eating while walking (or driving). I just can’t do it. Like many French I need to sit to eat and yes I take my time. The French portions are also nearly 50 % of American portions.

    I tried to eat several small meals during a day, as it was recommended in the U.S. but I gained a lot of weight and I was always hungry. I am now back to 3 meals a day and I feel much better. The only thing I kind of disagree with you in your article is about snacks. We don’t snack all day, but we have, especially the children, a snack around 4:00 p.m. called “gouter”. It is very often something sweet, like bread and a piece of chocolate.This is an institution and we all have fond memories of ” le gouter”.

    However, the main difference for me is the quality of the food. The access to fresh food in France is much easier as many people have a vegetable garden of some sort in the countryside or know somebody who does (France is a very rural country when you look at a map). In towns or cities, and everywhere else, farmers markets are held at least once or twice a week and we tend to eat what’s in season. I remember I was looking to buy some bread in a supermarket in the United-States years ago and I looked at all the labels and one name kept coming back. It was High Fructose Corn Syrup. I had never heard of it, especially in bread. Needless to say after I found out what it was, I bought a bread machine and made my own bread. So I guess because the food in France is usually of better quality, we eat less of it as it is more filling.

    I must say though that the United-States are in a middle of a food revolution and that gives me a lot of hope. People are getting much more aware of the connection between food and health, seem to enjoy cooking again, explore new type of food all the time… This is exciting to me.

  38. Mr.Frederic Patenaude.

    Yes you have a very good Topic about Eating Habits. I have been living at USA at different States, but I have traveling to a very Beautiful Canada each time for a month when I was single, I`m Mexican-American, but my Father and Mother, brothers and sisters, we used to eat together at the table,good breakfast,good lunch, but lite at night, Nothing between those meals, because about our Teeths we believed that is not right to eat if we are not able to Clean them after eating anything.

    JD

  39. Deborah says:

    Thank you for starting this dialogue. I have read every post to date and have enjoyed the discussion immensely.

    I have had the opportunity to visit France (Paris and the countryside) annually for 30+ years and typically for an extended stay. My observations are in line with so many of you.

    I beiieve the key to French “thinness” is Quality over Quantity! Farm-fresh, nutrient-dense, whole food prepared without a fear of fat (the “cholesteral causing heart disease” myth has been dubunked) satisfies the appetite and allows for excellent portion control which we do not have in the US. Fast, nutrient deficient, fat-free, sugar laden food is cheap and addicting here.

    The topic of French bread has been broached but consider that a Frecnh baguette while perfect when purchased is hard as a rock the very next morning. And I have witmessed on many occactions, the breaking of baguettes and the throwing of them into the trash at the end of the day in boulangeries because no one sells day old bread. Why is it rock hard even within hours sometimes? It’s because it doesn’t contain dough conditioners like postassium bromate which is also an endocrine disruptor and other chemicals used in US commercially made breads. Also, while this is changing somewhat, the wheat crops in France were not as hybridized for higher gluten content like US wheat.

  40. Carole says:

    Interesting. The comments are all over the place. One thing that stands out for me is whether they snack or not, they are not eating when they are doing other things. Here in America, you see people will food all of the time. And its certainly not fruit and cheese with a baguette and chocolate. That sounds like a wonderful snack, doesn’t it?

    Here’s the thing – when you eat real food, it is very hard to eat enough calories.

    I’m going on 59 and I have to shop in the Junior section. I wear a size 3. I am already too thin. If I were to just eat just my 3 meals I would never be able to stuff enough calories into my day.

    It seems to me that no matter what the culture is, the way to stay thin and healthy is to eat a balanced diet of real food in reasonable portions and get a lot of physical activity. There are no secrets.

  41. Chantal says:

    Bonjour Frédéric,

    Votre article est intéressant. Ce qui me touche le plus cependant, c’est le complexe d’infériorité de canadien-français qui ressort le plus. Nous n’avons pas besoin de changer notre accent pour que le reste de la population française nous comprenne.

    Avec vos commentaires très stéréotypés, vous ne faites qu’alimenter les croyances erronées des anglophones. C’est carrément insultant de se faire demander si on parle le “vrai” français. Le québécois est plus proche du vrai français historique que le parisien.

    Faites des recherches au niveau de votre propre culture et votre propre langue, mais surtout, soyez en fier. Pas besoin de l’excuser.

    Fièrement québécoise ou canadienne française vivant à l’extérieur du Québec depuis plus de 35 ans.

    Chantal

    • charlotte says:

      Bonjour. Je suis Francaise et personnelement, j´adore les accents moins “plat” que l´accent grenoblois ou parisien ou autre… Mes accents préférés de la langue francaise sont le Québécois et l´accent de Marseille. Et le pire pour moi l´accent de Paris (mais je m´égare…). Bref je comprend tout ce que disent les Québecois, parfois j´ai juste besoin d´aide pour les mots et expretions que nous n´utilisons pas en France. Désolée pour les fautes, je ne vis plus en France depuis 10 ans , et n´ayant plus de contact francophone depuis des années j´en perd mon Francais .

      • Quand je parle à des français, je passe à un français plus “international,” tout comme le ferait un allemand qui est habitué à parler son dialecte, mais passe au “hoch Deutsch” quand il communique ailleurs en Allemagne. C’est normal est c’est pour faciliter la compréhension 🙂

  42. America says:

    Interesting!
    It is true, Americans just eat a lot… our snacks are becoming full meals!!!

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