Impossibly French, impossibly chic, impossibly slim... We were told the whole idea of French, or Parisian, physique is a mystery only known to a selected few. But is it really so? Surely, if the mathematicians can explain the formula of love, decoding a French diet should be a piece of cake, especially considering that fact that I am a nutritionist, foodie and moderately obsessed with Parisian style and Parisiennes.
FRENCH GIRLS WATCH WHAT THEY EAT
Conscious effort of choosing the best and most natural ingredients is one of the simplest and straight forward ways to be slim. Your body is made of what you eat, after all. It is important to mention that, whilst being wise about their choices, French girls do not spend all their days and nights thinking of food and counting calories.
Scientific explanation: a study published in January 2015 was yet another one showing a strong link between food additives and weight gain, while a 2001 publication confirmed that individuals overly concerned with their food intake and weight control are the ones at risk of overeating and weight gain.
FRENCH GIRLS COOK WHAT THEY EAT
I am yet to meet a French girl who would be 100% about buying a ready meal. Most of them still cook at home or, in a worst case scenario, eat in a restaurant they trust.
Scientific explanation: according to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research, people who frequently cook meals at home, not only eat healthier, but also consume fewer calories compared to ready-meal fans.
FRENCH GIRLS SCHEDULE THEIR MEALS
They may not set an alarm clock to ensure they eat on a dot, but French girls have their breakfast, lunch and dinner at similar times every day maintaining both natural rhythm and steady blood sugar levels, which means no starving and timely re-fueling. As a result the body doesn't tend to store fat in case famine is around the corner and the girl never gets to the point of being so hungry she wants to eat everything in sight.
Scientific explanation: there were a couple of interesting studies published in the Steroids magazine and International Journal of Obesity back in 2012 and 2013 respectively, showing that meal timing was one of the most effective ways to lose and maintain healthy weight by controlling appetite and, most importantly, levels of ghrelin, a "hunger hormone" responsible for use and storage of fat and carbohydrates in the body.
FRENCH GIRLS WATCH PORTION SIZES
Another way to remain slim is to watch the quantities because it is still possible to have too much of a good thing. And since they do use the best ingredients, the smaller meals of better quality are a lot more nutrient-dense and satisfying than a double-sized low-calorie-low-fat-low-flavour concoction.
Scientific explanation: it is essential to control portion sizes, however it is also incredibly important to ensure that what you do eat is nutrient-dense, meaning that every meals gives you as much goodness and nutrition as possible. Also when you provide a constant supply of good quality nutritionist, vitamins and minerals, the body begins to function as it should meaning that you lose excess weight, stop feeling hungry all the time and find pleasure in simple, but natural flavours.
FRENCH GIRLS DO NOT SNACK (most of the time)
Instead they eat nutritious meals three times a day at certain times as a matter of habit, so their appetite and need of snacking is natural reaction controlled by hormones as a response to levels of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, blood glucose and activity. And when French girls do reach for a snack, it really is a snack - a few almonds, a piece of fruit or a yoghurt, not a whole additional meal
Scientific explanation: your body can fuel you between meal times because it is designed to do so naturally, by getting energy from glycogen and fat stores. Snacking stops this natural activity by causing release of insulin, which, in its turn, inhibits a fat-burning hormone called hormone-sensitive lipase. In addition it may also upset balance of appetite-controlling leptin and your ability to destinguish between real and false hunger signals.
FRENCH GIRLS GO MEDITERRANEAN
Though nobody would refer to their eating habits as a "diet", France is one of the countries that, naturally, eat the Mediterranean way. Do explore the link as I've written an entire post dedicated to the healthiest and most delicious diet in the whole world - plenty of vegetables, fruits, delicious oils, fish, nuts, dairy - what's not to love?
Scientific explanation: results of a 2011 study showed that following Mediterranean diet is not only useful to reduce weight, but also avoid weight gain regardless of fat content of your meals.
FRENCH GIRLS EAT FAT
What is the secret of French cuisine? Butter, butter and more butter. Beautiful, wonderful, organic butter. It gives flavour to food and sends the right signal to the brain receptors controlling sensation of satiety. As a result, French girls truly enjoy the taste, eat less and, as a side benefit, avoid hydrogenated fats (one of the main causes of weight gain).
Scientific explanation: in 2015 The Lancet published the Harvard University review of 53 diet studies involving more than 68000 participants as a proof that low-fat diet is not the way to go if you want to lose weight or remain slim. Other studies also suggested that enjoying the taste of your meal and eating fat as a part of daily diet will control levels of leptin, another hormone that plays an important role in controlling our appetite and weight.
FRENCH GIRLS BELIEVE IN TREATS
A slice of freshly baked baguette, a croissant, a chocolate mousse or an eclair are never forbidden. And because French girls do not deny a little something now and then, they don't overindulge on the occasion as if it was their last.
Besides, if you look at French recipes, their bread is made with a very strong "00" flour and the dough is fermented for longer than an average white loaf. It is also clean, without any additives. The pastries are made with a lot less sugar per serving compared to a typical British or American cake where adding half a kilo of sugar to an equal quantity of butter (or worse - margarine!), followed by whipping up some icing containing yet another 200-300g of sugar is a norm (for instance, one of my favourite desserts, Gateau Opera is made with about 80g of sugar for the layers and another 50g for the creamy filling - you do the math).
Scientific explanation: oh, boy, where I even begin on this one? Sugar is the number one ingredient for those looking to gain weight (and an array of health issues), so reducing it dramatically will certainly do you good. I've written about sugar and ways to quit the habit in the past - do have a read as a refresher.
In addition, sugar reduces absorption of vitamins and minerals and has a huge impact the gut bacteria that help control the body weight. If you have too much sugar, it will negatively affect your ability to control the body weight due to nutrient deficiencies and imbalanced intestinal flora.
FRENCH GIRLS EAT NATURAL YOGHURT
Every French girl I've met had a habit of eating a pot of natural yoghurt after dinner. Every. Single. Girl. The yoghurt was natural, sugar and additive free and, as you might have guessed by now, full fat.
Scientific explanation: first of all, yoghurt contains good bacteria linked to weight maintenance and better chances of weight loss. It improve digestion and elimination (say hello to a beautiful flat stomach!), contains calcium known as one of the beneficial minerals for weight loss and protein that promotes feeling of satiety.
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2005 showed that eating yoghurt daily can help lose more weight, more body fat and more stomach fat, which it pretty fab, I think.
FRENCH GIRLS DRINK WATER
They may enjoy cup of fresh coffee in the morning and a glass of red wine with dinner, but for the rest of their day, French girls drink water and enough of it.
Scientific explanation: not only water helps to deliver nutrients, vitamins and minerals to every cell and support natural detoxification, it may also help control appetite as thirst can sometimes be confused with hunger.
Photo source: Malgosia Bela in Chic Ultime / Vogue Paris August 2012 (photography: Lachlan Bailey, styling: Geraldine Saglio)