Why the French don’t get fat

In 2007 author Mireille Guiliano published a bestselling book called French Women Don’t get Fat.  She pointed out that even though French people eat bread, pastry and wine and lots of butter, they have much lower levels of obesity than Americans. That is not so hard to do, because Americans have a weight problem.  20% of Americans are obese and 60% are overweight.But the French also have lower obesity rates than all other European countries.   Do the French people have the secret to eating fattening food and not getting fat? Many people have noticed this and a number of articles and blogs describe the differences between France and the US. One thing they all agree on is that it is not because the French diet a lot or count calories or go the gym to workout.  Most of the articles and blogs I read argue that the  French have a different way of relating to food than Americans and different lifestyle and culture around food.  It is a very anthropological way to think about it.

One important difference is the type of food we eat and when we eat it.  One writer, Timothy Bond,  who spends part of every year in France in a 1,000 year old house, and the rest of his time in Toronto, writes in “The Real Reason the French Don’t Get Fat” .  He describes the difference between eating a strawberry and a tomato in France and in the US.  The American strawberry and tomato was tasteless while the French produce was bursting with flavor.  Americans only get tomatoes that taste good a few weeks a year, but in France they raise the tomatoes not to look good, but for taste.  He claims that France is able to have great tasting tomatoes all year round.  In the US, corporations select produce based on its ability to survive long trips to the store, and based on how it looks, not how it tastes.

The French also don’t eat as often as Americans do.  We snack constantly and eat on the go.  The French eat three meals and they sit down and eat them slowly, with smaller portions than Americans eat.  They eat their main meal in the middle of the day, and workers get two hours for lunch, and they sit down and eat at a table with their co-workers.There is even free parking in the middle of the day at lunch time so that they can get to their meals. Then they eat a lighter meal at the end of the day at home.  So even though they eat foods like cheese and bread that have a lot of calories, and they eat sweets and pastries, they do not eat a lot of them and they take their time.  They also don’t overeat at meals and they don’t snack all day like Americans do.

In an article in Bloomberg News, Thane Peterson argues that children in France are also taught to eat like little adults, and they are given fresh fruit and vegetables and good food so they do not expect sugary snacks like American kids do. In fact food is a big part of French culture. One French chef told the Los Angeles Times “We are about having fun with food, and with a smile”.  Eating is not something they do because they have to because they need food, but because they enjoy it. They eat with other people and they really taste their food.

Finally, the French don’t need to go to gyms to exercise–because their daily life has exercise built in.  In Paris there are more stairs than elevators.  People walk much more and drive much less. They don’t get super thin and athletic because they are not going out of their way to exercise, they are just going about their everyday lives.

One article notes that obesity is growing in France.  As globalization increases and people don’t have time for long meals, and there are more processed foods available, the French may start eating like people do in other countries.  I think that would be a shame.  I think we should try to eat more like the French.  The food would taste better, we would enjoy it more, and we would maybe even be thinner!










One thought on “Why the French don’t get fat”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I was in Paris last year and was wondering the same thing myself: why are the French not fat? I was in awe but incredibly confused at the same time since it seemed like there were at least two pastry shops or bakeries around every corner. And parading down the streets were skinny French women eating macarons or carrying baguettes. I didn’t really understand it as well until a friend from Paris explained to me exactly what you wrote in your post. Seeing it firsthand though was very interesting just because it is drastically different to how many people in America eat. The French do sit down and enjoy their meals slowly instead of rushing in and out of restaurants.


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