Rates of obesity in France are a lot lower than in New Zealand or USA.
A week ago I was enjoying the balmy summer weather in Collioure, a gorgeous but somewhat touristy small town on the coast in the south of France. Whilst there I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the sizes of people compared to London and Glasgow where I’d been the previous week.
How do the French eat differently?
It was easy to spot many differences in the way the French eat compared to New Zealand and the UK.
People do not eat when they are walking around, they sit down and eat a meal
There is a noticeable absence of fast food places. There were simply no McDonald’s and KFC and other fast food outlets in Collioure. In Paris in the area we stayed there was just one small McDonald’s. There were however numerous cafes and restaurants and bars. And a scattering of Patisseries. People sat down and ate at tables, with their friends or family. They lingered over the meal. They ate slowly enjoying the food. I saw almost no-one buying food and then walking around and eating it. Eating food was an event not a ‘stuffing your face’ refuel that it has become in our society.
If people weren’t eating in a cafe they might be having a picnic or making an event of their meal like this group on the local beach.
“Ninety percent of the French population still strongly believe a meal should be consumed in a traditional setting, sitting down around a table, as often as possible. This traditional view contrasts with other countries, in Russia only 50% adheres to the belief of consuming a meal around a table and the American on-the-go-lifestyle was again confirmed by only 34% of the American citizens holding on to the traditional meal setting.”
People in France do not snack continuously, in fact they do not snack
The local beach was crammed with people. Not one of them was eating, most only had a bottle of water. In our society people seem to be constantly snacking in every situation. Where ever one goes children are being plied with snacks to keep them occupied, people are eating in buses, trains, in front of the TV, while driving. I simply did not see this in France. Snacking is not seen as necessary, 3 meals and an after school snack for children are still typical (Read this great article on how the French children eat).
Because no-one is eating when out and about, or snacking, I would have felt extremely self conscious if I had eaten other than sitting at a cafe. It reminded me that when I was a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s eating on the street was considered ill-mannered.
There were no drunk people or youths on the streets drinking
In London I saw so many drunk and drinking young people littering the town in the evening. Not once did I see a person in France walking around drinking from a can. They only sipped from a glass whilst at a bar or cafe. Many people were drinking at almost every meal, even breakfast, but no-one was drunk.
Processed food appeared to make up a much smaller part of the diet
Meals typically were made of some kind of protein with vegetables. Ultra-processed snacks and treat food did not appear to be a big part of the French diet. This could be related to the tendency not to snack. Snack foods tend to be of ultra-processed and the least healthy part of our diets in NZ.
The picture below is the closest we got to eating fast food in Paris, the chain EXKI, cabinets were filled with premade fresh food meals, huge salads, hot meals or soups. They cater for all needs; vegetarian, vegan, dairy and gluten free, all meals are labelled – so easy to find what you need. It was extremely popular.
What can we learn from the French way of eating?
- Don’t snack. At all. Eat 3 balanced meals, and snack only if needed.
- Planned snacks are fine, children always have an after school snack, or small meal in France. Treat the snack with the same respect as you would a meal.
- Don’t eat anywhere other than at a table. Don’t eat walking around, at your desk, in front of the TV, or snack out of the fridge. Prepare, then eat a meal at a table, preferably with company and actually experience the process of savoring your food. Eat slowly.
- Choose food freshly prepared from whole ingredients like protein, fruit and vegetables.
- Model eating like this to your children, and don’t push them into our bad habits. Enjoy family meals together at the table without any screens or phones.
- Treat food is fine, savor a small portion as part of a meal if you wish.
- Water should be the main drink, wine in moderation can be enjoyed with meals if desired
This article outlines the French way of eating:The French eating habits the world should learn from