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44 Comments

  1. While traveling to the US, a French friend of ours was aghast at the concept of “all you can eat.” He could not conceive of why anyone would want to do this, and why this would be a selling point at restaurants. His reaction to this concept was a combination of disgust, puzzlement and disbelief, with some horror mixed in.

      • Well, being a mexican girl who sees the poverty everyday in her country, I can guess why most of my people loves the “all you can eat” concept, that’s why you see overweight indigenous people, they prefer to eat in big places that gives them more food for less money. Anyways when someone who is not in poverty, and try to really taste the food and enjoy it, is a complete pleasure. Also, eat in the traditional way here is also a big pleasure, even eating just beans (that’s my diet basis), mexican cuisine is a different adventure, I understand french people at all!!

  2. I like the principles you share and though mostly agree – what is troubling is the high rate of cancers in France (and other European countries). I’m sure environmental factors, smoking and alcohol play a role in this, but how much of it is the food I wonder? Any thoughts? Staying skinny is great but long term health is important too!

  3. I’m not French, but I live in Europe (Netherlands). I’ve been to the States once and what struck me was that eating out is so cheap in the US (especially fast food). Last week one of my US friends was complaining she had to pay 87 dollars in a steak restaurant for 4 people. It was the most expensive she ever ate. That ‘s normal over here, it can get even more expensive. So cost wise we hardly eat out compared to Americans, our family does it just a few times a year and then it’s a real treat. Home cooked meals are a lot cheaper so the choice is easy for me, after all I have to watch the household budget. And by not eating out as much and without the ‘all you can eat’ concept it’s a lot easier to maintain a healthy weight. I wish governments would do more to make natural foods cheaper and within reach of people with a lower income.

  4. Ah, this brings me back to the month my mother and I spend (eating) in France 3 years ago. Yes to all of this. The French ways are so much better than the American ways. Although it was different for us, it wasn’t too different from our own personal ways of eating. I was raised on a pretty healthy diet. While it didn’t completely adhere to these French principles we still mostly ate whole, good quality foods. I’m thankful for it because I’ve never had a taste for the “foods” that so many Americans are addicted to now. Also, my parents introduced me to wine around the age of 9, much like the French do with their children. So, there’s that to be thankful for as well.

  5. Lauren,

    Thank you so much for this article! I love French food and real food, and it was so great to read what you wrote. If only local markets and long mealtimes were part of our American culture, we’d have a lot of help toward eating better. But we can certainly work toward emulating a culture, the French, which exemplifies such a healthy relationship with food. France is such an amazing place. I’ve been there but would love to spend more time there.

    I recently wrote this post (http://www.culinaryreformation.com/real-food-vs-the-french-diet/) on my blog–you might like to see it–and also shared your article with my Pinterest followers. I always like to read your uplifting, solid perspective on real food. Keep up the good work!

    ~Renee

    • I always lose about 5lbs/wk. when I’m in France. I always eat out there and always have wine and dessert. I try the same principles in the USA and they just don’t work. Weight control is a very complex subject and these overly-simplified books just frustrate me. There is something missing from the books that makes it actually work.

  6. One of the best posts I’ve read in a while! So true, especially #1 and living a non-diet lifestyle. So different from the culture here in America…but hopefully, more people can move away from dieting and SAD food.

  7. Thanks for the post! I think I’m going to read the book you mentioned in the beginning. I’d like to get my food from local markets, bakeries, butchers etc. but where are these places in the US? We have so many options for the quantity of food you can buy but not many options for quality food.

    • Those places are there if you look for them! Sometimes it just takes a bit of scouting around. Obviously, some areas will be “local food deserts” but most locations will have farmers markets at least.

  8. Wonderful!!!

    Fabulous post! I spent some time recently in France and I will say the French are looking more and more to convenience foods. But, I actually found convenience foods to be more likely free of “fake food.” I bought a wonderful microwave moussaka one day (in a pinch) that used same ingredients I use at home! Another day I bought a ready-made cream of spinach soup– DEEVINE. And this was at a convenience store!
    Also, portions are SMALL. I had hot cocoa, on two occasions, served in about a 4 ounce serving. Rich, delicious, and really an almost guilt-free portion size.
    Finally, they use a lot of raw dairy cheeses. My dairy intolerance disappeared. And then re-appeared the minute I had American cheese (even organic, etc). 🙁
    France. I’m a fan!

  9. Yes, unfortunately we do not have markets to shop in and quality choices. If I want quality I have to grow it myself or drive 2+ hours and its still nothing like what is available in France. Quite overwhelming! This post is actually just depressing. Other than the advice to savor meals I can’t do anything else. I don’t have quality food available to me.

    • Two options that may be available to you include making more of your own food, or ordering gourmet foods online. These both work really well for me, and of course I don’t know your entire circumstances, but just wanted to throw that out there as a possibility.

  10. All excellent, but don’t forget the WALKING (and bike-riding)!! I know it’s not a part of the diet, but it is crucial. I lost 20 pounds without trying as an exchange student in Europe just because I started walking everywhere. My appetite decreased naturally because I needed to maintain a light, active feeling (no huge meals and distended tummy), and I actually started craving healthier foods, like apples for a sugar fix. My tummy was taught and toned, my butt looked amazing… I miss it unbelievably now that I’m back in the States in a place where I can only walk if I drive to a specific walking trail. It is so easy to keep the weight off when you have the luxury of a walking lifestyle!

    • I completely agree with you! I went to Paris for my honeymoon, and we ate like kings the whole time, and also indulged in artisan pastries a few times a day. I still lost 10 lbs that week, probably because we walked everywhere, about 10 miles a day.

  11. I was just at Costco today, and I found that they carried stuff that’s harder to find, but wonderful foods! They had pastured eggs (for safe raw egg consumption), grass fed sausages, and coconut flour that is a lot cheaper than the ones at whole foods- and it’s organic and non-GMO verified! For all the real-foodies out there who are finding it challenging to find healthy foods in our unhealthy society, hope this helps!

  12. Great post. Do you ever get your blog post ideas from people who visit your website? I’d love to know the inspiration behind some of your posts. For example, if you happened to notice something on someone else’s website and decided to delve into some research and present your own post. It’s fun learning about what others are exploring and how it inspires us in our own work.

  13. Hi! I’m not French, but I enjoy the same wisdom about eating because…I’m Italian. So it’s not French, it’s mediterranean way of living (from arab countries to Spain, Greece etc.). But in particular Italy – “Slow Food” is being called in the last years thanks to some entrepreneurs in opposition to american fast food culture. Italy has such a variety of typical (and healthy) culinary traditions that is more difficult for France to make comparison: we live much longer – Italy is the second country in Eu (France the eighth) and the tenth in world when it comes to average life expectancy (thank to its diet!). Anyway, just one thing I cannot tolerate about French food and I need to tell, you because I read your interesting posts since months now and it’s a little bit disapponting to read of your appreciation about liver paté. Do you know what it is exactly? Something like a disease. Have you ever heard about force-feeding (in french “gavage”)? I’m not vegetarian, but this is worse than killing, it’s torture sold as food quality. I do not make external links, so look for it please.
    And thanks for you blog!

  14. Hi! I am French and I absolutely love this post! I spent a year in America and now lives in Australia so I have seen the difference of diets and philosophy behind food. I still manage to live a French lifestyle by going to the markets eating artisan bread and not eating processed foods.

    I must say the new generation in France in unfortunately changing and starting to eat more and more convenient foods in the cities, low fat yogurts and processed foods on TV. I wonder what the health state of France would be in 30/50 years.

    One more thing I want to add is the 3 course meals we have for lunch and dinner! Lunch (and even at school) would include bread, crudités (raw vegetables like carrots or beetroots) meat, carbs and greens and vegetables, cheese fruit or yogurt. Dinner will be similar but include salad and might skip the “entree”.

    Moderation is also key to eating sweets, I was taught by my mom from a young age to only have 2 squares of chocolate in her evening and croissants are kept for special occasions and holidays.

    So much to say! Sorry for the long post!

  15. As a Frenchie myself, I appreciated reading this but agree even more with some of the comments about portion size and walking.
    When I first got to the US, I got a lunch special at a Chinese joint and it lasted me 3 meals! Unfortunately I have gotten used to the portions here and that’s a real killer on my waistline.
    I got it in check when I lived in NYC because I was walking everywhere.
    But now, I live in GA, commute a 100 miles a day for work and have nowhere to walk to. I’m still trying to get some steps in but I don’t do enough. I’ve never had to schedule a walk before or walk for the sake of walking. I just walked to my destination and it never felt like exercise or a chore.

  16. Hi Lauren,

    I think there is an undeserved focus about France in this post. Most of the bullet points you listed are common or more tangible in other european countries.
    The “healthy habits” you’re looking for are In european countries that familiar with cooking, then familiar buying unprocessed foods and cooking them. I’m Italian and in Italy despite the grain obsession, it is common and culturally accepted that every time you’re hungry, you cook something. Currently I live in Germany, and I can say that here culturally, every time you’re hungry, you eat something and not necessarily you cook. I had the opportunity to live with many german people, and I was considered weird and obsessed by food only because I use to cook every time. In my experience, I can say that european countries with “health habits” are many and France is one of them but not in a list of the best.
    If you want to investigate about the best habits according to countries, you can check some scientific study, and about Europe, I’ll spoiler you the winner: Creta in Greece, very far from France in therms of miles and habits

  17. Bonjour
    Thank you for being able to share my thoughts on your stylish and wonderfully knowledgable website. I live in the Netherlands and partly in France, Burgundy. I do agree with many of the points touched upon. It is easy to buy real food in France, such as raw dairy and organ meats, pastured eggs, walnuts, unpasteurized ofcourse, fresh vegs and fruits, wonderful chocolate also. However, I find it very difficult to withstand the social pressure
    to partake in eating the high carbs foods and drinks. It is not so elegant to scrape off the foie gras of the toast,
    ist it? And, walking past the ubiquitous boulanger and patisissier requieres quite a bit of will-power.
    What I appreciate in here is that unlike in my native country there is a social constraint on eating in the
    street and indeed on gobbling up hugh quantities of food mindlessly.
    And the paleo approach? A petit peu awareness maybe , see young Parisian guy`s site: http://www.experience-paleo.fr – if you`re curious. I cannot agree more with Silvain when he says “Le Paléo c`est une approche de la
    santé, et c`est une démarche long-terme.” Thus not a short-term diet (like Dukan`s in France) but a life style.
    To your good health, warmly JB

  18. Thank you very much for this! I love France and forever in love with their art de vivre and cuisine.
    I visited this beautiful country several times and will never be tired of their simple yet sophisticated and stylish ways of cooking and eating food, Their tables are always full of great variety of food and everything is very fresh, whole and fullfiling. They are wonderful, those people.
    I once had a french boyfriend, a fire-figther. Even him being a super simple kind of man, coming from a small village, very grounded, he seemed to be eating with certain style and elegance. And again, so delicious and simple!
    As for me I am Russian and find that we have somewhat similar traditions with food however we have lost ours for the past several decades, and that is sad. But in comparison with USA where my mother lives and I’ve had an experience with different resautants, cafe, cafeterias and very American places to eat as well as grocery stores I think the food is over processed for the most cases, TONS of sugar everywhere (I mean where it is not supposed to be?,.,,) and made it easier to buy and eat right away. Also a huge variety of everything, but that is a big plus for me. We don’t have it that much in Russia 🙂 However in general our food (like French) is overall raw, simple and whole. Like in the old days.

  19. I lived in France back in 2003. I’m not sure how much has changed in the past decade. But there were very few obese people. (I remember getting back to the States and thinking, “Oh my goodness! Everyone is fat!”)

    We walked everywhere which I loved. Also, the portion sizes are MUCH smaller. So, overall, the French eat far less than we Americans do. The “junk food” section in the grocery stores was very small. While I feel that I ate a lot of bread (breakfast was always toast/baguette & tea or pain au chocolat) and sometimes a sandwich for lunch and always bread with dinner, I guess i just ate less overall and walked more. Another big thing, French people don’t snack all day long. Sometimes there is that afternoon “gouter” if dinner is late but people are not grazing on food all the day long!

    I’ve taken some of these French principles and applied them to my kids. I don’t pacify them with snacks all day long and they don’t eat “kid food.” A couple of great books I would recommend are French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon and Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.

  20. The French also eat everything in moderation, while America rests on it’s excuses that we are allergic to everything. Dairy, gluten, nightshades, eggs etc etc. I’ve been a few times and always partake in pastries and macaroons. They love their sweets. With ::gasp:: sugar.

  21. Another wonderful and well-written piece. I would also like suggestions on how to implement this change in a family especially when you live in a rural area and don’t necessarily have access to the food described.

  22. I’d like to point out that a “diet” is the food you eat, not the food you don’t! In America, it is assumed that a diet is something you do to lose weight, avoiding certain foods and exercising a little more. But the actual definition of a diet is the food that one eats regularly. Therefore, the French don’t “diet,” as in avoid food to lose weight, but their diet is one that everyone should take up! I have been in love with everything about France since I was a little girl. I took French language classes throughout high school and my room is even French-themed! I also love to bake and cook, and I find myself drawn to French recipes, and for good reason! Just like this article state.s, the ingredients are wonderful and the recipe portion size is small, but not so small that the meal leaves you hungry. The ingredients are wholesome and, because you’re indulging in less, you can feel less guilty, properly digesting your food, feel full quicker, and lose weight! Even if you’re not looking to lose weight, the French diet is one that is healthier. With a little bit of exercise, you can lose fat and tone muscle so you are the same size (because the weight doesn’t matter, as the article states) but you are a healthier you! I’m slowly beginning to eat more French-inspired meals and I can see it difference. The only problem is finding the ingredients. Luckily, it is summertime and markets are all over the place! I plan to start my own garden so I can easily get some herbs and vegetables when needed. It’s just so hard to find the right ingredients in a city full of stores like Walmart. I find it hard to believe that Walmart buys their fruit, vegetables, and herbs from local farmers that don’t use chemicals… My Walmart advertises that, but I don’t believe it!
    All in all, I can’t wait to use more French recipes in my daily life, and I hope others will start doing the same!

  23. Hmm,
    I live in France and im married to a frenchman , so i know a little about the way they eat . This article is erroneous , in the old days it was true , but now it couldnt be further from the truth . The french do not take time to cook anymore they eat in front of the tv and they eat fast food the family table does not exist either anymore , Its a terrible shame but it is the reality of this day and age , People are very over weight , yes they have a wonderful food culture but hardly anyone adhears to it anymore . Lots of the traditional ways are being lost .In my house i do have my family around the table to eat everyday , and i cook in the traditional way , but we are few and far between , sorry to burst your bubble , but i really couldnt let that pass ,

    • Actually, it is good to know… so we will follow what the French used to do in the past, but not what they (and Americans) are doing now ! It’s not a bubble burst for me, at least, because it’s just a slight shift/focus in exactly who I am imitating. P.S. I love to cook from scratch too, and following the French (previous) way of eating is the only way that I have ever kept weight off consistently for years, and really enjoyed my food and lifestyle to boot. And, nothing is ever 100%, so hopefully some French people or even in future generations can break these new bad habits and really enjoy their food to the max – which is to say, of course, not eat in front of the television or laptop! 🙂

  24. Great article. Completely agree. Being a francophone, this is mostly how we grew up, and having some French friends, I can definitely agree with all the points. I just noticed 2 little typos, “Not guild or deprivation but learning to get the most from the things you most enjoy. – From the books cover”, I believe it should be “guilt”, instead of “guild?” and also in point #4, you wrote “fromangerie” instead of “fromagerie”. Oops! Just thought you might want to know 😉

  25. Just wanted to say that I loved the article! I have learned so much from the way that the French eat, with French Women Don’t Get Fat, and my personal favorite author on the subject, Will Clower. I wanted to see if other people in the blogosphere were writing about this, and really enjoyed your post. Bon apetit!

  26. This encompasses what I believe. I’ve always been thin while eating a diet that most would consider fattening. The one point I can’t get on board with is organ meats. My parents hate them so we never ate them. I had liver once in Brazil, without knowing what I was being served. They just called it meat. It was so gross. I’ve been swallowing raw liver pills to get some in, but I’ve never found a tasty way to consume it cooked. We are headed to France this year, and I can’t wait!

  27. I know this is a little late on this article, but wanted to chime in and say that it’s fantastic. I lived in France for 5 months in 2010 and my mother spent 10+ years of her life living in France before me.

    When I first got to Paris, it took me a while to adjust from my eating habits. I bought snacks in bulk from costco (usually those 100 calorie packs). I used splenda to sweeten everything. I always, always asked for skim milk. I bought margarine instead of butter. Then that all changed.

    My apartment in Paris had a tinnnyyyy fridge, which led me to embrace the french way of shopping- go to the markets/shops every couple of days and get what you need, fresh! I bought bread and pastries that were made fresh that morning. Splenda wasn’t even an option at cafes so I learned to use real, raw sugar. My skim milk latte became a cafe creme (I would have never dreamed of adding CREAM to coffee before). I also stopped snacking– I had wholesome, proper meals (usually with friends) and didn’t really need snacking the way I used to. I indulged in dessert whenever I wanted it and food became really enjoyable.

    Did I mention I lost 20 pounds in these 6 months, without even trying? The active lifestyle (walking, biking, etc) of the french certainly has some effect, but one can’t discount the very obvious signs that the french diet is special.

    I also often wonder about the processing of our flour/wheat in the US vs. other places like France. I know of some people that have celiacs and yet they can digest pasta made in Italy (the real pasta, made the traditional Italian way) without any flare ups whatsoever (I know this is not the case for all, but I do know of a few people where this holds true). You also don’t hear of as many people having issues with gluten in Paris, despite a diet full of baguettes, croissants, and pastries. I think one major factor has to be that countries like France don’t believe in added chemicals, preservatives, hormones etc. That bread you are consuming from your local bakery was made fresh that morning, using time-honored recipes. They don’t use shortcuts to make the bread quicker or make the bread last longer, and I think this is another unique and nutritious quality of the french diet.

  28. This is such a wonderful article!! Health is not complicated as some make it seem. My husband and I went to Paris a few months back, while walking the farmers market I bought a bottle of cream or milk (I wasn’t sure), but it tasted amazing a raw, I downed the whole thing! Europeans eat their bread and sugar and are healthy, plus they smoke (not healthy haha!) Thank you Lauren!

  29. Hi! Thanks for the interesting article,
    Being a foreign student in Paris during the past year I was astonished by many things , but frankly nothing compares to how much I was astonished by the food habits. And its not just the point of eating healthy. People here are really enjoining food, they search for the good boulangerie and for the guy in the market who has the better fish.
    But I think we own to mention the meal hours. Literary everyone here eats between 12-14, everyone! From students in the school to salaries, everyone. Even the timetable of the university was fixed so at 12 we could have an 1 to 2 hours break to eat altogether (yeap, altogether even if you want to eat alone they won’t let you, it’s great!). The working places even have their proper restaurant with high quality food for their employees.
    After 14 o clock, you can rarely see someone eating here, after all the restaurants won’t serve you! At least not before 19.00 when the dinner time starts..Being a Greek I was always wondering why back in our country we eat so healthy and still we have obesity problems, but now for me it’s clear that the culture of food it’s actually your all attitude towards your body. And that means also that when it comes to sports the French are totally nuts ( everywhere with everyone no matter the weather).
    Yeah, lots to learn from the French indeed:)

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Lauren Geertsen, NTP

I’m an author, entrepreneur, and nutritional therapy practitioner (NTP). I began this website at 19, to share the steps that freed my life of chronic disease and medication. Now, Empowered Sustenance has reached 30 million readers with healthy recipes and holistic resources.

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