After almost two decades living in France, I’ve come to realize that the French are natural mindful eaters. This way of eating has been linked to weight loss, fairly effortlessly. It's what they practice daily and pass on to their children through example (you can read my previous articles about French children’s eating habits).
Here are some of France’s mindful eating habits conducive to weight loss, weight maintenance and an overall healthy (and enjoyable) lifestyle. Bon appetit!
1. Set your intention for the day.
The French love to talk about food: Planning, shopping and eating. Even if you only make a plan the night before, your chances of mindful eating increase enormously. Menu planning, weekly food shopping and food prep are key.
2. Decide your daily mealtimes and stick to them.
In France, national mealtimes are adhered to quite rigidly: Breakfast is from 7 to 8 a.m., lunch is from 12 to 2 p.m., and dinner is at 8 p.m. (slightly earlier on school nights). School kids usually have snack time around 4:30 p.m. (optional). There is no eating outside of these time slots.
3. Keep breakfast simple.
The French are pretty boring when it comes to breakfast, they eat the same thing over and over (typically fresh bread with some combination of butter/jam/honey, fruit juice or yogurt). Being repetitive means that you have a ritual in place, ingredients are likely available in your kitchen and picking up something “on the go” (i.e. potentially unhealthy) becomes unlikely.
4. Don’t skip meals.
I have never met a French person who skips a meal on purpose. It’s not acceptable to your average French person to go without three meals a day. Mindfulness of meal times and the ritual of eating, usually accompanied by others, is a part of daily life.
5. No matter how simple a dish is, savor it and eat slowly.
Try eating a meal like the French, in courses, rather than eating everything at once. For example, serve yourself salad first, then your main dish (protein, grains, whatever), then dessert or however you plan on ending your meal. Pause between each course.
6. Sit down!
Basic mindful eating requires sitting down at a table with proper utensils and focusing on what you are doing. When you eat on the run, you’re not focusing on your eating. You’ll feel as though you didn’t actually have a meal, and thus set yourself up for mindless snacking later on.
7. Don’t be scared of a “large-ish” lunch.
Get together loads of veggies, a salad, some protein and have a proper meal at lunch. When I arrived in France, I was astonished at the grandeur of lunches (it is the main meal of the day). I soon realized that the French don’t snack in between meals because they get enough to eat at their regular meals.
8. Power down during meals.
How can you focus on what you are eating and how you feel eating it, if you are looking at a screen? Your meal is gone without you noticing — because you are flipping through social media on the phone.
9. Do not mindlessly snack.
Snacking on the go and picking at food throughout the day kills your hunger at mealtimes. If you need something to tide you over until dinner, then make a decision about what it will be and have it (sitting down). But don’t pick up a candy bar on the way out of the gas station, or pick at food while you are cooking.
10. Let hunger in calmly.
Don’t be scared of hunger! There is a great point on the hunger scale where you feel a healthy hunger, before you get to famished and ravenous. That is the perfect point at which to enjoy your regular meal.
11. Stop eating meals on the go.
Forget about eating while driving, watching TV, working at the computer, cooking in the kitchen, while leaving the gym, catching a bus or walking to work. If you are not sitting down at a table focusing on the food at hand during a mealtime, just say no.
12. Let your family know when the kitchen is closed.
If you are trying to instill mindful eating to your entire family, teach them when the kitchen is closed. Put a “closed” sign on the fridge if you have to, but teach them that the kitchen is off limits after the last dish is washed.
13. Set the scene.
Since you are sitting down to eat, make sure you’re table looks great! Use nice plates, proper cutlery, place setting and some flowers if you’re feeling like it! Don’t wait for a special occasion.
14. Eat with your eyes and your mouth.
Make sure your food looks appetizing as well as tastes good. Presentation is pretty major in France, even a simple assiette de crudités (a raw vegetable salad) is beautifully arranged on a plate. Beautiful food forces you to pause and look at it instead of shoveling away.
15. Be mindful of where food comes from.
The French like to know where their food comes from — what store, supplier, market, farmer or field. Knowing where food comes from enhances the mindfulness in eating, tasting and enjoying food.
16. Be aware of how food makes you feel.
Become aware of how different foods make you feel, while you are eating them and after eating them. If eating a few slices of birthday cake gives you a temporary high, but leaves you feeling bloated and somewhat depressed afterwards, reevaluate eating it again. A few seconds of pleasure are not usually worth several hours of feeling dismal or guilty. Don’t discount treats and indulgences, but try small quantities and find those that don’t leave you feeling gross.
17. Digestion is a national obsession.
The French are seriously obsessed with how they digest their food. The word “digestion” comes up regularly. By being aware of how their body is feeling, the French have mastered the art of moderation. When they’ve had enough, they know it and say no to the rest. The end goal is to derive pleasure and nourishment from food and the process of eating it (usually accompanied by others), not to feel uncomfortably full.