When I first moved to France just over four years ago, I was nervous about how I would adjust to the French way of living. As a California native, it had always been easy for me to maintain a healthy lifestyle—healthy food options were endless, gyms were open from dawn until midnight, and a general "need-to-be-fit" mentality was widely accepted and celebrated as the norm.
As I settled into my new life in Paris, I decided the best way to adapt would be to live like the locals. It didn’t take long before I was enjoying four-hour dinners with cheese and dessert courses, replacing evening runs with glasses of rosé on the terrace, and stopping almost daily at the corner boulangerie for freshly baked baguettes that could seduce almost anyone within a two-block radius.
Within a short period of time, I realized that my new routine was not sustainable—or good for my waistline. But I didn’t understand. I was living like a local, right? The Parisian women around me seemed to be effortlessly maintaining thin frames, beautiful skin, and this je ne sais quoi sex appeal. Yet, they never stressed about making it to the 6. a.m. spin class (which would have been impossible since gyms don’t even open until 8 a.m.) or trying out the new fad diet or detox that would help them lose 10 pounds in a week. I was intrigued—what was their secret?
While I can’t claim to have solved the mystery, I can share five ways French women know how to live right—and in the process stay thin and happy:
1. For French women, moderation is key.
While it’s true that French cuisine is known for its creamy sauces, meat-heavy influences, and decadent desserts, people don’t eat this food all the time. And when they do, they eat small quantities that are still satisfying.
The French also don’t deprive or restrict themselves from occasional indulgences. French cuisine, including cheese and wine, is such an important aspect of their culture and a source of regional pride, but that doesn’t mean that it is consumed at every meal or even every day of the week.
And a true French meal isn’t complete without a glass of wine to accompany it.
A glass of wine (or two) with a meal won’t wreak havoc on your diet; just recognize when you start consuming to consume rather than truly enjoying and savoring every sip.
2. French women eat real food.
You won’t find aisle upon aisle of diet food products in French grocery stores. Low-fat or nonfat options are sparse, and in fact, the French prefer full-fat dairy products and real butter anyway. Full-fat products are typically less processed and usually contain less sugar, which is added to low- and nonfat products to enhance their flavor. Real foods in their natural state are more satisfying—meaning you eat less—and they also keep your sugar levels stable, keeping cravings to a minimum and making you less likely to reach for that junk food pick-me-up to get you through the afternoon slump.
Typical French meals also contain very few processed ingredients and instead feature real meat or fish, a side of seasonal vegetables, and fresh fruit for dessert. French women often prefer full, balanced meals for lunch rather than a simple salad that will leave them hungry a few hours later. Even kids are served real, nutritious foods for lunch at school. At an early age, they’re expected to eat like adults, teaching them to enjoy whole foods such as fish and vegetables.
3. French women slow down.
Meal time is a chance to take a real break.
Lunch was an opportunity to take a break, socialize, and truly enjoy the meal in front of me. Eating on the go often results in choosing less-healthy options and eating quickly without paying attention to actual hunger levels.
Meals are also a time for families and friends to enjoy time together. Meaningful relationships provide nourishment for the soul and are important for overall happiness and well-being. When these relationships are missing, it’s easier to turn to comfort foods or to overeat to fill the void. With typical French meals lasting several hours and rich with conversation and debate, you’re sure to satisfy your needs beyond filling your belly.
4. French women focus on pleasure.
If there is one thing the French do right, it’s prioritizing pleasure as the key to healthy living. In terms of food, truly enjoying what you eat, will leave you satisfied and content. It all comes down to balance. By maintaining a diet where you eat nourishing foods that you enjoy and make you feel good while also allowing yourself the occasional indulgence, you avoid a state of deprivation. You also ward off feelings of guilt when you choose to enjoy every last bite of that tarte Tatin or crème brûlée.
5. French women walk everywhere.
While there has been a surge in gyms and yoga and spin studios opening around Paris in the last few years, the workout culture in France is quite different from in the United States. Most people prefer the after-work apéro to an evening gym session. How do those French women maintain their slim physiques while enjoying food and not being workout addicts? They walk everywhere. Paris is a beautiful city that is easily walkable. Few people actually own cars, so it’s easy to sneak in your daily exercise by walking the streets or commuting using the city’s easily accessible bike-share system.
Even after four years of living in Paris, I still have a lot to learn from the French. And in the process, I’m forging a new identity that is neither French nor American—a new identity that is a hybrid of the two. (Oh, and by the way, I still choose my evening run over apéro at least two times per week.)