What We Can Learn from the French Paradox?

Let’s face it. We all like to eat. We like to think about food, and have certain foods that call to us.

As poet Leigh Hunt put it, “If you are ever at a loss to support a flagging conversation, introduce the subject of eating.”

These days there is SO much written about food, diets, eating plans, nutrition, metabolism, supplements, and on and on. There is a ton of information.

How do we make any sense of it all?

Perhaps taking a fresh look at an old (2005) bestseller can give us some insights into how we think about food that may have gotten lost in the chatter.

In her book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireile Guiliano sets about to explain the French Paradox once and for all. (In case you were wondering, the French Paradox has to do with why most French people seem to be very trim, but are famous for eating very rich and wonderful food and drinking great wine.)

Let me cut to the chase and give you some of her observations on how this can be. As you will see, it is not just about the red wine. Would that it were that simple. But, in a way, what Guiliano says is pretty straightforward. It also is in sharp contrast to how many Americans eat or think about food. So here goes:

  • In America, eating has become controversial. That is, we are bombarded with the latest research about what is good or bad for us, and there are a multitude of diets based on that. Not to mention the fight between the organic, GMO, and vegetarian camps to name a few. Contrast that to what goes on in France. There, food is considered part of the art and pleasure of living. How? Instead of paying obsessive attention to carbohydrates, protein, fats, calories or other food units, they focus on finding and consuming fresh, unprocessed foods. They gather what is in season and enjoy the lively flavors alone or enhanced with fresh herbs. French people eat tons of fresh fruit and vegetables and reasonable portions of protein.
  • Drinking hard liquor generally gives you more calories than wine. It also gives you a “duller sense of taste…and contentment” so that you end up eating more. Guiliano advises that if we drink alcohol, we should stick to wine, and always drink it as an accompaniment to food.
  • Many Americans do not drink enough water and are chronically dehydrated. French people not only drink water all the time, but they take soups very, very, seriously.
  • THIS IS A BIG ONE! If you have only one or two things for your meal you will look for volume in order to achieve satisfaction (think large steak, or several slices of pizza). Instead, look for a variety of foods and give them the respect and presentation that they deserve. Spread several items out as separate courses. There does not have to be a “main dish.” Variety is key. Switch from a large helping of, say, lasagna, and combine it with a salad or some other vegetables. You will find that you are less interested in eating a large serving of lasagna.
  • HERE IS ANOTHER BIG ONE! Americans travel on their own steam less than 10% of the time! Ouch! French people consider exertion a part of every day living. RADICAL!!!

Take a minute to consider where you stand on this last one. Are you a person who naturally likes to move around? Or, like so many of us, is “exercise” a chore, something that you think you should do, but don’t often feel like doing? Do you think of it as something that is separate from the rest of your life, kind of like paying your taxes, or even going to work? Do you look for more ways to move around or less ways? Seems like we are in the same place here in America about exercise that we are about food. It is often labeled good or bad, there is always the next fad, and there is plenty of controversy.

Meanwhile, Ms. Guiliano observes that the French think of food in terms of the enjoyment it can bring. But the overarching concept is a mindfulness of proper portions, so that eating fits into a broader picture of overall wellness. It seems that the same goes for exertion. It is a natural part of living and fits into a pattern of wellness. No controversy there. Good stuff!

© 2016-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

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