I have a confession to make, this is true, most of the French woman are skinny, or should I say slim. Don’t get me wrong, there are all types of body shapes in France, but if you make a general comparison, French people are usually skinnier than people in the US… our standard bodies are just different. Just check the clothes size, you’ll realize that a Medium in the US is equal to a Large in Europe.
My experience with food in the US
You’re gonna ask me, BUT WHY?? I love to hear what everyone says and the different theories they come up with but I don’t think we need all those theories to know why French women and American women are different, and I had my own experience concerning food in both countries. When I was a teenager I was very active, I could eat whatever I wanted to. I was not a big eater but I could eat junk food sometimes. Junk food restaurants are not very common in France, there are some, but we don’t have the same culture as Americans when it comes to going out to eat all the time, and order take-out for dinner. Most of the time when we are too lazy to cook in France, there is always a healthier option than fast food. So of course it helps! When we want to grab a sandwich for lunch because we don’t have time to cook or sit at a restaurant, you have other healthy options with french bread, and nothing fried or cook with tons of fat. Let me get back to my own experience. When I was 17 I moved to the US, and of course I got into the fast food culture, with gigantic portions at the restaurant, and not much of home cooking. The result was that I gained 20 pounds in 3 months! My mom didn’t even recognized me in pictures I sent home!! I was able to lose some weight but was never able to return to my weight before my visit. When I decided to move back to the US for college, I decided to get in shape and lose weight before moving back, and I reached my goal pretty easily without making huge changes to my eating habits, I was still able to enjoy some ice cream and chocolate occasionally! So when I moved back to the US I had a plan to stay as active as I was when I lost weight and eat the same kind of food, cook at home so I could maintain the same weight… that was a big fail! I realized the food was very different in the US than in Europe, and of course since my body was not used to it, I gained weight pretty fast. A majority of the food in America is processed a different way, there is more fat in everything, and even if you check calories, food is definitely not the same. Concerning food quality, I feel the responsibility is on the manufacturer… It is also very easy to be tempted by fast food in the US, I won’t deny it!!
Walk walk walk
There is another difference in culture that help us, French woman, to stay fit. In the US, everything is made for people not to walk at all. There are drive-thru everywhere!! I admit, this is something we, French people, love to make fun at. And in most cities, there is no way to walk from one point to another. When I was in college in Tennessee, I was living 3 minutes away by car from college, but I had no way to walk there! No sidewalks and a dangerous road I would never walked down. In France, we don’t walk everywhere, but we do walk a lot. When you go downtown, you park somewhere and walk for hours to shop. No convenient malls, just walking around the city. This is something I love about Portland, because downtown reminds me of Europe. If you live in a big city in Europe, you really want to avoid taking your car because it is impossible and expensive to park so taking public transportation and walking is the best option. When I was attending college in Toulouse, one of the biggest cities in France, I was walking more than 30 minutes to go to class every morning and I loved it!!! More than an hour of walking every day, listening to music, not thinking about anything, just relaxing. I miss that so much and I wish I could live in a neighborhood where I could walk to shops or walk to work. So here is your second reason why French people are skinnier, we exercise everyday without even noticing, but it counts!
24/7 food service
There are two other reasons that I realized after years of living in America that were factors why we gain weight, and why sometimes we gain weight when we go on vacation to a different country. The body is like a clock, if you’re observant, you’ll see that you always get hungry at the same time (or maybe you’re hungry all the time because you’re bored or you’re thirsty, this is another explanation). In France lunch is around noon or 1pm, and dinner around 7 or 8pm. We usually snack a little something around 4pm if we are too hungry (not a burger of course! We’re talking about little snack here…). We eat at regular hours, and we don’t eat too early in the evening to avoid a fourth meal late at night. In the US there is no time! Dinner can be anywhere from 5 to 9pm! 5? Really? Don’t lie to me when you eat dinner at 5pm you eat more later at night! Changing lunch and dinner times will confuse your body, and your body will not know when to be hungry or not, so basically you’re hungry most of the day!
Something that does not help either is restaurants and fast food are open all the time! Whenever you want to eat, there is something open for you to grab something, a restaurant, a fast food, a grocery store or even a Walgreen’s! Most of the time it’s not healthy food that you can find… In France restaurants open from 11am to 2pm then from 6 or 7pm to 9 or 10pm. Stores open around 9am and close around 7pm (big grocery stores can close later but no later than 9pm usually). So if you want to eat something after hours, there are two solutions : you eat what you have home, or you wait for the next morning for stores to open. Usually, since you don’t have any temptation, you are not actually hungry. If you don’t have access to food you are not as likely to crave for it 🙂
So there is no secret! French girls do not eat only salad and the urban legend that French women don’t get fat is not true, I can promise you! We just have different cultures, habits and food. 🙂