How the French Stay Thin

One question I am asked a lot on account of spending time in France is, “How do the French stay thin?”

And in light of my most recent Francophile food-related posts about delicious food in Paris, French bread and French cheese, I wanted to enlighten my mom readers on how the French indulge in good food but manage to stay trim regardless. When I first got to France I wondered, “How is everyone eating white bread and brie all day and looking better than Kate Moss?”

After three summers of fastidious research, here is how the French stay thin.

Thin French woman in Paris

Small portions

As Mireille Guiliano famously noted in her best-selling book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, the French eat in small portions. They savor their food and eat slowly, using proper table manners.

Food in France is also more of an event. The French rarely eat standing up, and usually set a beautiful table and then sit down to eat a slow, leisurely meal. They put more thought into the preparation and consumption of the meal.

Fresh, organic food

Apricots in a blue bowl

When I am working as an au pair in France I shop for the family’s groceries at the farmer’s market twice a week. While not all the produce is local, the overall quality of the food is quite high: fat, leafy lettuce, coiled-up homemade sausages, tiny red groseilles berries… in short, wholesome, delicious ingredients.

The French and Europeans, in general, have a greater appreciation for seasonal food. Black cherries in June are sweet and juicy but in February? Not so much. As anyone who has tasted a Honeycrisp apple in October knows, when produce is in season it tastes worlds better.

And there’s no fake stuff- no Stevia, no diet soda, no I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Eating a natural diet is just better for you.


Pascal Bellevaire butter

On any given day in France last summer, I treated myself to buttered toast, baguette and Nutella, platters of cheese, meat cooked in butter and chocolate. Despite this, I managed to come back a few pounds thinner.

This is because of the way the French would rather enjoy a small quantity of something scrumptious than a bulk serving of something mediocre. In other words, it’s better to eat a few pieces of high-quality dark chocolate than two whole Hershey’s bars.

Indulge in a small, high-quality serving of something naughty and you will be much more satisfied.

Damage control

Another way the French stay thin? Carefully monitored damage control.

The French, especially French women, carefully regulate their weight. If they gain a few kilos they cut back for a while to lose them.

Also, if the French order crème brûlée during one meal, they eat a light salad the next. It’s all about checks and balances, like balancing a bank account.

Soup and salad

The French fill up on low-calorie but high-volume foods like soup and salad. Lunch is often a soup or salad, while dinner is a heavier meal. These foods fill you up but don’t make you gain weight.

Active lifestyle

Most French people I know never intentionally exercise- I remember people making fun of former president Sarkozy for his jogging habit. And while they aren’t sweating it out on the elliptical, they still use their bodies. The French are very active by walking everywhere regularly and engaging in light recreation like hiking or tennis.

. . . . . . . . . . .


5 French Expressions That Will Help You Survive Paris

10 Books to Read Before Visiting Paris

17 Super-Fun Ways to Spend a Rainy Day in Paris

The 10 Most Crazy Delicious Foods You Must Eat in Paris

How the French Stay Thin

Where to Find the Best Picnic Spots in Paris

How to Order a Baguette Like a Parisian

15 Things I Learned About Wine After a Year in France

What I Miss (And Don’t Miss) About Living in France

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

29 thoughts on “How the French Stay Thin”

  1. I have been wondering why I did not see one single overweight French person during my stay in Paris last weekend. Your post explains a lot… I did see many people jogging in public parks like Jardin des Plantes though :)

    • I’ve noticed that most French people don’t really work out, they’re just really active with lots of walking and fun activities :)

  2. Just a small comment…I lived/worked in Paris for a time and attended a couple of salons de cuisine, where lots of artisan and specialty food products (and other things, like soaps) from around France are sold, and Stevia was marketed at one of them. The woman was very friendly and took a lot of time to explain all the benefits. The world is changing…

  3. Great advice. and all of it works. I think that when the ladies cut back when they see they are gaining is very important advice. Also walking and doing
    sports more naturally, including it in your everyday life is very important
    Good blog!



  4. Very nicely put together… Is it a myth or do the French take their time and appreciate their food when having a meal? The quality vs quantity comment is very right as the won’t indulge in heavy eating but right eating.. When in France, especially on the mountains, I felt that the food is high in fat and protein, which does make you last longer on smaller quantity. With a healthy lifestyle though, you tend to feel better and stronger.

    Over here in UK, the trend is changing to a healthier way of eating with a lot of influence from Asian and south american cooking.

    • The French definitely spend a long time eating and linger over meals. Though I believe this is less and less- people are definitely busier these days and are more inclined to have a quick sushi lunch or a sandwich instead of a drawn-out meal!

  5. Hi Ashley! I’ve just stumbled upon your blog, and it’s quite an enjoyable read! I wanted to add something to your list of ways that the French stay thin: regulated eating times. Whereas in the States, people can eat whenever they want to, in France (as I’m sure you know) mealtimes happen at specific moments throughout the day. Regulated mealtimes = regulated metabolism, and this, along with those quality ingredients you were talking about, helps keep the French thin. :-)

  6. I just stumbled across your blog as well, I used to au pair in France too! I was surprised by how big their portions were. When I asked my host mom how the French ate so much but stayed thin, her answer was we eat too much processed food. And they, like you said, stick to fresh & organic foods. Also, they walk everywhere! I got more than a few stares and honks when I would venture out on runs.

  7. Hey I know this is 2 years ago, but I just found ur post and you’re the only one I’ve seen to put portion sizes up at the top which I totally agree.

    When I stayed in Paris I was always hungry and I’m a thin guy. I prolly ate 2 set menus per meal. My girlfriend is Size 0-2 and even she was hungry for the first week before she adapted.

    Now tho, it’s hard to get back to the North American portions I used to eat even though I’ve been bulking up.

  8. Hi Ashley, I just discovered your blog and signed up my email to receive more! I enjoyed the blog on French eating and would like to incorporate that into daily living. Farmer markets are the best for me in a small town in Idaho, but I’m also growing my own non- GMO vegetables! I don’t like meat, but like seafood, and portion control seems key. I would love a dinner lingering over coffee or wine and no rush to clear the table! So nice. Glad I found this blog, I intend to follow you on your travels. And of course, I’m getting my first pair of Tiegs. The metallic pewter ones. Yay! Oh and BTW, I’m originally from Michigan also! Good for you for traveling young. I loved it and plan more!

  9. I was really curious about this since I live in a country of insanely thin women (South Korea). I think that a lot of the things you mention actually are things I implemented into my own diet (except for the cutting back part) and led to weight loss. However, I’m still not nearly as thin as women here who also do major dieting (think, a small bowl of rice and a tiny amount of vegetables or a mostly broth soup) to maintain their weight.

    • Sadly the same thing happens in France. The thing that disturbed me most was when people would restrict the eating of their (not overweight at all) daughters. It sends the girls really bad messages.

  10. This is so true! I think that’s the difference in why the Western world’s obesity rates are climbing. Not even just in the States but in developing countries like Jamaica and other Caribbean islands as well. I’ve always marvelled at how the Mediterranean stays thin with no real effort. Maybe the secret is all in our approach to food. Moderation is key!
    P.s. glad to have stumbled across your blog. :)

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