France is a foodie’s heaven. The indulgent cheeses and sauces and wines and desserts and ahhhh, the French eating habits list goes on. After living here awhile, I’ve realized that I’ve changed my American eating habits in some subtle and not so subtle ways. And after thinking about it, these changes are absolutely for the better. Let’s talk about popular French eating habits versus my old American ones.
Here’s how my eating habits have changed since moving to France!
French eating habits: How my American habits have changed after moving to France
A book I’m reading that’s been a real eye opener has inspired this post. It’s called In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan and I highly recommend it.
Back in the day, I was really, really disciplined with my workouts and nutrition. I’ve never been on a diet per se and have never been overweight, but I’ve always been hyper aware of what I was eating and when I was exercising.
Maybe that had to do with my own beliefs, the fact that I was single and living in NYC and working at a gym in college where I’d see beautiful, fit people around me and needed to make sure I was one of them.
In any case, you’d never see me at Dairy Queen or chowing down on a big plate of something that would wreck eating healthy for a week. A treat for me was frozen yogurt. And I was OK with that because I genuinely enjoyed healthy food and took pride in being fit — and in NYC all that healthy food was easy to procure.
Restaurants had fit menus, Chinese restaurants would steam my meal with sauce on the side no problem and it was really easy to eat healthy. I spent a lot of time in the gym (great mood booster and a way to break up studying in college) and would feel bad if I didn’t work out hard! I’m not talking about a walk or a leisurely bike ride 5-6 times a week that counts as movement. I trained and went HARD!
After college, I relaxed my habits over time but still took pride in being disciplined to eat right 80% of the time and have a solid gym routine. I still do really take pleasure in working out and eating healthy. I’m just not as strict.
The move to France has changed me in a lot of ways, one of which is how I eat. I’ve really relaxed in that regard and just go with the flow now to respect French eating habits. It’s 100% for the better. I think a lot of the change has to do with being content with my life and not feeling like I have to impress anyone. I have a husband, a house, a dog and am where I want to be.
So the super disciplined 23-year-old Diane doesn’t exist anymore — and I can’t say I miss her. And did I gain weight or become less fit? Nope. 😉 But know what I did gain? Confidence and a less stressful life.
How I stay motivated to exercise >>
French eating habits I’ve picked up since moving to France:
- I go to the farmers’ market all the time and buy fresh food. The butcher knows me and so do the produce vendors at the market. While we do frequent Picard for frozen staples, we always stock up on a lot of fresh food. It’s part of French culture and I love it. Market culture is one of my favorite French eating habits.
- Overall, I eat fewer foods with preservatives. High fructose corn syrup is pretty foreign here and isn’t in everything under the sun. I believe it’s even banned in some parts of Europe. The milk is rBGH free and they don’t even allow meat from the U.S. to be imported due to the crap that’s in it. While there are junk foods here, overall the food offerings have fewer preservatives.
- I eat more full-fat items and fewer low-fat foods. The “low-fat is better” mentality doesn’t really exist. So all those low-fat crackers, 100-cal snack packs, low-fat ice cream, low-fat chips, etc. we’d see in the U.S. aren’t really common here. They’re not marketed as being better.Yes, there are a few lower fat cheeses and several diet items including 0% yogurt but nowhere near the variety of items we’d see in the U.S. People are happy enough to have their fat. And it works! This is in moderation, of course. I don’t eat a whole tub of ice cream in one sitting (exception: If I make a pumpkin pie, it lasts for exactly four servings. I can’t help myself).I feel better about letting myself have a little of what I want instead of depriving myself. A small serving of higher calorie ice cream made with three all-natural ingredients is probably better than a double serving of something low-fat that has 20 hard-to-pronounce food-like items. France is much more about “real” food and it’s been a welcome change.
- I eat more yogurt. Yogurt is France’s best friend and there are so many kinds. The supermarket’s aisles are stuffed with more yogurt than you’ve ever seen in your life. The French eat yogurt as dessert, sometimes at breakfast and even as a snack. I love these Actimel “drinks,” this organic peach yogurt that’s Super U brand and even the special stuff from Beillevaire that costs too much yet I have to treat myself to it every now and again. The French are in love with Danone and it shows.
- I drink a glass of wine with dinner at least half the time. No cocktails. Just wine. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing. But I just can’t resist the affordable local wines. Wine is a dinnertime staple.
- I don’t care if I have a “bad” food. I really don’t. I don’t have one ounce of guilt if I eat a chocolate croissant. Back in the U.S. I’d feel a little guilty if I ate something like that, but here I just don’t care if I indulge every now and again. Maybe it has something to do with being content with where I am in life and knowing that I have Tom, Dagny, a house over my head, a family who loves me and two legs and arms that work, but I just don’t analyze the details anymore. If I want fries, I’m gonna get them. And be happy about it.
- I don’t really snack. The French aren’t big snackers and I have to say I’m not either anymore. That comes as a shock because I’d love eating carrot sticks with dollops of hummus or a banana with peanut butter or some other afternoon snack. Not sure if it’s just because I don’t keep anything good for snacking in the house or what, but I look forward to my meals more and really don’t graze.
- I don’t care for sweets as much. OK, so at first, you’ll want to sample all of the patisserie’s offerings but after a while, they’ll get old. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a brownie or cookie — I do — but the super sweet pastries have kind of turned me off to anything really indulgent. I’d much rather have a chocolate chip cookie than a caramel Religieuse any day. Sugar overload. One bite and I’m done. If I do get a craving for something sweet, I eat it. So maybe the fact that I eat everything in moderation has kind of turned me off to sweets. Not sure. And here’s why you won’t get fat in France.
- I eat slower. I wrote all about this French eating habit and it’s one of the biggest differences between French and American eating habits. The French make the meal the main event and not just something you rush through to move onto something else more important or something to do while multitasking. Eating is social and an occasion to be celebrated. Take your time with it! We can all learn from this French eating habit that your digestion will appreciate.
The importance of walking
Another lifestyle change is the fact that I walk a lot. Having Dagny (who took over my blog) is the main factor here but we specifically bought a house in our town’s center so I could walk everywhere I need to go. I probably walk an hour or more a day either to run errands or walk the dog.
I read the other day that Americans over-exercise but are underactive.
I scratched my head for a second but then realized just how true this is. Many of us drive to work and then sit at a desk for 8 hours maybe taking a short walk to get lunch or to go to the bathroom or see a co-worker. But we’re sedentary. Then we’d head to the gym after work and kill it for an hour in spin class. And the cycle repeats the next day.
Here I find myself more active all day long instead of behind a desk and then going all out at the gym. And that’s a major difference between corporate life in the U.S. and my life here.
French eating habits are all about moderation and balance in all aspects of my life. Eat and drink and enjoy life and then move your butt and do it often.
France has really helped me to embrace a healthy balance when it comes to wellness.
And surprise, surprise, I haven’t blown up into double my old size. Not at all. France has been eye opening and embracing a healthy lifestyle here has taught me a ton about my limits and what I need out of life. I’m still the same old me but I’ve tweaked a few things along the way. And that’s most definitely a good thing.
How have your eating/lifestyle habits changed either because of a job, move or something else? What are your favorite French eating habits? Would love to hear from you!
Den Nation says
I really wish that I could say that I have not gained weight in France. The thing is, the apéros kills me. I am so hungry and they end up lasting so long that I eat until I’m not hungry and then I overeat during the meal. When I am at home I can control this better, but since we go to dinner at our friends’ places quite often, I can’t control myself as well. I tell myself that I will pace myself, but inevitably I end up eating too much. And we all know that there are a lot of unhealthy snacks during the apéro.
That said, I definitely agree with your points. I hate that in North America we have this culture that low-fat or no-fat = healthy. People have no idea what is in these products. Eating a certain type of fat is good for you and I think that it’s better to eat controlled amounts of bad fat than fake preservatives.
And it also bugs me that people, including my own family, think that it is healthier to eat yoghurt with ‘fruit’ added to it, than putting honey in plain yoghurt. I tried to explain to my family that the fruit in these yoghurts was not healthy (full of preservatives and very low fruit content), but they think I’m out of my head. They actually think it’s bad for you to eat honey because there’s so much sugar in it!
One thing that bothers me about France is that they give OGM feed that they buy from North America to their livestock. Why do that? It’s probably cheaper, but I hate that they do this.
I see your dilemma with the apero. But the trade off is that you actually have friends to eat with. We eat just the two of us every night at home. So maybe if I found some friends…
That part about the GMOs in livestock feed really surprised me. Never heard of that since I know GMOs in the supermarkets, etc. are all banned. Do you have a link that speaks more about that? Very upsetting.
Thanks for your comment!
Den Nation says
Ok, so I’ve been looking around and I’ve come across this website: they talk about animals being fed OGM on this page, you just have to scroll down a bit.
I was under the impression that there were no OGMs in France (just a side note: I had no idea that OGM was the French abbreviation – it seems so much more natural than, what’s the word, GMO?), until my brother-in-law told me that was not the case. Still, the levels are thankfully much lower than in North America, but that doesn’t mean that we should just accept even a low level of OGMs.
Oh, and all the “friends” that I eat with are my husband’s friends and I just have tagging along all these years. I only have one friend I have managed to make on my own in Bordeaux, another blogger that lives here.
Den Nation says
Here’s the website, sorry!
I absolutely adore the lifestyle in France… Can’t stand the North American way of life anymore, and haven’t been into it for a long while, a few years at the very least. My husband and I (and our cat!) will be moving to France in just a smidge over a year, and I cannot wait. Posts like this of yours have always made me feel so encouraged about my decision to move. France definitely isn’t the perfect country (nowhere is), but it’s certainly ideal for the kind of lifestyle we want to have.
Anyway thanks for the post! Loved this one.
Awesome, glad my post has encouraged you and that France will be a good lifestyle fit at least in terms of eating. Eating really is a focus here and quick, on-the-go meals just don’t cut it like they would in the US. The meal is the focus and not just something you have to do on the way to somewhere else. As you said nowhere is perfect but France does have a lot going for it!
Sara DePasquale says
I enjoy popping by your blog, and love your reflections on how your eating habits have changed since living in France.
One thing that I have learned to appreciate since moving to France is the “sacredness” of meals. People here don’t run around with coffee on-the-go, are less likely to eat meals at their desks, and make dinner an event to connect with each other rather than eating while watching TV. I’ve found myself appreciating food more since when I’m eating, I’m not distracted by multi-tasking and am actually focused on tastes, flavors, and textures. And I think this ties into weigh management too, since there is more mindfulness when eating.
I feel similarly when I compare my US mindsets about food to now – and I’m thankful that I’ve stopped eating all the low-fat, tasteless foods I used to eat!
Thank you for checking out the post and happy you can relate. I just made a similar comment above replying to Elise before I saw this. The on-the-go meal is very rare and certainly not the norm as you’re rushing to do something else or multitasking. The meal here is the reward, the communal experience and something to be savored and not rushed through. Definitely picked up on that right away when I started having Sunday lunches at my in-laws! Sandwiches didn’t cut it!
Being mindful of what we’re putting in our mouths is so important and we lose sight of that in the US sometimes when we’re eating at our desk or watching TV at the same time. France slows us all down and although I’m sometimes frustrated by it, I think it’s for the best! Thanks for stopping by!
Molly @ Toffee Bits and Chocolate Chips in Paris! says
I absolutely found all of these to be the case when I was living in France. Even being in pastry school and obsessed with sweets I ended up losing weight. I found that I generally ate less, didn’t snack, and, you had a super good point, I was active all day – from walking to class or around the neighborhood to just generally meeting up with friends. It’s a different lifestyle and I loved the emphasis on fresh foods over preserved. Also, I know these are in France, but I never really heard of any fad-diets. Going gluten-free in the US is huge right now, and I could never see that catching on in France – obviously because of the necessity of fresh bread but because people don’t seem as obsessed to be on a diet as those in the US. I remember hearing someone talk about a lady coming into a butcher and the butcher exclaiming – wow you’ve lost a lot of weight! And the lady proceeding to say that she had decided to not to eat foie gras for breakfast with the normal bread, butter, jam, pate, and croissant that she normally had. Always cracks me up! tehe
Your comment here got me thinking that maybe because the French don’t rush around so much and take time eating that they don’t expect quick results and have the patience to lose weight without doing a fad diet. In the US we want instant gratification and to have it all NOW, whereas in France no one moves too fast (customer service, cashiers, things closed early and on Sundays, etc.) so they don’t see the need for a fad diet. That may have no basis on fact, just popped into my head while reading what you wrote. 😉
And that’s hilarious about the butcher. Can’t believe she ate all that for breakfast!! Esp the foie gras. Won’t touch that stuff. Doesn’t even smell good. I want to see some of your pastries. Gonna head over to your blog to see if you talk about the overall pastry school experience. Very interesting!
Funny you mention the gluten-free Molly! A few weekends ago I was in Florence and was surprised to see signs on many restaurants advertising gluten-free (in Italy no less!). I’m not sure if this was something to appeal to the tourists, or if it actually is catching on in Italy… I’m with you, though. I don’t see gluten free happening in France. You never know though!
My habits have changed as well since moving to France almost 5 years ago. I eat out for lunch 3-4 times a week (thank you Ticket Restaurant) which is something I would’ve never imagined doing in the States. But as one of the points mentioned, I feel no guilt simply because my life is naturally more active. Of course, eating a bigger meal for lunch means we eat light at dinner most nights. But it’s OK even on the days we have a heavier lunch AND dinner because I’ve adapted a more “French” breakfast (coffee and the biscuits petit-déj…) and I have eliminated snacking.
Thanks Diane for such an interesting post… Your points are spot on!
Very interesting about the gluten-free diets. I know many people have sensitivities or have celiac disease but then others think it’s a health fad and that gluten is bad, so eliminating it will help you to lose weight. Seems majorly misunderstood but money talks and all the specialty products sell if people think they’ll help them.
So happy you enjoyed the post, Jessica!
Ella Dyer says
Oh my dear, how I relate!
Since spending summers in France (some 20 years ago) we’ve realized the “farm-to-table” mentality (a highly accepted concept in the US these days) has been the norm for most in France.
Now that I work with AngloINFO (my territory is the Riviera; I know, lucky me!) and am here a bit more, we have fully embraced the local market, buy what you’ll eat today, way of life. We feel/look better and highly recommend this “regime” for all.
Jody, my dear sweet spouse of 25 years (first married to a French teacher; another note at another time mais, merci Cathy!) has the palate of a Frat Boy. However, he greatly changes his taste when we are here; we prepare fresh artichoke and other regional delights, taking pleasure in the experience of the meal, as well as the taste.
Food and cuisine is such a common denominator; bringing together cultures, communities and others for more understanding and collaboration.
Here’s to breaking bread and walking with more new friends soon,
Agreed! The farmers markets are awesome and I have no qualms about buying only what I need for that day or the next and returning to the next marche for more. Some might find it tedious or time consuming but the health benefits I feel are worth it. If you’re ever up in the Loire Valley, let me know! (that goes for everyone!)
Ze Coach says
Since we moved from France to Texas, we have a tendancy to eat less processed food than in France. Over here, it is usually too sweet, too salty with too much sauce for our taste. So we try to cook more at home with raw ingredients, organic whenever it’s possible, for our kids because we have a tendency to less trust the products over here. For example, I don’t know why you can find high fructore corn syrup with pickles.
One of the things we miss a lot over here is the variety of yogurt. Greek yogurts are becoming big over here but it took us some time to find some yogurts to our taste.
It’s always a pleasure to read your posts.
Hello, I read that one of the main benefits of HFCS is that shelf lives of products are much longer. It all comes down to money and less waste (but more preservatives, ugh). So instead of a snack bar expiring in 2015 in France, it’s good til 2017 in the US. It’s really sickening to know there is now HFCS in pickles and other normal items. Always pays to read the label.
And yes, there is no yogurt aisle in the US. There’s a yogurt section and a whole bunch of varieties but not like here in France. My favorite Greek yogurt was the FAGE brand. Love that stuff! Thank you for your kind words!
Buying fresh on a daily basis isn’t something we do here in the states. So the shelf life on items is really long due to the additives. I recently learned the food additive azodicarbonamide, which is a chemical commonly found in rubber, is used in over 500 foods here in the USA, especially bread. Nothing sticks to rubber so I guess that why people over eat here 😉
UGh that is horrifying. There’s a blog I follow called Food Babe and she investigates foods and their ingredients. Eye opening at the very least and not in a good way!
I live in France and found this article pretty accurate, barring one thing. 9 out of 10 families eat a meal together in the evening?! Not in Paris or the suburbs, most families have a least one parent working too late for this to be possible, none of our friends manage to achieve this – however, eating together at weekends is a big thing.
Hi there, thanks for checking out the post! It accurately represents my experience thus far in France but of course not every family will eat together in the evening. Not sure I said that in this post?
I am curious if the French drink protein shakes? My husband has one every morning for breakfast and he is trying to figure out how to get his favorite plant based protein powder once we move to Provence in April. We are both vegetarian, which I think might be a challenge in France, and I would love to be able to make shakes as I don’t know what of our other staples we are going to be able to get over there.
Hi Nicole, while the French do drink protein shake, they’re nowhere near as popular/mainstream as they are in the USA. They exist and people know what they are, but you won’t find anything protein-related at the grocery store. There’s no big chain equivalent of GNC or Vitamin Shoppe although there are smaller health food stores such as Biocoop and you may do better in larger cities. I order protein stuff from optigura.com and they have popular brands like quest and optimum nutrition but the selection here is probably 20% of what you can find in the USA. So you may consider changing the brand of protein if you can’t find the same exact thing here. I’d say shopping online is your best bet but be prepared to pay more than you’re used to since most of the stuff has to be imported.
Good luck on the move! What brings you to France?
Thanks Diane! This is very helpful. My husband and I have always wanted to live abroad and we fell in love with France when we were there in May. We decided to make a big life change to live our dream and will both be leaving great jobs here in LA to spend three months in Provence working on businesses we have been wanting to start, but just didn’t have the time and energy to do while working our demanding full time jobs. I am so glad I found your blog!
Awesome, well drop me a line if you need anything. Happy to help!
Jacqueline Bucar says
Comment and a question:
1. Danon in France is different from Danon in the US. In fact all the yogurt in France has less sugar etc. Danon here has way too much sugar.
2. Question: How did you stop from snacking? What did you do to stop yourself from esnacking (even healthy snacks is still snacking). I’m always amazed at the discipline French women have. They just don’t snack. They have dessert only once or twice a week and then not eat all of it etc. Tough tough tough
Hi there, a bunch of yogurts here have 20+g per little cup too. Depends on the brand and flavor. I still snack but it depends on the day and how busy I am — just less overall. I’ve always been a healthy snacker but sometimes if I’m running around, I just don’t have time to think about a snack until dinnertime. For me, it was easier to think of a snack when working back in NYC because of how working in an office was set up. There were vending machines and just lulls in the day. On weekends I’ll have a few snacks. Right now I’m loving Buff Bake Snickerdoodle almond butter. 😉
Jacqueline Bucar says
Can you add a print link to your posts?
Jacqueline Bucar says
Question on being active: Isn’t what you describe true for those who live in Paris or a big city? Same is true for big city life in the US.If you live in NY, Boston, Chicago etc you walk alot; similar if not the same as in Paris. but if you live in the suburbs or work in a small town, etc. you’re more likely to eat at your desk or be sedentary. Don’t you think there’s a difference?
Real enjoyment and enlightenment reading this post and all the comments. My grandparents were French and came to America in 1909. I love the French relationship with food and lifestyle. So enjoyed learning more.