France is a foodie’s heaven. The indulgent cheeses and sauces and wines and desserts and ahhhh, the list goes on. After living here awhile, I’ve realized that I’ve changed my 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 French eating habits versus my old American ones.
French eating habits: How my American mealtime habits have changed since 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. 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 my eating habits have changed 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 La 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!