France is the land of some of the most delicious pastries in the world, world-class cheeses, to-die-for bread, rich sauces, wine and that’s just the beginning. So if you’re moving to France, it’s only natural to gain weight, right? Not necessarily.
Will I gain weight in France?
No! Well, hold on. Let me clarify what I mean when I say you won’t get fat in France. If you’re a health-conscious individual who has an active lifestyle at home, moving to France won’t be a biggie when it comes to eating and weight. There’s no shortage of markets, fresh produce, and ways to stay active so I don’t feel moving to France is a huge culture shock in terms of food and fitness.
But I know someone will comment saying that they gained 10 pounds after they moved to France, etc. Yes, I get it. Of course some people will gain weight in France. It’s simple math — if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. A calorie surplus will lead to weight gain over time.
But let’s be real. Indulging in everything around you is part of the fun, so when everything is shiny and new, maybe you will initially gain a few pounds. But remember, moderation is key and so is staying active. If you consume more calories than you burn, the excess will result in weight gain — one pound for every 3,500 extra calories.
But I think you’ll find yourself walking more, eating better quality food, eating more slowly, and snacking less.
First, consider this fundamental attitude that illustrates the difference between French and American food culture:
The French are also less anxious about food than Americans … Americans tend to associate food with health, not with pleasure, and worry more about food than people in any other nation surveyed. When shown a picture of a chocolate cake, the most frequent responses from Americans were ‘guilt’, and ‘calories’. The French response: ‘celebration’ and ‘pleasure’. The French associated a picture of ‘heavy cream’ with the word ‘whipped’, whereas the Americans described it as ‘unhealthy’.
Does your response to chocolate cake fall more in line with the French or American survey results?
Why you won’t get fat in France
1. When in France, act French!
- The French don’t snack. Or rarely. If you look hard enough, you can of course find French snackers, but in general, it’s not part of the culture to pop open a bag of chips an hour after lunch. Or nibble on something at the movies. Aside from mealtimes, the French don’t snack throughout the day (well, except for the goûter, which consists of something sweet around 4 p.m. or so, who can resist? It’s traditionally for children, though).
- The French are active and like to walk/bike everywhere. In suburban USA-land, hopping in the car is the norm since places are farther apart and public transport isn’t always available, but that’s not the case in many French towns. For many people who live in a French town where they can run errands on foot, they do it. Even if people have a car, it’s often left at home and you’ll see people walking into town with their wicker baskets for the marché and other errands. Gas is expensive and parking isn’t always available. Walking does a body good. All those steps add up. It’s also normal where I live to see adults on bikes with baskets on the front everywhere just cruising around running errands. Even the mailman’s preferred mode of transport is a bike! In New Jersey, where I grew up, if you’re on a bike, it’s because you’re exercising in the park or part of a cycling club. Most people don’t bike to work in their suit even if they could. Not so in France! One thing I will point out is that in rural areas, it’s sometimes necessary to have a car because there’s no commerce within walking distance and public transport isn’t readily available.
- French portions are smaller. Have a little of everything you want, but the key here is a LITTLE. There are no doggie bags in restaurants, so portions tend to be manageable when you’re out to eat. After a French meal, I often feel satiated but not uncomfortably stuffed. Dessert is a small piece of something sweet, often with fruit, and not a rich hunk of cake that could feed the entire table.
- The French take their time and eat at the table. A Sunday lunch in France isn’t rushed — it’s enjoyed. You’ll leisurely sip your wine while each course is served and enjoy good conversation and laughs, while savoring each bite. Well, it does depend on your family, but again, generally speaking, the French enjoy mealtime and don’t rush through it. Waiters don’t rush you out of the restaurant because tables don’t get turned over. When you go out to dinner, the table is yours for the night. The more relaxed pace helps you focus on the food in front of you, and instead of inhaling everything in five minutes, your body will have time to process when it’s full. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to process that you’re full. Overeating avoided! Take your time.
- They eat dessert! Often! It’s rare to go out to eat and NOT get dessert. A dessert is included in the prix fixe menu and at least in my family, dessert is just as obligatory as the cheese course. By not denying yourself that chocolate cake, your taste buds are satisfied and less likely to binge on something else later. Granted, you don’t get a HUGE slice of cake, but it’s enough to feel satisfied and not wreck your diet. There’s no shame in it either.
- Their coffee is black. In a cafe, if you ask for a coffee, you’ll get a little espresso cup of black coffee with a sugar cube. If you want milk, you have to ask for it. And if you want an American-size coffee, you should make it a grand cafe. Along with that, coffee culture is a bit lacking here and the French don’t do coffee shops in the same way Americans do. There’s no takeout coffee in cups to go except in larger cities. Big, high-calorie sugar bombs aren’t commonplace either, so drinking your calories at smoothie bars and Starbucks isn’t an issue where I live. Cafe culture is all about sitting down and taking your time.
2. Not as many preservatives in French foods.
French food seems to be more natural than what you’d find in an American grocery store. Sure, junk food exists, but in general, there are fewer preservatives in foods and many French people opt out of processed foods entirely. Organic food, called bio in French, is readily available. High fructose corn syrup isn’t widely used in packaged foods, meat and chicken tastes delicious, and fresh pastries and cakes might be an indulgence, but at least it’s all natural sugar, butter, and cream without all the extra garbage.
When it comes to health, I just feel better consuming European meat and milk. Did you know that the European Union has banned U.S. meat because it’s treated with synthetic hormones? American milk is also banned to protect citizens from IGF-1 dangers. American dairy farmers inject rBGH to dairy cows to up milk production. I definitely don’t want any “extras” in my food.
3. You will get tired of croissants.
Ok, maybe you won’t, but the allure will wear off, and you’ll be able to resist popping over to your neighborhood boulangerie every time you pass by. If it doesn’t wear off completely, you’ll be able to exercise restraint more easily in time. Croissants are good, but I just don’t feel like grabbing one more often than once every couple of months or so.
So if you’re wondering, “Will I gain weight in France” or “Will I get fat in France?” I personally think the answer is no. Stay active, try everything in moderation, and enjoy yourself. France has a lot going for it when it comes to food culture, so don’t stress. If you have healthy food and exercise habits, they’ll translate to life in France just fine. 😉
Do you adapt to the local culture and habits when abroad? Do you think people get fat in France?