Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

French women arenít fat. And, if we believe the news stories, neither is anyone else in Europe. The reasons for this have been discussed up one side and down the other. They donít snack. Portions are smaller. They have less stress, more time, more vacation. Towns and cities are set up so that people can walk pretty much anywhere they want, without needing a car. Weekly grocery shopping doesnít really exist, so that people buy only what they need for the day, thereby avoiding that Ďwe might want it laterí mentality that packs our cabinets and refrigerators.

So letís say that these ideas are correct. How do we make ourselves more European? Letís not focus right now on the Ďwalking citiesí and the smaller food portions. If you didnít have at least a passing interest in portion control and exercise, you wouldnít be reading the Skinny Daily! Whatís left? Grocery shopping and stress.

Tell the truth. With your busy day, do you REALLY have time to go to the grocery store every day? Every other day? Neither do I. But why is that? Yep! The stress factor.

When weíre too stressed, our minds do everything possible to feel better. Some of us have compulsive habits [even exercise can qualify] that kick in when weíre stressed. Others of us have what I call the Ďpopcorn syndrome.í Ever watch someone eating popcorn? That automatic, rhythmic hand-to-mouth action? Many of us do that when weíre stressed. This ZONING OUT is an effort to turn our minds off, to numb our feelings with food. And before you know it, weíve eaten much more than we ever planned and we donít remember doing it.

Conscious eating. Thatís the ticket, they tell me. But in order to do this, we have to be in touch with our bodies and its signals. Am I hungry? Or scared? Stressed? Worried? Bored? Tired? Thirsty? Itís hard for me to figure out. And I keep asking asking myself questions like: What do I REALLY feel? What do I REALLY want?

Some people look at me crosseyed when I talk about this, others connect immediately. Everyone has a way to handle this. Some say meditation works. Others find journaling very very helpful. Still others like walking or some other form of aerobic exercise. Iím open to experimenting. But believe it or not, situps have helped a lot. Shocking, but true. The focus on my core, the center, has been a major factor in keeping me grounded and aware of myself. Itís hard for me to understand sometimes that one key to keeping me thin is doing situps, and NOT because of the muscle building! Another thing to accept.

But letís go back to Europe for a minute. The lapband, a restrictive form of WLS was first approved in Europe, where it has enjoyed more success in terms of greater weight loss and greater sustained weight loss than in the US. There are many reasons for that , and Iím not here to point any fingers or discuss access to healthcare. But if everyone in Europe is so thin, why were they such pioneers in WLS?

14 thoughts on “French Women Aren’t Fat

  1. Jonathan says:

    Here’s my theory. In college when I was in France, I noticed that whenever I was observed eating in public, random passersby would say ‘bon apetit!’ I grew to believe that it was merely a cultural duty to them to express this. They LOVE food!

    Americans have a self-professed love for freedom and democracy and, rightly or wrongly, traipse about the world bearing our badge of socio-political enlightenment. “Gorbachev, tear down your wall.”

    Europeans, and the French in particular, have an equally-felt belief in the value of cuisine. Hey, why do you think all of our restaurant words are in French? So a French woman feels no embarrassment whatever writing a book chastising us about our eating habits.

    I just wonder if she’s registered to vote….

    -Jonathan

  2. k says:

    Hate to spoil the party but plenty of Europeans (yes, even the French) are fat (and badly dressed!). A frighteningly large (he he) number of people in the UK are fat, and it’s only getting worse, especially with the kids – the average one is now fatter than the ‘fat kids’ were when I was at school. I’m 33.

    Clothes manufacturers have added (at least) 2 inches to women’s clothing sizes and not advertised the fact – size ’10’ jeans are the identical size to all the ’12’ ones I bought 8-10 years ago. Sneaky! You think you are maintaining the same size when you arn really getting fatter.

    If you look at ‘crowd footage’ in news reports from the 70’s it strikes you just how thin everybody is compared to now.

    I do walk a lot, but I’m unusual. The supermarket is 6 or so mins walk from the office. I think I’m the ONLY one that walks to buy my lunch, everyone else takes their car, despite the fact that the parking is so busy that it is no quicker to drive.

  3. Jen says:

    I just got back from Switzerland with a jaunt through France. There were plenty of fat people there, although it seemed they are mostly middle-aged with the usual spread that comes with the loss of youth. Or, I suppose they could all have been Western tourists who just spoke really good French, German and Swiss. You do get a lot more exercise there, but, everything is made with butter, cheese, cream sauce, and pork/sausage/beef is pretty much the standard fare. The food is fattier. You just get less of it, and walk more. And so many people SMOKE, my god, coming from NYC where you have very little public smoking any more, that was the biggest shocker and what drove me out of restaurants for the most part.

  4. Sandra says:

    Great article Jane, yes indeed we can all learn alot from Europeans, Aisans, Indians etc! Moderation is the key… that is, there is no such thing as “supersize” portions in a civil society… at least there shouldn’t be.

    Jonathan, I would have no doubt at all that the French woman is registered to vote…. Americans did not invent democracy.

    Sandra

  5. syd says:

    When I was a tween, I lived in France for 2 months. At the end I happend on a scale and thought “WOW, I’ve lost weight!” Turned out I just did the conversion math from pounds to kilos wrong, I actually gained 20 pounds. Even with all the walking, there’s nothing like french bread with butter. MMM.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I went to grad school in England, where I ate heavy meals and drank alot of beer. BUT – the biggest meal was in the middle of the day, and often I ate a bowl of soup or a little pasta and veggies for dinner. Although we were “down the pub” frequently, I would only have one beer when I went out with friends – it was a regular occurance so no need to splurge. And none of us owned cars, so we walked every where – the grocery store, the library, or campus. I didn’t have a phone in my room – so if I wanted to talk, I left my room/kitchen and got out and walked to see a friend.

    It wasn’t until I came back and starting working that I began to struggle with my weight.

  7. jonquil says:

    Europeans smoke like chimneys. So do Australians, Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, etc. We stuff food in their faces, the rest of the world lights up. And I’m talking chain smoking here. That may account for a lot of the difference in poundage per person right there, but I don’t think it’s a good trade-off.

    And I don’t buy the “Europeans are less stressed” idea either. My overseas in-laws are just as stressed out as Americans, and have pretty much the same issues: not enough money, social competition, job worries, child/parent conflict, care of older relatives, disease, aging, marital discord– does this sound familiar?

    The big difference in Europe: the state takes care of medical bills, pension, and heavily subsidized higher education. The tradeoff for that is higher taxes, less money to spend, and more bureaucracy.

    Oh, and the reason my in-laws in Europe and Australia have to walk to the grocery store and/or shop frequently: cars are far more expensive to keep and run. Refrigerators are tiny, like the “undercounter” refrigerators we use in a rec room. Kitchens are the size of our walk-in closets. Houses tend to be much smaller overall, so there’s less space to store food. Sometimes there is no refrigeration, and the stove amounts to 2 gas burners with a propane tank, like our outdoor barbeques. (BTW, did I mention the 8-foot-wide bedrooms, 7-foot ceilings… and don’t even get me started on the *ahem* limited bathroom facilities.)

    People in other countries may be thinner, but are they really healthier and happier overall? Maybe the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the pond, it might not transplant well to American soil.

    Jane, I think you’ve already got the tools you need to be well, it’s just a matter of practice, and– confidence. You’ll learn more about your Self from those situps than you will from some French fashionista cashing in on American fear of fat.

    Not that we can’t learn from the people of other countries: as the Buddha said, “work out your own salvation with diligence.”

  8. Rachel says:

    There are of course fat people in every society, including France. But from what I have seen the problems in the US and the UK are of a different order of magnitude. I most notice it with children. You don’t get obese children and teens in other countries the same way you do in the States (and now the UK). My belief is these are problems associated with the prevalence of cheap, mass produced food.

  9. julie says:

    i love ur site…its gorgeous and always helpful..ur soo sweet

  10. Quinn says:

    Been watching this issue for quite awhile. Frankly, I find the differences in the social/medical/educational/etc. structures of both France and the U.S. fascinating and have so since I was a child.

    Really, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Two very different groups of people with very different histories both reaching for many (but not all!) of the same goals. Because the French are willing to pay what Americans think are gawd-awfully high taxes, they are able to fund a social system that protects them from the worst of the hazards of unemployment or poor health. (Imagine that! A working social safety net!) Which may be why they came up with that wls long before anyone here in the U.S.; the funding for research on and treatment of intractable health problems is actually there! And we all know, some of us personally, how being unemployed in the USA can wreck havoc on your stress levels and then on your health.

    I know I’ve seen stats compiled by some non-governmental organization (WHO? UNICEF? OECD????) showing how the proportions of the respective populations differ in obesity/normal weight/underweight. And I remember that it seemed France and the USA were the reverse of each other in their respective distributions of obesity vs healthier weight. And this despite the French diet supposedly being higher in fat.

    All the research on this issue says the same thing. As a general rule, the French rely less on prepared and processed foods. They pay closer attention to what they put in their mouth. They eat more slowly and as a result eat less. They eat higher quality food. They eat MUCH smaller portions of meat than the Americans do, especially the “red” meats – preferring seafood and poultry, or wild game. Butter is not slathered on the bread. Sweet things are only eaten for dessert, usually following the evening meal, and fruit is considered a dessert. (Well!) Never eat more than an ounce of cheese at a time, if that much.

    Huh.

    It does seem as though weights in France are creeping up as reliance on processed foods increases. (High Fructose Corn Syrup, anyone?) It will be interesting to see how they deal with that socially. Beauty is highly valued there. It is considered a woman’s duty and *right* to do what she regards as necessary to keep herself “beautiful.” Because she lives in a society in which it is not considered rude to stare. Guess that’s why all the skin creams and cellulite creams and spa treatments, etc.

    And let’s not neglect the effect of the Puritans on English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, and their decendents throughout what used to be the British Empire. The Puritans were *grim*, no exaggeration. (Go take a look at the laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The original ones. Scary.) Their spiritual founder, John Calvin, made the Taliban look like libertines. And these are the people we celebrate at Thanksgiving.

    The French “encouraged” their Puritans to leave, mostly by taking their property and killing them. Puritanical tendencies are seen as a sign of ill health there now. And I’m not sure they aren’t right about that.

    Am I going on too long? Yes?

  11. Aussie girl says:

    Jonquil,

    As a proud Australian I have to correct your error. Australians do not smoke like chimneys, our cars are not particularly expensive to run, our refrigerators and pantries and kitchens are as large (and as full) as American’s are, our stoves are not indoor bbqs or whatever and our bedrooms and bathrooms are also clean, big andthe same as you would find in any American house. Most of us do go on a weekly grocery trip (and buy way too much food). Anyway my point is you have been misinformed that we are similar to Europe than we are to America. Unfortunately we are more like America in these issues.

  12. Bee says:

    Oh my! I am European and a recovering fat person (290lbs, now 177).

    I lived a year in the US so that is my share. I am a big walker here: for lunch break, bus, work … I found my self very surprised I could not go out for a walk with the kids I was watching because of a missing sidewalk.
    I kind of trail walked my way to the mall!

    To be honest I think being/getting fat has also to do alot with education/information. If you are provided with information about a balanced diet, if you see people choosing a apple over a candybar, juice over soda, 10 min walk over 5 min ride you are in a good position to become a healthy adult no matter which country you are born in!

  13. jonquil says:

    Just for the record, Aussie girl, I’m not “misinformed,” I’m describing things I have seen with my own eyes, in both England and Australia. And I think I’ve seen a reasonable sample of Aussie homes, as I have many in-laws there. The point: Americans spend their money more in the private realm, with houses, cars, etc. that are lavish by European and Australian standards. And the price for all this material luxury may be fat.

  14. AJ says:

    I am american , I used to live in Italy for a number of years and noticed major cultural differences- and saw very few significantly overweight people over there that weren’t tourists. For one thing food is savoured- It’s considered worth your time to spend over an hour cooking, even preparing food the day before. Here no one has time to cook properly, lunch breaks at insanely short, about half an hour at most jobs vs the Mediterranean ‘siesta’ which can be several hours long depending on the country/business. In half an hour you don’t have time to travel and wait for a good meal to be cooked, you have to scarf down something easy and convenient- like fast food. And fast food is not satisfying, it’s empty calories most of the time which leaves you hungry and wanting to snack, instead of a proper meal with a soup or salad that is filling and leaves you content until dinner.
    And as people have mentioned most people drive everywhere here,vs more people walking and using public transport there. Not only better for the environment but for your health. Even walking to the bus-stop or train station is good for you.

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