So: Do We, or Do We Not?

Those of you who keep track — however off-handedly — of the American book market, have surely heard of Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat. This French woman, who is head of the Champagne company Veuve-Clicquot and lives between New York and Reims, explains how and why French women can get away with eating chocolate and cheese while sipping on a little wine, and still manage to look slender and fabulous.

With such a promising pitch, it is probably not surprising that the book sells like hotcakes (or whould I say croissants?) and has attracted phenomenal media attention. In the wake of this, Josh from The Food Section has had the idea to setup and conduct a roundtable discussion between four of us French food bloggers, asking us about our perception of the French and their food habits.

I think this provides some interesting insight and nuances, and hope you will enjoy reading the transcript, published on The Morning News‘ website.

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  • May

    Read the article months ago and was wondering if the French Women would agree… so it’s great to be able to hear the views from the French themselves!

  • may

    opps i meant the article about the book in The Observer

  • maryanne

    The secret to the “french” diet is not necessarily in what you eat in France. It is multiple things. You eat incredibly fresh food, when I was in Paris in Feb, I was so impressed that although the supermarket was mobbed at 9 pm at nite, no one had more than a day’s worth of food in their basket. No gigantic boxes of cereal, no ring dings. Pieces of fish or meat, a little cheese, the ubiquitious bread, produce, maybe milk and wine. Everyone walks everywhere, I spend my day on my feet everyday in a kitchen for 10 hours and I had shin splints from walking in Paris. You enjoy your meals and don’t fly through them like a race. All these things contribute to slim French women and you are to be applauded for the effort. It opened my eyes.

  • Bee

    Ditto on the French/European lifestyle, vs. American.

    I worked in Europe for the year 2002; spending an equal amount of time in Paris, Amsterdam, London, and Inverness. I’ve NEVER walked so much in my life, nor eaten so much in my life! I lost 25 pounds that year, although I ate pounds of butter, bins of bread, and chunks of chocolate, daily.

    I can’t say, honestly, that I miss the walking, at all, but I do miss the food. Now that I’m back home, I’d rather cut back on the calories so that I can enjoy my leisurely drives! I DO love my truck!

    I think it’s a mind-set that you have to get “into” early in life. My partner is European and she’d rather walk for miles, then have a car ride. My American brain can’t understand this. WHY walk for 45 minutes when you can drive for 5? It’s cultural, for sure. However, she has influenced me, again, and I’m doing much more walking to places that I would have fired up the truck to reach.

  • M

    very informative comments, Clotilde. And, thank you for being supportive of certain American food traditions. I read Guiliano’s book and while I found her description of a French woman’s diet and eating behavior very interesting, informative and helpful, I really was turned off by the way she touted her Champagne company, Veuve-Clicquot. She went as far saying her champagne could be enjoyed with any meal. I understand a plug here and there, but it seemed to be a theme throughout the entire book.

  • gwen


    I haven’t read the book, only excerpts that turned me off in no time. In particular that awful “magical leeks soup” recipe. Just boiled leeks, then pureed. You’re supposed to eat that and only that for a week as a jump start. How can they claim it’s not a diet book ?

    One point most French people conveniently miss about their being so thin, in my opinion, is the smoking. Tobacco is an appetite inhibitor, and the smoke keeps non smokers out of casual restaurants.

    However I agree with the comment all contributors made to the article: it’s all a question of references. French women may appear thin to American ones, but they are no happier with their own bodies.

  • I think the French do lead more active lives. My friends who have lived here and then moved back to the US have all gained weight because they drive everywhere… even short distances.

  • Kirsten

    This roundtable was a very interesting read for me,as I’ve been trying to explain to my friends what I did and didn’t like about the book. While I agree with some of the things she said in it, mainly about fresh food, portion control, walking and drinking water, I thought she was completely out of touch with how most people in the US live. Living in Manhattan as a executive is certainly nothing like living in the suburbs of some mid-level city or poor rural area, and it is much easier to live a more “European” lifestyle in NYC. I also thought she could have addressed the smoking issue, which obviously dulls some hunger pains. I could have done without the condescending, “we French women find it so amusing when Americans do this..”

    I thought that the roundtable was much more objective to what are the realities of life for both American and French women. And I think that what she (the author) doesn’t realize, or at least address, is that it is completely different to live in one part of the US versus another, whereas in France most cities and small towns have at least one market, butcher, cheese shop and bakery. These do not exist on a regular basis in most of the US, and we have to rely on supermarkets for most of our food.

  • Jennifer

    I don’t think that the French have a lock on the “eat wonderful food and be slim” market. I live in Japan, where in general, people eat incredibly fresh produce and seafood, shop for a day’s worth of food at a time, walk everywhere and then walk some more, ride bicycles, eat a little of a variety of foods (even fried, etc.) but have *portion control*, and appreciate subtle food flavors and seasonal dishes with the freshest ingredients. Low carb diets would never catch on here, because a small bowl of rice is a staple at every single meal.

  • Suzanne

    When I spent a few weeks in Paris I was puffy and our of shape from too much cheap wine, cheese and pommes frites! If one can afford to eat well, maybe one can be a slim French woman, but the cheaper treats really did me in.

  • I am from the SF Bay Area (but originally from the Philippines), but now live in Amsterdam although I am back in SF for six weeks. I visit Paris often on business. My take on things: (1) portions in the US have gotten a lot larger in the last 10 years since I lived here – so large that I have to split meals with my husband; (2) people in Europe walk a lot and (3) Europeans don’t eat a lot of TV dinners.

    I think it’s really no. 1 that’s the culprit. I used to be able to finish my dinners in US restaurants, now I finish only 1/3.

  • H

    I appreciate Clotilde being more aware of lifestyles in the US than the other members of the round table. She seems to be savvy also (or at least willing to admit it..)to the fact that the French culture is changing in regards to eating habits. I have to say, she is absolutely correct. Not all French woman are slim. I travel to France 3 times a year, not to Paris mind you, and not every woman I’ve come in contact with is slim. Stand behind anyone any day of the week at the supermarket there and it’s not fruits and vegetables they’re buying…
    I don’t have a TV – therefore I can’t sit and eat in front of it. I don’t grab a pint of ice cream out of my fridge at 3 in the morning – since I don’t normally have ice cream in my freezer – unless I’ve made it. I shop at my local farmer’s market. A farmer’s market can be found any day of the week within a 10 mile radius of my home. Yes, I agree, many restaurants in the US serve way too much food – but who’s making you eat it all?
    Kirstin made some valid comments, especially where you live in the US OR in France, for that matter – there will be slim AND not-so-slim women..
    I did skim through the book at my local bookstore, but put it down for many of the same reasons mentioned in previous comments.i.e. “it’s so amusing when Americans do this”. Careful girlfriend…

  • JVC

    I did read some excerpts and it had some practical things to say but perhaps they were overshadowed by an emphasis on marketing and readability…

    Still, there are pros and cons to both the “French” and “American” models (am I the only one who found them a bit stereotypical?). I suppose we need to find a balance for ourselves!

    Speaking for myself, I grew up in America with an Australian mum and British-Argentine dad and have experienced a few different eating cultures. I live in Sydney now but no matter which city I have been in, London (where my sister lives), Paris, Rome, BA, Melbourne, Bangkok, or New York, the food that I have most enjoyed has been organic or that which was prepared thoughfully and with pride. Doesn’t seem that these are nation-specific qualities…

  • I remember reaing an article in the Guardian about a study into the differences between the american and the french diet. The researchers were expecting there to be a big difference – with the americans eating more fast and precessed food, and the french eating more fresh fruit and veg. suprisingly, they found little difference between the eating habits, the only difference was the portion sizes. American portion sizes are approximately twice the average french portion. Having visited the US recently, I remember being completely full after the first course in most restaurants, even before the enourmous main course arrived.

  • robin

    I leave in a very small and out- of- the -way village in Provence 3 months a year and there are many non-slim to even obese women there. We have many Parisian friends who come down for their summer vacations — writers, teachers, actors, architects, administrators….without exception, the thin ones all smoke — and the ones who have stopped smoking in the last few years have gained at least 5 to 10 kilos. So, I think that the smoking plays a (large?) part in their maintaining their slim figures. And I read recently that while the overall percentage of women who smoke is about the same in France and America, middle class French women are three times as likely to smoke as middle class American women.

    Having said that, I also notice that my French friends eat much smaller portions than Americans generally do. And American restaurants now serve obscenely large portions.

    Finally, I think that women who live in walkable cities like Paris, New York, London tend to be thinner than women who move less.

  • I agree fully with Gareth and robin. Portion size is a major factor with obesity in america.

    Point in case is myself. I cut down my portions by half and in a period of 2 months without much exercise have lost 14 lbs.

    Active lifestyle, controlled portions and more natural foods. I don’t see what else could be involved.

    If you find anything let us know.

  • Adrian

    Clo doesn’t seem to have any weight problem. She’s the hottest blogger in Paris!

  • AmyBee

    I found the roundtable discussion really helpful for a more objective view of French vs. American women eating habits. I’ve heard a lot of discussion from friends and family regarding this new book and “diet” and so much of what I hear is negative comments towards themselves. Her advice is basic comman sense and a life-time of healthy eating habits and healthy thinking. I think your comment about self-discipline is key. It’s something we don’t often HAVE to practice and made all the more challenging by the wide range of food choices we have here in America.

    I chose to live in a town where I can walk to almost everything and I can take public transportation to work. So many americans live in the suburbs or in cities like Los Angeles where walking is an unusual and even considered an unsafe activity.

    Are health clubs or gyms popular in France? What are the popular exercise choices besides walking?

    By the way, last year, I lost 12 pounds eating more vegetables, less bread and sweets, drinking more water, moderate exercise (walking) and managed to visit my favorite bakery once a week. It’s possible!

  • Lilia Dignan


    I also appreciate your take on the differences between french and american way of eating. That really comes from you having spent sometime in the bay area.

    My husband and I with our two youngest children lived in Paris for 5 years (sometime ago) and it was a great experience. Although I didn’t go to the marche and specialty food stores everyday, I shopped every couple of days except for the boulangerie which we went to at least twice a day. We managed to keep the tradition – living in downtown San Francisco and have given up the car, we walk everywhere and continue having smaller portions, fresh fruits and vegetables and eating our meals “a table”.

    I feel really lucky to be able to enjoy the best of what France and the United States have to offer. I thank you again for the enjoyable moments spent reading your articles and comments from your readers!

  • Monique

    I loved reading the roundtable, since I have not yet read the book…but sweetie, aren”t you like 24 years old? Your metabolism is at its peak! Being French/eating the French way certainly helps, but lets not forget you are still a young, young woman (and bless you for it.) Talk to me more when you are 35!

  • pounagate

    I don’t know if this was mentionned before, but I think one of the reasons why it is easy to put on weight in the US, for women of all nationalities (I’ve lived in CA for a year, and frequently go there), is the constant availability of food. At work, there would always be donuts, cookies, cakes… that co-workers brought (usually leftovers from parties that they wanted out of THEIR houses); loads of candy from halloween to christmas time; and a potluck thing with tons of food for every occasion. It requires a lot of will to resist to these constant temptations; and even if you feel like you only indulge once a week, and it’s less than the others do, it’s still more than you would have in a different environment, and usually you won’t subtract the thing you ate from your next meal -whereas if you eat your cookie as your dessert, you’ll eat less of what comes before in order to be hungry for your cookie.
    Back to France: I remember saying to a friend the other day at 3 in the afternoon that I was hungry. His reaction was: “didn’t you eat enough at lunch time?” It’s true here the 3-meal a day rule is a cultural habit; it seems odd to a lot of people here to eat between them. It’s almost the contrary to what I explained before: in France peer pressure prevents you from eating between meals. Evidence of this, is that a lot of people here will tell you they put on weight when they stay home alone, and they no longer have this social pressure to not snack between meals.

    I want to now add that it is very pleasant to work in California, maybe for that same reason that makes one put on weight!

    Vive la France and California! (sorry, other states, all I know from you is your airports)

  • Kristiana

    hi, Clotilde. I was wondering if you could answer I question of mine. I forgot whose blog it was (it might even have been yours, sorry!) but the writer mentioned attending a conference in France and having a “typical 3-hour long lunch break.” Wow! I was reading an article similarly titled to “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” and it mentioned that the French “enjoy” their food and don’t rush through it like Americans. I mean, how long do your meals usually last?

    Anyway, I thought everything mentioned about French habits (regular excercise by walking, smaller portions, etc) seemed like common sense. Not only that, but that’s what all the (serious) weight loss advisors say. People here are told the same thing over and over again. Even the magazines for teenage girls have regular sections on workouts to try out and how to eat healthier. My economics teacher was telling us about a mysterious human habit: why is it that we do things we know aren’t good for us? Haha. Well, none the less the round table discussion was an interesting read. Hoorah for more publicity (p.s. you were in our papers last week!, but it was a borrowed artice from the Washington Post)

  • Macky

    Ahhh Paris! I’ve just recently discovered your blog and I’m thrilled to be reading tidbits of the eating life in my favorite city. I haven’t read, but have heard, of the book Why French Women Don’t Get Fat. Having spent four vacations in Paris I can vouch for the other readers comments on the amount of walking you must do on a daily basis (a real pleasure in such a beautiful city!). I too lost weight and ate heartily in Paris!

  • Véro

    Tsk tsk first correction, maple syrup is essentially Canadian ;)

    Otherwise, it’s very interesting to read what had to be said about the book (which I’ve only scanned through while at the shop). As a Canadian in Britain, I get a glimpse of French eating habits through the few friends I have who were mad enough to trade Paris for the London suburbs.

    Canadians generally eat like Americans, with only a touch better eating habits. British people seem to have a mix of carelessness for eating junk and interest in fresh produce and continental cheese and wine.

    I personally love going directly to butchers and bakers but unfortunately, can hardly afford it at this time where we are putting every penny towards buying a house. So we do our best to avoid processed foods and make up for the rest by trying to stay active physically.

    Food is such a joy of life, cutting enjoyment out completely for the sake of a few pounds would make me lose one of my greatest fascinations in life, so that’s out of the question! Moderation is the best trick!

  • joey

    Weight (gain and loss) has been a lifelong struggle with me. When I read the book it appealed to me for a number of reasons: I love chocolate, I love bread, I cannot live without carbs, i have been placed of diets at a very young age and thus have a natural suspicion of them, i never like weighing myself, and much more. I tried it, lost weight, and have never enjoyed food more. I can’t say I agree with everything the author says. I am neither American nor French but I took the basic concepts of the book (that applied to me) and worked it into my life and have benefited greatly. No other book/diet/regimen/bag of tricks (trucs, whatever) has worked for me this well before. And no, I don’t have champagne with every meal (or every other, and so forth). I don’t have access to all that the book espouses. I’m not going to argue for or against. All I can contribute is that it worked for me.

  • D

    From a frenchie after 5 years in the US…
    1. French women are very concerned with their weight. The “normal” size is smaller. They also do not smoke more than us women, but I remember the skinniest girls in high school were smokers. Some of the biggest ones too.
    2. habits are changing. I’m describing the old-fashioned habits here.
    3. Portions, portions, portions. For example, the typical serving of yogurt is 100g (3.5 oz) and unsweetened (you _will_ add less sugar when you see how much you put in it). People don’t “stuff their faces with creamy sauces, foie gras, and pastries”. Maybe sometimes they will – but it’s infrequent, and a TREAT. Foie gras is once-twice a year, for christmas and maybe new years. Pastries – almost never. Chocolate – often, but dark (low in sugar, strong taste) and in very small quantities.
    Most of the food is NOT creamy or horribly fat. Think roasted chicken/steamed green beans with lemon juice. Baked apple sprinkled with cinnamon and a tiny bit of sugar. No casseroles, NO deep-fried stuff (french fries are an occasional treat, a few times a year!), no ice-cream-loaded-with-brownies-and-fudge. Stuff you see in the restaurant that is very fattening is usually traditional from cold(mountains) or rural places where people needed a bunch of calories; otherwise it’s just an exceptional treat.
    4. Meat to veggies ratio: picture your plate. In the US the meat/fish/poultry will occupy about twice the area that the veggies do. In France it’s the opposite.
    5. Four course meal. Start with some veggies, often some form of salad, light dressing. Then have the main course (save room for the rest). Then yogurt or cheese (we’re talking a very small piece! ideally, no dairy if meat in main course) and a fruit. Lots of low-cal high nutrient food allows you to not have to fill up on the heavy stuff.
    Always talk during the meal, TV & phone off. Big lunch, small dinner (veggie soup, dairy). Dinner at 7-8 pm : no late night eating from being hungry from the 5pm dinner. NO SNACKING (afternoon snack ok for kids/teens).
    6. Meal length: My parents always took at the very least 40-45 min. Other families I know, at least 30 min. There’s a pause between courses, and time to chat.
    7. The very obvious: no sodas, no candy bars/empty calories in the house, very rare fast food. Most of the food is home-prepared and eaten there.
    Once again, this is the “old way” and most of the new generation orders pizza and has cookies, soda, fast food and candy… but the nation is taking a hit.

  • ann

    Could anyone put me wise regarding what type of footwear French women wear when they are doing so much walking. I also walk quite a lot in flat shoes but never feel stylish and elegant and take a change of shoes to change into when I reach my destination. French women ooze style and I wondered how they overcame this problem as they seem to just carry a small bag not the rucksack type I need to carry spare shoes in. Thank you.

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