The French love to eat, whether it's foie gras at dinner time or buttery croissants in the morning, each bite is relished.
During the holidays there is pain d'épices (a thick gingerbread loaf), hot spiced wine, roasted chestnuts and sweet and savory crepes at the Christmas markets.
Like the rest of the year, the French enjoy the season's sweet delicacies without worrying about a new diet they'll start as a part of a New Year's resolution.
This may be a bit of a generalization, because yes, French women do get fat, gain weight and diet on occasion. But for the most part their healthy attitude towards food and exercise is what keeps them looking and feeling great all year round.
I love spending Christmas in the South of France where good food is savored just as much as long walks down country roads and visits to the market.
There seems to be more of everything in moderation here. Rather than trays of cocktails and an excess of sweets there is a glass of champagne and a taste of pate on fresh baguette. Instead of running to the gym for an early intense workout there are cold winter walks with the family and games of boules played bundled in scarves and gloves.
Here are a few wonderful ways to enjoy the holiday like the French with plenty of good food and no remorse:
BUY FOOD FROM THE MARKET
In France many women will do all of their shopping at specialty shops and markets. The meat comes from the butcher, the potatoes from a fruit and vegetable stand, the cheese from the fromagier and the dessert from the patisserie. Not only is shopping on foot great exercise, it also means buying real ingredients and steering away from pre-packaged goods. Processed foods bought at the grocery store like chips, soda and bottled salad dressings have very little nutritional value. In turn our bodies are starving for more, and won't be satisfied in the same way they will be after eating real whole foods. Some great ideas for appetizers include a simple bruschetta, or a homemade aioli to go with some freshly cut vegetables before dinner starts.
HAVE A DRINK
Many celebratory meals in France start with a glass of champagne. Let the bubbles tease your tongue and compliment a salty hors-d'oeuvre at the start of a meal. Skip the double vodka crantini or even a second glass. I've drank too much at holiday parties before and always live to regret it. Beyond consuming too many calories, it simply isn't fun being hungover. In France, I have never seen a woman drunk. They drink all of the time, but it is a glass of champagne, not the bottle, and rarely the heavily alcoholic drinks we have at home. Having a few glasses of wine throughout the night, with food, is usually a good way to go.
Most French women always have a bottle of still and/or sparkling water on the table. Take breaks from wine or eggnog and hydrate with some water. This is a nice distraction from drinking too much and makes for a more pleasant morning after. Water helps carry nutrients to every cell in the body, flushes out nasty toxins and improves circulation and blood flow. Sparkling water is also great for digestion, but avoid club soda because it's very high in sodium.
ENJOY EACH DISH ON ITS OWN
For holiday meals buffets are usually the easiest way to go. The problem is we tend to pile our plates so high that we lose appreciation for each dish. The taste of a perfectly made sweet potato casserole can be lost if mixed with your mom's famous stuffing. While the French seem to eat a lot because they eat several courses, they are simply stretching out the enjoyment of each dish. Four courses enjoyed over time can easily add up to less than is piled onto one plate. Eating slower is better for digestion and lets the body know when it's full. Many cultures, like the Japanese, stop eating before they are full as a simple rule. This also helps the body become less lethargic after dinner, and a nice walk might be more tempting then sitting in front of the TV.
STUFF THE TURKEY, NOT YOURSELF
The French never go for seconds. There is a French saying that there are only two bites that matter: the first and the last. Enjoy each dish while eating it but save room for dessert afterwards. French women understand how to taste everything without being too stuffed, and make sure there is always room for a bite of beautiful tart or a bûche de Noël, a rich chocolate cake with thick buttery ice cream, at Christmas. The French take pleasure in their food. They eat with their knife and fork and savour every bite. Mireille Guiliano, author of the best-selling book French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure says that Americans have a different relationship with food that too often excludes pleasure and makes them eat more. And that, she says, is the difference between the way the French and Americans view food. It may also explain why Americans are often overweight.
HAVE YOUR CAKE
How do pastry popping Parisians stay so slim? They have their cake without fearing it. In Michael Pollan's in defense of food he describes a survey that clearly showed the different attitudes towards food:
"Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the phrase ''chocolate cake,'' Americans were more apt to say ''guilt,'' while the French said ''celebration''; ''heavy cream'' elicited ''unhealthy'' from Americans, ''whipped'' from the French. The researchers found that Americans worry more about food and derive less pleasure from eating than people in any other nation they surveyed."
Saving room for dessert not only helps you control portions before hand, but lets the body know you're not depriving it. A French woman will never binge on dessert because she knows she will probably have some tomorrow, and would hate to be too full for her morning croissant either way.
GO FOR A WALK
The French love to walk. It is rare to catch a French woman in sneakers and a sweatshirt, especially in Paris. But you can always find them strolling in some stylish flats or daunting heels. Walking all day around a city and taking the stairs as much as possible is an amazing workout. It is also a great way to enjoy a crisp winter day and feel good.
Mireille Guiliano wrote a French Manifesto that goes as follows:
FRENCH WOMAN'S MANIFESTO:
- French women eat three meals a day.
- French women adore fashion.
- French women are stubborn individuals and don't follow mass movements.
- French women avoid anything that demands too much effort for too little pleasure.
- French women balance their food, drink, and movement on a week-by-week basis.
- French women care enormously about the presentation of food. It matters to them how you look at it.
- French women choose their own indulgences and compensations. They understand that little things count, both additions and subtractions, and that as an adult everyone is the keeper of her own equilibrium.
- French women do stray, but they always come back, believing there are only detours and no dead ends.
- French women don't care for hard liquor.
- French women don't diet.