How The French Stay Fit

Healthy Living: Lifestyle

By: // July 28, 2011


When I travel whether on vacation or business, I don’t leave my healthy habits behind. (Okay, I do splurge here and there, but mostly try to stay reasonable rather than throwing all caution to the wind as they say!) There are tons of little tips you can do to maintain your exercise regimen and your weight when you are miles from home. One great tip is to learn what works for other people! While traveling in France with my daughter, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the healthy habits of Parisiennes, so I could share those tips with you!

One thing that’s glaringly obvious is there’s far less obesity in France, so you know their way of life is working to keep people healthy. Here are my observations of how the French stay fit:

Dont eat on the go. Almost no one in Paris walks around eating. I haven’t seen anyone eating while walking or driving (okay, just baguettes but really, that is it!). I haven’t seen anyone walking around with soda or other drinks. They take nothing on the go. You can’t even get a cup of coffee to go, except at Starbucks. They eat and drink while sitting—imagine that—which leads to my next observation:

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Be mindful. Not just in France, but in most of Europe, there’s a culture of enjoying the present. While Americans sometimes seem lost in the pursuit of the next best thing, Europeans appear to have an easier time just enjoying the moment. Meals are leisurely and more focused on the downtime and conversation than ordering giant portions and eating them fast. There’s more mindful eating—where the emphasis is on smaller portions, but delicious, real food.

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Related: Do You Have Portion Distortion?

Make it a goalreduce packaged food. While I always advocate eating fresh, whole foods, like in my cookbook, Choose This!, being in Paris is a great reminder of shopping for fresh, local produce. The markets are full of healthy options and everything is so enticing and healthy! Find local farmer’s markets in your community and you can shop similarly. The French eat fresh: fresh fruit, veggies, real bread, cheese, wine, water and little preservatives and chemicals. Not a lot of bagged food, frozen food or other packaged items. Snack stores even sell yogurt, fruit and small sandwiches. Not Cheetos!

french stay fit

One of the many amazing markets in the streets of Paris!

Indulge small. My daughter and I ordered a dessert—two scoops of homemade gelato. It was delicious, just two, small cute scoops. It wasn’t a ginormous overflowing bowl of ice cream like you’d typically find in the United States. It was the perfect amount to enjoy a treat without overindulging. Many people in Paris enjoy dessert, local bakeries or wine, but the portions are small. Even the authentic macaroon cookie is small, bite sized…and they came in this cute box. We couldn’t resist.

Less waste. The French are definitely less wasteful. They are more conscious about conserving, they make less garbage and everything is smaller. Smaller coffee cups, smaller portions, smaller bathrooms, smaller tables at restaurants. (Though to be honest, I do enjoy a larger cup of coffee, so I did have to hit Starbucks several times…and I wouldn’t mind a larger bathroom either!)

Fashion forward. Strolling around France, I didn’t seen anyone wearing sweatpants or other “comfort clothes” that can be conducive to overeating. Ever put on a pair of jeans and realize you are gaining a little bit of weight? Skip those baggie clothes and embrace your own style of fashion as a reminder to maintain your healthy weight. Plus, when you love how you look, you will love what you can buy and wear!

Walk or bike. While many American cities and towns aren’t conducive to walking, (you probably aren’t going to be strolling along the Dallas/Metroplex toll roads anytime soon) there’s much more of an emphasis in Paris to walk or bike. And that is true of most big cities, similar to NYC. Cultures and communities that support people moving—being ambulatory instead of sedentary in their cars—have healthier people. When you walk 10,000 or more steps a day, you are really making an investment in your health. Parisiennes seem to have the concept of living an active lifestyle down naturally. Everywhere people are strolling or taking their bikes to get to where they need to go.  They aren’t working out in gyms, but their mentality is to venture out on their two feet…every day activity adds up!

french stay fit

How awesome would it be to bike past the Eiffel Tower each day on the way to work?

Dont smoke. Don’t emulate Parisiennes here. Unfortunately lots of Parisiennes smoke. Let’s stick with the American trend here—where people, restaurants and cities are eliminating smoking. It’s the number one thing you can do for your health. While smoking used to be a glamorous cultural indulgence (think Mad Men era), there’s NOTHING glamorous about its known, damaging effects on your health.

Next time you are traveling, share the healthy habits you witness so we all can learn from each other!

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