The Fit French

Woman Eiffel Tower

Everyone in Britain has their own stereotype about our neighbours over the Channel, but there is one you can't dispute.

Even though the air connection between London and Paris is one of the busiest in the world, ferrying three and a half million people each year, and the Chunnel is a permanent link between the two countries, many Brits still haven’t gotten past those stereotypes of the French that our fathers and grandfathers might have been holding to half a century ago. But you know one thing that no Briton has ever called the French? Fat.

The Thin Country

While the UK is the hardest hit of all European countries by the so-called ‘Obesity Epidemic’, it seems that the French are quite the opposite. According to researchers, one in every 11 deaths in the UK is linked to obesity, 50 per cent more than in the case of our neighbours over the channel. We all know that Britons overindulge in fatty foods and alcohol, with the latter increasing at alarming rates and causing further health concerns of its own, but what about the French? Our neighbours are no strangers to alcohol and fatty foods (and goodness knows the buttery croissant can hold its own in terms of fat against the British breakfast). This has been called the French Paradox, and is a issue so curious that academic research has been done on the subject. So what is the secret of the French? How can they stay, as a nation, so fit in a country that is renowned (at least according to stereotypes) for its love of food, wine and tobacco?

Body Image

The difference between Britain and France is all about mentality and approach to fitness and health. Whereas in the UK fitness is something to be addressed when we no longer have it, the French hardly address it at all. It is just something that has to be. French women, for instance do not accept being overweight, and they value their outwards appearance and slim physique above most other concerns about how they look. Whereas Britons only seek fitness help or start going to a gym when their weight problem has started to get out of hand, French fitness professionals say that most people (particularly women) seeking to lose a few pounds are well within the normal BMI limits and are only doing it in order to fit into a better looking dress.

Lunch Choices

Another thing that factors in is national character. The French care about what they eat, and turn lunch into a social event and a ritual both. The average French man or woman goes out to lunch and enjoys a nice, long meal, rather than wolf something down to sate their hunger before heading back to work. The French like to eat, and while there are several popular diets that emphasize complete reduction of a certain food class, like the now-famous Atkins diet, the French have none of that, and are quite happy with their soft white bread and patisserie products, as well as rich sauces and fatty cuts of meat. The difference, however, is not in what they eat, but in how much they eat.

It is, perhaps, ironic that some of the closest we get to the French style of eating is in one of the more expensively delicious diets, offering door-delivered meal plans. The emphasis put on portion control and on really enjoying what you eat in these diets is the true secret of the French.

Yes, It is just like dieticians have been telling us for decades, it's a matter of how much rather than what we eat. The average French portion size is almost half of what we serve, with the emphasis being put on quality and presentation over quantity. Quality is an important factor. It is easy to overeat when your food is simple and bland. It is easy to guzzle down a jumbo kebab or a huge plate of chips, because there really is no subtle nuance, no aroma bouquet. The food is tasty but generic. By contrast the French like to eat in style, small but flavourful portions that are to be enjoyed at length rather than just eaten.

The French secret is this and nothing more: outlook. Our neighbours just know how to eat and drink. They enjoy a glass of wine rather than drinking the entire bottle, they experience their food rather than just eating it. The French love to live and, no matter what our stereotypes are, we can’t deny that.